A single act of kindness may seem like such a small thing, but so is the ember that starts a wildfire.

Zero Dean

Author | Photographer | CG Artist | Filmmaker

We never learn what hidden gems lay along the paths we fear to take.

Leveling up in life

It is a fact of life that once we’ve reached a certain level of comfort in nearly any particular skillset, finding the motivation to further improve — or “level up” — one’s abilities in that skillset can be a challenge.

This is because, after a certain point, we reach a plateau and appear to stop getting results. And although we may try for a while, the struggle to further improve upon something is often fraught with failed attempts.

So instead, where we once saw a consistent path of improvement, we fail to get results.

People often assume that, because they stop improving, they have reached the apex of that particular skillset. It often comes with the thought, “Well, I’m no longer getting any better at this, so this must be as good at this as I will ever be” and they leave it at that. Or, because something doesn’t come easy, “I guess I’m just not very good at this particular thing. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

“I will never be a faster typer than this.”
“I will never be able to perform this skateboarding trick.”
“I will never be able to run a 5 minute mile.”
“I will never be able to paint like the pros.”
“I will never be fluent in another language.”
“I will never be able to play the piano well.”

And so on.

And that’s unfortunate because they’ve just fallen victim to a self-limiting belief. It’s not, in most cases, that they truly can’t, it’s that they no longer make any attempts to try.

Others fall into the trap of believing that if they simply continue to use a particular skill that they are comfortable with enough, they’ll get increasingly better at it.

The issue with that is that after you effectively hit a “plateau” with a skill (or a muscle), any further repeating of the same thing you’ve been doing will no longer yield significant gains, changes, or growth.

And that’s because it is the struggling and working hard, not comfortably, at something that causes one to get better at it.

And if you haven’t made the connection as to why this is important, this not only applies to skills, or strength training, but life as well.

If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”

It’s also why a wise person once said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

Joshua Foer, in his 99U talk (video) suggests that you need to “step outside your comfort zone and study yourself failing”.

From his talk description:

“When most of us learn a new skill, we work to get just “good enough” and then we go on autopilot. We hit what journalist and bestselling author Joshua Foer calls the “OK Plateau,” where we have gained sufficient skills for our needs and we stop pushing ourselves.

But experts do it differently. Looking at the research on everyone from incredible athletes to memory champions, Foer has extracted four principles that describe how to push through the OK Plateau to achieve true greatness.”

So if you want to “level up” your skills & abilities and be outstanding, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

You need to get back to challenging yourself and failing. And learning from your failures and pushing forward despite them.

And, above all, don’t give up until you begin to see positive results. Results being positive changes in your perspective, approach, style, or abilities.

Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.” — Andy Rooney

Getting Results:

When you don’t get results: Try something else.
If you don’t get the results you want: Try something else.
And if you stop getting results: Try something else.

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From the comments:

Carl: Great post! I have felt like I was at a plateau in my artwork for some time, and this thinking may have been part of it. One needs to examine their process with an eye towards learning how to work smarter, because just taking the same approach and expecting to get better can be just reinforcing bad (or less than ideal) habits that are holding back progress.

While “just doing more work” can lead to unexpected/accidental discoveries that lead to progress (as well as being important for maintaining current skill levels), intentionally thinking about why one approach or another may be better, and trying different approaches to find out what might work better (or finding out what approaches are used by those who are better than you) is likely to be more effective. I need to remind myself of this, more.

Zero: I agree. You can improve simply by doing more work — and have those serendipitous moments (happy accidents), but those, too, are often caused by making mistakes — or certainly by trying something new.

But if you want to improve faster, make more mistakes faster. :)

And I agree with working smarter, not harder — but, in the case of plateauing, it is often our lack of wanting to work hard that keeps us from improving. We’re not willing to make extra work for ourselves when we know of a “shortcut”. But we also never learn what hidden gems are on those long hard roads we fear to take.

A mission beyond your comfort zone

Your mission, if you choose to accept it today, is to get out of your comfort zone at least once.

Take a new route. Favor your other hand. Try to appreciate a song from a genre of music you don’t like. Initiate a conversation with a stranger…

Small or large, whatever it is, just do something differently today and gain a new perspective or insight.

