Comfortable Zones

Sometimes, when we strive to make a difference in our relationships, it means stepping outside of our well-worn comfort zones. We all get into a groove – no different than a marble stuck inside a groove in a piece of wood. We roll from side to side, looking like we are making changes and moving, but in reality we stay stuck where we are. We want to roll out and try something new, but we keep rolling back to the same center point.

What does it take to step out of our comfort zones and actually make the move from a well-worn groove? The truth is that being comfortable is important to many people. What we know feels right – even if it isn’t “best” for us. Old adages exist for a reason – “the devil we know is better than one we don’t.” For many people, living with the devil within (to carry the analogy through) is better than taking a chance that something more difficult awaits us!

If the groove you are in makes you happy and keeps your relationships strong and solid, by all means stay there! But if you are one of those people who strives to get into a stronger place, either in your relationships or within yourself, maybe it is time to challenge your well-worn status and step into something new.

As a first step, pick one relationship to study. You’ll want to examine the common approaches you use in this relationship. What’s familiar to you – what grooves do you have? It could be a common reaction to something the other person says or does. It could be a frustration you continually experience when dealing with the other person. It could be a curiosity about why they do what they do, or a need to know more about the other person.

Identify what happens in the relationship and what you’d like to change if you could just wave a magic wand and make it different. Typically we want to wave the wand OVER the other person – but instead, look at your role in the relationship next. What’s your “groove” with this person? How do you most frequently react? What’s your most common response to what they do? Don’t judge anything, just examine it. What happens that is very predictable between the two of you?

Now the hardest part – ask yourself “why?” Why do I respond this way? What’s within me that gets triggered by the person? What self-talk do I have related to this response? Force yourself to answer these questions without blaming the other person – forget they exist for a minute and just look at “What’s within ME that needs to respond this way?” What emotions get triggered? What gain do you get by your responses? How does it make you feel? What do you think about when you react in the same way?

Next, look at whether there are other options. When this person does/says this _______________, next time I could respond in a number of ways: I could engage in inquiry. I could simply walk away without anger or judgment. I could use their acts to become an Interested Observer and watch my responses. I could connect their behavior to other times and people that have affected me. List all of the options you might have for the next time you find yourself about to slide into the same groove. Pick ONE option from the list and try it out next time. Getting out of the groove means practicing. We like our comfortable zones because, well, they are comfortable. You will need to force yourself to just try something new and examine how it works for you.

It can be best to keep a journal or note pad. Write down the options, write down what you’ll promise yourself to try, and write down what happens when you try it. There is something more powerful about writing things down, as it forces us to become more aware and attentive to what we’re doing.

This week, commit to moving out of a comfortable groove with someone where you care about the relationship. Picture yourself as the marble and simply refuse to fall back into the same old helpless groove again. Have a plan to do something differently and be the marble that rolls free to explore new options!