Row Row Row …your way out of the comfort zone! 

This morning I got up with my husband at 5 something a.m. to help him get out the door on time, get nourishment, that kinda thing. I was exhausted and planned on going back to sleep when he left. But once I was in bed again, I couldn’t sleep and figured it would be a good time to go to the gym. We have one in our neighborhood, so I walked there and decided to use the rowing machine. 

Here’s the thing about me and exercise: I need to not realize I’m working out in order for it to happen. This requires optimum mental conditions and the perfect level of distractions or I get bored and discouraged, throw a mental temper tantrum that includes the statements “this is stupid,” “it’s too hard,” “I suck at this,” and the old reliable,”I look good enough. Screw this, I’m going home.” (Which is in direct conflict with how my knees feel on the way up my stairs, how my pants fit, and my unceasing desire to wear crop tops again. Someday.) So I have an arsenal of tricks that I employ at the gym, depending on the exercise.

 If I’m on the treadmill, I have an energizing playlist going in my ears, and my iPad BLOCKING the miles/calories/time so I don’t have to see the reality of where I am and how much or little I’ve accomplished. Instead, I’m on Pinterest, looking at all the cute clothes I want to wear. There are many crop tops. 

If I’m on the elliptical machine, I’m usually reading a book, which blocks the same progress info as the treadmill. I have my headphones hooked up to a noise app on my iPad, set to “maximum blocking noise” in order to be able to completely not notice the TVs or anyone else in the gym, unless they come up and physically touch me. Which makes me jump. 

If I’m on weight machines, I’m usually listening to an audio book, and I’m not counting reps at all. I keep doing the same motion until whatever body part I’m working on feels like it hates me, at which point I move on to another machine. 

Now, when it comes to the rowing machine (my exercise of choice first thing this morning) I am in heaven because it has game settings. There’s a racing game, a fish game, and a darts game. I pair the games with my ever-present headphones, and I’m good to go.
The racing game is boring. Two boats are there, kinda moving, I can’t even tell which one is mine. I’m moving, I appear to be winning, but there’s no real challenge.

The fishing game was my initial “have fun while working out” choice for rowing. Your character is a medium-sized fish who has to eat the smaller fish while avoiding the bigger fish. Each row controls the motion of the fish. It can get a little crazy. I liked it for a while until I realized I was focusing way too much on trying to eat the little fish and kept getting eaten by the big fish and it stopped being fun. (Also, my movements were all over the place, so I doubt the exercise was as effective as it could have been.) Once I started losing that damn game, I started focusing on how long I’d been on the machine, and it started to suck. 

Then I discovered the dart game. It was a simple concept where every time I did the rowing motion, I would let a virtual dart fly; depending on the fluidity of my physical movements, I would be closer or farther away from center target. The challenge is just enough to hold my interest and keep me distracted while I get in a great workout. 

I know, you’re wondering “What the hell does your exercise avoidance have to do with creativity?” I’m getting there. Gimme a sec. 

There’s a certain comfort zone we all have for various areas in our lives. Keep us in our comfort zone, and we feel safe, but not much new and exciting happens. Take us far out of our comfort zone without knowing how to handle it, and we flounder and feel lost, and may even feel like failures. 

Creativity is no exception. Creative success happens somewhere in between the comfort zone and the unknown. If we stay in our comfort zone, we might be happy with what we’re making for a while, but eventually we’ll get bored, our ideas will dry up, and we run the risk of becoming unmotivated. (like the rowing race game) 

If we take on a challenge far removed from our comfort zone, put pressure on the outcome to be GREAT, and compare ourselves to others, (like all the chaos with the fish game) we run the risk not just of failure, but of damaging our idea of worth as artists, and saying “Screw this, I’m going home.” 

If we take small challenges with lower expectations for the outcome, we are letting our brains be intrigued by something new, building our confidence as artists, and opening our comfort zone a little more each time, so the bigger challenges become smaller as we gradually approach them. (kinda like the dart game.) 

And we want it to be fun so we keep showing up for the challenge!  (Headphones 😉)

*Note:  This is not to say you should never take the big leaps out of your comfort zone! You need a healthy self awareness regarding how much pressure you’re comfortable with, and how you handle possible failure. Remember, Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before perfecting the first lightbulb, and FAIL can stand for First Attempt In Learning! If you’re about to go big, it may be a comfort to have a friend join you in the challenge, to increase the fun and lighten the situation up a bit, or lower expectations for the outcome and give yourself full credit for the chutzpah you demonstrated by going for it! (And treat yourself to a cupcake! Hmmm…maybe that’s why I don’t make fitness progress; I’m always rewarding my creative chutzpah. Ehh, I’ll row it off.) 

So the question is, how are you progressing out of your comfort zone, and how do you make it fun enough to keep showing up? 

Here are some ideas that have helped me and many other people.

  • Take a class
  • Join some artist groups on Facebook where you can show your work
  • Be open to inspiration from random sources like nature, Pinterest, or the grocery store
  • Make a playlist of music that gets you in the mood to make or write stuff
  • Dedicate a small challenge in honor of a friend, loved one, or a belief that’s important to you
  • Check out the artists behind some work you admire, and read about their personal struggles and failures
  • Take part in the Art Abandonment project by making small pieces of art and leaving them in a public place for people to find, with a small note attached
  • Have a special thinking cap or tiara to wear when it’s time to make stuff.
  • Remember failures are still steps in the right direction
  • Make a list of all the possible results of failure, make the list insanely over the top (“Could accidentally hot glue craft to mouth and starve to death”) and then take a small step out of the comfort zone knowing the likelihood of that happening is smaller than the regret you’d have by avoiding the possible fun of going for it.
  • Start your creative endeavors with some expectation-free doodle time to loosen up.
  • Model the rhythm of your writing after a well known poem to get ideas flowing
  • Set a reminder on your phone or computer for creative time. Sync it with a funny or inspiring picture and great music if possible
  • Go to the gym or take a walk in nature!  Seriously, great ideas love to be born from exercise 🙂 

These are just a few ideas. I would love to hear how you get yourself moving in a new direction! Please share your creative growth tricks in the comments. Have an awesome day!

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