How to expand your comfort zone when facing a new challenge?

 

How can you find the confidence and reassurance needed when facing a new challenge or one bigger than those you encountered before? By using the same tool that actually builds trust and loyalty: rituals. Here’s why.

THE SUGAR SHACK

For a few years, we had the same family habit when came spring. It actually became a ritual: heading to a sugar shack. Stretching our bellies out with food cooked in or covered with maple syrup. Lighting our imagination with scents and perfumes revived through melting snow. Adding new memories atop those we already had in different mind boxes tagged “maple syrup”, “friends and family gatherings”, “burst of laughter”, or else. That was all part of the ritual. Of the things I would personally do to jumpstart my brain. So I could put in motion the personal or professional plans I’d had thought through during winter.

More often than not, we’d try to head to the same shack. We’d invite the same people. At times, though, the invitation would be extended to new guests as well. People we knew, we thought would fit well with the group, at that particular moment, and could enjoy the place as well. Once at the shack, we’d be going through almost the same steps; a ride in a horse-pulled carriage, being welcomed by the shack’s manager, etc. The staff would serve us the same food as last time, in similar pots. There also was the music band to accompany us while eating. When we felt every plate and topics were emptied, every bite of fun and laughter had been eaten, we’d all go our separate ways. Knowing there was that special bond of affinity, relationship and trust between us. Not only because of that single event. Because of the constancy and reliability found in the different encounters and interactions we had over time. Just like the constancy and reliability found at the sugar shack we had just visited and in the food we had eaten there. Meeting these same people and experiencing similar emotions to those before simply provided comfort. The same (or one close to) that we’d find when we reached out to one another some days, weeks or months later. Either to share good news, just keep in touch, or seek some support. Again using some sort of rituals – like calling him on a week end afternoon because he works evenings during the week, or exchanging only email with her to set a late diner because she works extended hours on the road, etc..

IN KNOWN TERRITORY

By definition, rituals are a sequence of actions or behaviors we tend to repeat before, during or after an event. Think of the sugar shack story or the same set of actions you repeat every day before going to bed. Because of repetition, rituals actually have the capacity to instill, provide and reinforce what comfort food does. That is reassurance and confidence. Because you find yourself in known territory. You have “your marks”, your reference points. Let them be a familiar face (like a regular employee at the tea shop you go every morning), a place, a meal, a context or a reason to be somewhere or do so-and-so in the first place. Things you are familiar with and know what to expect from. Enough to feel reassured on the unfolding and outcome of what you intend to do or are in the middle of doing. Which often isn’t the case when you have to walk an unchartered territory. Like going to a sugar shack for the first time in your life could be.

Through repetition, rituals dissipate uncertainty and replace it with familiarity.

They do so by acting like building blocks for reassurance and confidence. Let it be towards a person, an object, a place, a context or an event, as mentioned above. Rituals also help transform a basic confidence in someone into a more meaningful trust and loyalty towards him/her. Why? Because the constancy and reliability you find in a person’s actions and behavior towards you in a given situation, lead you believe that, if the dire situation was to represent itself again, you could expect a similar (when not identical) outcome. Consider picking up a cup of tea at your favorite shop or banner. Price might be the reason why that particular shop or banner – compared to others – had become your favorite one. Chances are higher, though, that it became your favorite one because the same clerk always knew what mix to suggests, depending of the mood your were in then; “You need a morning energy boost? Go with this mix”, “You want to cool things down? Have that other tea”. When you judge that a person is worth trusting, it roots that relation to a comfort zone, to “feeling good and confident about it”.

The same trust building process applies to your best friendships too. As once a meet that went well is over, you naturally tend to feel like if you were mentally and emotionally sated. Now ready to “go back to your life” and keep on trying to tackle whatever challenges life has sent you. Even if right before you went to the tea shop or met a best friend, you were actually anxious and uncertain about how you could handle these same challenges. With that comfort zone in your life, it then becomes easier to consider the uncertainty ahead. Because you know you can always go back, if needed. More importantly, because you know there are people out there that “have your back”. That you can count on, if needed. Even if what you need is a special tea mix to get rid of that recurring soared throat.

The more these moments of comfort with someone repeat themselves (almost like a ritual), the higher your level of trust (and eventually of loyalty) in them tend to get. It applies to organizations and products as well. It’s the “known territory” factor.

In a sense, trust and loyalty are the outcome of comfortable social interactions (P2P or P2B). Rituals enhance that.

WHEN HABITS BECOME RITUALS THEN GROW INTO ROUTINES

To be considered as such, a ritual doesn’t need to have a religious side to it. Neither to be set in stone and never be changed or simply dropped. Habits can actually become rituals and grow into routines, when they become part of what you do before, during or after an event, a situation or a context presents itself. Going to a job interview, for instance. “Ok, I need to do this, that and this, in the half our preceding the interview in order to feel ready”. A ritual grows into a routine when it becomes almost mechanical, recurring.

You can easily find the routines of famous entrepreneurs or people on the internet; see here. A very detailed case of rituals that had grown into routines is Michael Phelps’ one. Read article 1 and article 2.

THE BENEFIT OF RITUALS

The main benefit of rituals is that they act as a stress and anxiety reliever. Because they create a specific mindset. One that allows the person to have some sort of grasp and influence over what’s happening, on how things unfold. More importantly, because of repetition, rituals can help someone develop his/her mastery of some tasks or activities. Therefore having the building block effect that support the reassurance and gain of confidence I’ve mentioned above.

A BASIC NEED FOR SECURITY

Humans are suckers for safety and security. Some more than others but still, it’s part of who we are, as living beings. More importantly, it is essential to our survival. In many ways then, the confidence, reassurance, trust and loyalty we can pull out of our everyday life plays an important role. As it provides what we need to deal the best we can with the uncertainties of life, and take on the challenges that “living” actually brings. So we can thrive from overcoming them. Or bluntly put, we can increase our chances of survival. Figuratively and literarily speaking.

We find such security and safety in what we are familiar with, have experienced before or in known territories. Opposite to unchartered territories; which are often synonyms of uncertainty. Something you can learn to deal with through practicing different rituals. Ones that will provide the experience and mastery you need in a certain situation, and provide the confidence that goes along. Enough to dissipate uncertainty as much as possible and replace it by familiarity. Think of Michael Phelps example.

IN THE END…

When you put things in perspective, rituals expand your comfort zone. Even when you’re walking uncharted territories. A comfort zone that serves as an uncertainty and anxiety reliever. The same as it enhances confidence, reassurance, trust and loyalty. Attributes that are actually very helpful when facing a new challenge or one bigger than those you encountered before.

Now, what are the (personal, social or business) rituals you can either bring in your life or your business so you can keep on thriving and moving forward? Instead of going in circles, stalling or declining?

Signature PF