Pushing Comfort Zones

In this blog I’m going to talk about getting out of your comfort zone and tackling the feelings of imposter syndrome – something I have spent most of my life avoiding! I have been doing more things that challenge myself to extend my boundaries often making me feel uncomfortable in the process. During the past year or so I have felt more encouraged than ever to push myself. Maybe it is because of the time to reflect during lockdown wondering what I am holding myself back for, or maybe it’s being involved with Centre 10 through the APEC Advanced Coaches course and then supported by The Coaches Hub full of inspiring people. There are also other inspirational people I’ve met like Sarah Huntley – Performance Psychologist who was the co founder of Centre 10 and now an independent performance and business coach and coaches in the brilliant Connected Equestrian Coaches Facebook group set up by Mandy Frost and Nicky Fuller. As equestrian coaches we are often working alone. That in itself can be tough sometimes when the only voice of reason is your own. When positive self talk is lacking either because of something as simple as being tired or run down, or perhaps a more serious case of self doubt and lacking confidence, it can turn into a negative downward spiral. It takes energy and commitment to do things outside of your comfort zone. If you lack those things, it can feel even harder to try. So, it is important to rest – that is something I have heard mentioned many times in equestrian circles as possibly the biggest change to come out of COVID. Lots of discussions have been had about finding your OFF switch. It really is vital but can be very difficult to do in the full on world we often live in.

I have found so much more strength since collaborating with others that I hadn’t realised I was lacking. It seems obvious now but going around in my comfortable ways with only my own voice in my head was keeping me in a very small bubble. It was pleasant there most of the time but if I’m honest, I was always a little frustrated with myself. I felt I could be doing more with the ideas in my head if only I was brave enough.

I remember the very first exercise we did in our Centre 10 workshop. It was filling in a timeline of our highlights and lowlights in our life from an earliest memory to the present time. It was a tough exercise for me as it was for some others too. I looked at what I had written and it made me sad. It showed a number of great achievements like having my two children among other things, but it also showed struggle and anxiety running through as a theme. Some of that was out of my control and some I could see as more self inflicted. I felt proud of my achievements despite the struggles I had but I couldn’t help thinking some of that anxiety could have been less if I made a few changes. It made me think more objectively about the future and how I didn’t want to see that same pattern appear if I did the exercise again in say, 10 years time.

The exercise was helping us to understand our own perspectives on life and how our belief systems are formed often at an early age which then drives our behaviours and in turn reinforces our beliefs. I am fascinated by human behaviour so I wanted to do the APEC course for some time. I was so happy to have the time to study in lockdown along with a little help from the SEISS so I could fund it. I know many people were not so lucky to have financial support during lockdown which must have been very frustrating.  I have got so much from Centre 10 and continue to learn for my own use as well as developing tools to help clients understand their minds better. Sarah Huntley has been hugely influential to me putting plans in to action which I am both grateful for and terrified by at the same time!

When you look at humans as a species, we are really quite predictable. For me that makes it slightly easier to distance myself from my behaviours. I had always told myself that I can’t do X or that I don’t need to and nobody understands. I am a very determined person although I am also quiet so you wouldn’t particularly notice. My work was always done behind the scenes or so to speak. I would never put myself in the front or speak up. I love to have a challenge but would prefer to work alone enjoying the process of figuring things out. That’s great for a while but then you realise that when you are successful, there is no one to share it with! Nobody noticed you were busy working away in the background. The loneliness was isolating but it was safe. Your mistakes were also invisible. Now that’s the driving force. Never fail openly having to face embarrassment. Here is where the imposter syndrome came in for me. I often felt (and still do at times, because it is totally normal) like an imposter if I stood up in front of my peers and was noticed. I perceived they were all better than me, more talented, prettier, more intelligent, more popular/liked and more knowledgeable. I thought I would be put down, ridiculed or ignored if I gave my opinion.

I said that humans are predictable. It seems that when you talk to people in a safe space like we have been doing much more since COVID, you find that these behaviours and characteristics are very common. I am sure there are studies (which I cannot reference) that prove this too. Sarah recently explained in a Facebook Live that some of the most successful people on the planet have felt the effects of imposter syndrome. People like Tom Hanks, Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama, Serena Williams and even Albert Einstein! Can you imagine?!

Knowing that people I aspire to be like or admire in my profession, but also other professions also feel like I do is helpful. It doesn’t take away my fear or anxiety when I push myself to do new things, but it does mean I can justify why I feel that way. I think to understand that those feelings are normal, it will be uncomfortable and it will also pass makes it more bearable.

The sadness I felt looking at my timeline was due to realising my comfort zone had been shrinking over time. I was literally squeezing myself into a smaller and smaller box. I thought my comfort zone was a great safe place and I would be happy ever after there. In reality it was always closing in, so slowly that I didn’t notice. Now I know that comfort zones need regular stretching. It doesn’t have to be stretched by huge amounts so long as it little and often, that will do.

It’s till scary – but a little less scary than it was to start with. I began pushing boundaries about 10 years ago and then stopped for a while. Last year saw the next biggest change which I’m still going with. I’ve done some Facebook Lives, Zoom tutorials and am currently working on coaching programmes I’m hoping to launch in the new year. I’ve got some short coaching programmes almost ready to go now too. I’m really excited about how things are going. I love connecting with other coaches and feel we can inspire each other. Someone recently said I was brave and was doing well. That was quite a surprise in the nicest way possible. It is interesting how other people see us versus how we see ourselves. Another fascinating human behaviour which helps me to not take everything quite so personally.

As a child I suffered so badly with anxiety that I had to leave school at 14 unfortunately because it was just too much to cope with the constant panic attacks. Social anxiety followed in adult life. Sometimes I was ok and other times I couldn’t go out. I would never speak in front of more than a couple of people and definitely never on stage or anything like that. So, to be able to do what I am doing now is such a long way from that. It’s when we look back, we can see how far we’ve come. In order to continue challenging my imposter syndrome and create new behaviours I need to separate my imposter thoughts from myself, they are just thoughts that everyone has, take action and try to do something – just have a go, create a list of achievements, however small to prove I have facts to back up my knowledge/expertise. I am good enough and so are you.