Updated: Oct 15
You’ve likely heard that there is no such thing as the right time, that to wait for the right time is a form of avoidance and that any time is a good time to push forward and take action.
While it is true that this can be a form of avoidance, it might also be something more, something valid and valuable to honor. So, how do we know when it’s avoidance and when it’s something else? I’m going to delve into that from a trauma informed lens.
First of all, I want to let you know that it is okay to take your time.
My hope is that the part of you that might not believe it is will trust in this after I explain and share some examples.
Consider this, when we are trying to do something outside of our comfort zone the intention is usually just as much about getting the thing done as it is about being able to do it again and again with decreased discomfort. In exposure therapy, we take whatever it is we’re uncomfortable or downright terrified of and make a list of things we can do to gradually work our way up to encountering & doing said things. We approach it this way because we know that it takes extra effort to motivate ourselves to do things that scare us.
"Growth doesn't really happen outside of your comfort zone, it happens at the edge of it.”
If you are doing something well outside of your comfort zone, it’s unlikely you are within your capacity. If you’re outside of your capacity there’s little chance you will feel any less fearful the next time.
What do I mean by your capacity? I mean your ability to do something while staying calm, emotionally regulated, and in a parasympathetic state. If we can do something in this way, we can be pretty confident that it’s within our comfort zone. Or as we say in therapy, your window of tolerance.
So if you’re trying to muster up the courage to go skydiving - something you may only do once in your life. Go for it, push yourself outside of your comfort zone. It is not necessary for you to feel any less activated about doing it the next time.
If you’re trying to improve your ability to speak in front of a group because that’s a part of the career you’d like to pursue or you’re learning to operate a manual vehicle that you’ll drive on a daily basis. You want to gradually & intentionally expand your comfort zone while honoring your capacity.
Here’s an example of what this looks like because I am in fact learning how to drive a manual car and it has been a great practice ground for all of the above.
Learning to drive a manual car was very much outside of my comfort zone. Embarking on this new skill was very revealing to me about my patterns when it comes to doing things I find difficult - but that's a story for a different post.
My husband was my teacher and the first two lessons went objectively well. When it came time for lesson three, we made an error. We didn’t do a great job at being gradual.
I went from driving in an empty car park to driving on a busy street with many stop lights. And to top it off, lesson three happened in the evening after a full day of sessions. I was tired, which made it easier to feel anxious and therefore my capacity was diminished.
I stalled at a light, twice (I think it was twice, may be it was just once, it’s actually not clear because I was so anxious the memory is a blur). Externally nothing bad happened aside from the person behind me honking and the person waiting to turn from the other direction flashed their lights at me. Internally, I was in a state of panic. The heightened emotional state created a strong negative association with driving.
This is where most people struggle because we won't always be able to know & predict what's within our capacity. And if we let it, the reinforced negative association can be enough to convince us to give up. Thankfully I know these dynamics well and the importance of creating a neutral or positive association with the activity. So, I gave myself time to calm down, ground, and I got right back to practicing. We went straight back to the parking lot and I drove around in circles stopping, starting, and shifting over and over until I felt calm & confident in doing so.
And then, after that, I moved to a quiet residential street with no lights, just stop signs.
And then, I moved to the busier roads. And when I did so that time, it felt drastically different to the previous time. It felt slightly uncomfortable, at the edge of my comfort zone - right where I wanted to be.
I am proud to share that I am now -somewhat - confident with driving a manual car on my own.
So as you can see, or at least I hope I've done a decent enough job at demonstrating that there is value in taking time, in honoring our capacity and that the optimal path forward is a bit more nuanced than those catchy motivational quotes might lead us to believe.