Get out of your ruts and improvise…

February 7, 2022

Two quotes that I’ve saved from the Jack’s Winning Words blog just seemed to fit together this morning.

“How do you tell a rut from a tradition?”  (Fr Don Talafous)

“Life is a lot like jazz.  It’s best when you improvise.”  (George Gershwin)

Ruts occur in life all the time. One gets comfortable going to the same places, doing the same things and seeing the same people all the time. It’s not tradition, it’s a rut. Even beloved traditions can become things in which you find yourself just going through the motions, not really enjoying it; but, hey, it’s a tradition. Holidays can be like that. Even small things like gong out to eat can become ruts, when you restrict yourself to a small set of places that you “always go to on weekend.” I suspect that the answer to the question about how to tell if you’re in a rut rather than just following tradition is that ruts have no passion – there is no real enthusiasm in being in them.

Heeding Gershwin’s advice to improvise is the best way to break out of the ruts in your life. Improvising means trying something new, going someplace new or interacting with someone new. The phrase “getting out of your comfort zone” accurately describes what is likely to happen when you improvise. The sense of danger or discomfort in a new experience immediately heightens the enjoyment.

Trying a new restaurant or going to a new store or maybe trying a new sport are all ways to improvise; but, perhaps the most impactful is meeting new people. The other ways of improvising are mostly passive in nature – you mostly just experience them. That’s not a bad thing and experiencing them does add to your store of knowledge; however, you don’t really interact with them, you just experience them. Meeting new people forces you into an interactive mode and may immediately challenge some of the ruts (pre-conceived notions, or stereotypes, or prejudices) that have been dictating your life.

Of greatest impact to get you out of your ruts is meeting new people who are dramatically different from you. Meeting people of different races, ethnic groups or sexual preferences exposes you to points of view that may be very different from yours and forces you to consider those differences. Improvising by meeting new people from different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs will also expose to you some of your own prejudices and hopefully cause you to reexamine and debunk them.

When a Jazz musician takes off on a riff he/she may not know where they will end up; they just know that they are enjoying the moment by improvising. The result is new and beautiful music. Life can be like that too. Improvise and enjoy the moment. You may discover that the new relationships that you form on those moments make beautiful music in your life. Get out of your ruts and improvise. You’ll have the best times of your life and maybe make new friends.

What will you do today that scares you?

April 21, 2021

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

That piece of advice from a famous First Lady, rings as true today as ever. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do something stupid or dangerous; rather, that you should challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone.

Everyone develops a comfort zone – that nice, quiet, sometimes boring place in which we try to live; not because it is so satisfying so much as because it is so safe feeling. Our comfort zones require little of us and where there is little required there is also little reward. That is why so many answer the question “How are you doing?” with the response “OK” or “good” and not “Great”. Having a great day requires effort, it requires a victory or some successful new experience. An OK day just requires that nothing unusual happen.

So, Eleanor’s advice is that you do something unusual, something out of the ordinary for you, something that scares you. It could be something as simple as saying hello to people as you pass them when you would normally just keep your head down and walk on by them. Maybe it involves introducing yourself to that person at work whom you been secretly hoping that you could meet somehow or asking that secret someone that you like out for a date. Maybe it means going somewhere that you ‘ve always been afraid to go or perhaps doing something that you’ve hesitated to do out of some unfounded fear.

Getting out of your comfort zone immediately causes a physiological reaction in your body. Your adrenaline flows. Your heart may race. You may begin to sweat. All of those things pass quickly once you break through the barrier that was holding you back and realize that your fears were unfounded. The feeling of dread is quickly replaced by a sense of accomplishment and maybe even joy. Even if the encounter does not pan out as you had hoped, the fact that you got there and did it still gives you a feeling of accomplishment and victory over the fear.

So, take Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice and pick our something that you’ve been avoiding doing or fearing doing and just do it today. At the end of the day, you will have something to look back on and learn from – a new experience. We must always keep pushing against the walls of our comfort zones, moving them further rout; otherwise, they can close in on us and become suffocating.

So when someone asks you, “How are you doing today?, you can answer, “Great, I just met someone new or I did something new, and it feels wonderful.”

Get out of your comfort zone. Do something that scares you today.

Life isn’t dull in the deep end…

May 25, 2017

“Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.”  (Christopher Reeve)

I remember as a kid the excitement and the sense of danger of going down to the deep end of the local swimming pool. Even though it was only 18 feet deep at the deep end ithigh board seemed at the time to be like the ocean. After all, I could no longer touch the bottom with my feet and it was either swim or sink. The ocean is ever scarier; however, the first and only time that I have ever gone scuba diving, I discovered what wonderful things there are to see in the ocean, once you get out of the shallows of the shoreline. Even only 20-30 feet down there is much more to see and many more fish than in the shallows of the shoreline.

Life is a lschool-of-fishot like that. There is safety and comfort to be found in staying in the shallow end of life, where your feet are always able to touch the bottom. But, if you will just venture out into the ocean of life a bit, you will find it to be a whole lot more interesting, if not a little terrifying every now and them. Out of the terror and the increased interest in things and people, comes the reward of increased knowledge and awareness of the differences and beauty that is just a bit further out – in the deep end of life. Just like at the pool, you have to work a little harder to stay afloat and there is a tendency to panic from time to time when you realized that you can no longer find the safety of the bottom of the pool; but, also, just like swimming out in the ocean, there is so much more to see and experience and learn from.

We have a euphemistic term for this; it’s called getting out of one’s comfort zone. Our comfort zone is that shallow end that is a little warmer than the deep end and in which we can always securely feel the bottom and even stand up if necessary. When we were real little we may have even worn those “water wings” on our arms to make sure that we could stray afloat. We quickly outgrow those devices, but many of us never really outgrow the need to feel the bottom of the pool – to stay in the shallow end of life.

For many the safety of life’s routines in the shallow end eventually become dull and boring and so they venture out into the deep in (the ocean) of life. That involves interacting with people that we normally don’t interact with and doing things that weworried1 normally don’t do. The biggest challenge is really overcoming our own imagined fears about what could happen and just letting go long enough for the interesting things in life to happen. Sometimes that means meeting and interacting with new people, people who are different from us and our usual friends. Those may be people of different colors or different sexual orientations or even different religious backgrounds. It could be someone from a foreign land or just from a different neighborhood or even a different city or state. Many times it will involve people from different socio-economic backgrounds or different levels of education. The important thing is that it involves people who likely see things from a different perspective than our own. We will be in a different end of the pool, one in which our feet may not be able to touch the bottom.

take a riskSuch interactions, out of your normal comfort zone, might leave you a little breathless or maybe a little frightened, but they seldom could be classified as boring. In fact, you may find yourself longing for another dose of that excitement and the little edge of fear, because it awakens things in you that may have become dormant due to the comfort of living too long in the shallow end. Some who begin to venture out into the ocean of life describe it as a natural high – a combination of the adrenaline rush of trying something new and the satisfaction of having been successful at it.

There is an old saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I think it also makes you more interesting to yourself and to other, too. So, get out of your comfort zone. See what wonderful things and people are out there in the deep end. Try new things. If you fail, learn from those failures and try again. Meet new people and not just people who look exactly like you. Learn from them. Appreciate them and their cultures and theirjump-in points of view. Life is too short to spend your entire time here in the shallow end. So, venture out into the ocean – the deep end – of life.

I’ll see you out in the ocean…