Stretch yourself.

And have an awesome day.

*Disclaimer: You accept full responsibility for the outcome of any missions you choose to accept.

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Level of difficulty

Every time you say something is hard or difficult for you, you reinforce in your mind how difficult it is, and you actually make it harder and more difficult (according to your belief) than it needs to be.

The fact is, most things we do are difficult before they get easier. Everything from walking to talking to writing or typing was difficult at one point.

Rather than focus on how difficult something is, always focus on your progress and how far you’ve come, not on how far you have to go.

Because no matter how slow you go, as long as you are consistent in your efforts (and you are biologically capable), you will achieve what it is you set out to accomplish.

And what you once considered difficult, no longer will be.

But only if you get started and only if you don’t give up.

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If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

I just wanted to quickly express some thoughts I have regarding some of the occasionally more challenging content I write, such as: “If you have the power to change…” or “A tough pill to swallow.”

I don’t expect everyone to completely agree with — or be able to easily accept — my point of view on every post I share.

In fact, I hope this is not the case. I hope some of the more serious stuff I post makes people cringe or think hard or question themselves or what they believe.

That’s the point. And it doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.

If I constantly post things that everything thinks, “yeah, I agree”, then that’s not a terribly effective strategy at getting people to think, stretch, or grow. It’s simply telling people things they already know or want to hear.

Anyone can do that (and lots of people do). Some best-selling self-help authors make a habit of that.

Do you want to make friends? Grow a following? Get people to like you? It’s easy, just tell people exactly what they want to hear, boost their egos, or provide superficial solutions.

That’s ONE way.

The OTHER way is to challenge people and earn their respect.

While people may not always agree with you, they will be confident in knowing that you believe what you speak and that you’re not just saying it to 1) meet a content deadline or 2) tell people what they want to hear.

The things I share? They come from personal experiences and what I’ve learned from them. Some of my thoughts are more developed than others and if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you will notice that many continue to evolve.

While some of the posts I share may be seen as simple common sense or ancient “truths”, I’m not writing content to meet a schedule or fill a void. And I’m not reading things and simply regurgating what I read in order to sound qualified — or to be confident that I’m not saying something that someone far more educated or informed than I am will disagree with.

No. I’m living this stuff and have been working through all of it. Everything I write about comes from real-life experience.

The rejection posts, the power to change posts, the acts of kindness posts, the just getting through life posts. These come directly from things that I’ve lived through and learned and can back up — and not from a pile of books that I just assume the contents are true and the authors knew what they were talking about.

And when I do read, I question everything. But I already question everything anyway.

I question who I am. I question how I know what I know. And I even question what I don’t know.

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” — Buddha

And I think. And I try things. And explore within and without. And make mistakes. And I learn. And some of the mistakes I make should be common sense issues, but not for me. Which is also why I share what I learn, because what’s “common sense” for one person isn’t common sense for everyone.

And I will be the first to admit that besides making mistakes or occasionally saying something or doing something in a way I didn’t intend, there’s nothing I’ve done that I ever felt couldn’t have been done better. And regardless of how much I learn or how confident I feel, or how long I go without making mistakes, I will continue to think this.

And to me, this is a good thing. Because the moment you are certain that you know the one and only way is the moment you leave no room to learn that you’re wrong (even if you’re right).

So yeah, while many of the things I share will not be particularly challenging for most people most of the time (and that would get annoying if that were the case), these things I share can still be of value in helping people to reaffirm what they already believe or be reminded of things they already know, but haven’t been practicing.

But it really isn’t until I challenge people that I have the potential to make a significant difference. As a wise person once said, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

And while I don’t believe this to be 100% true — because I believe that you can also lead by example — getting people to face challenges is challenging, at best. People often resist challenges, resist change, and resist discomfort. But that is where growth occurs.

And I can say from experience, as someone who has deliberately faced challenges for over 1,289 days, it has been the most rewarding and most illuminating time of my life. And nearly everything I write about is a result of that.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

And I hope on some level, that what I share eventually influences some people in ways that enhance their lives specifically because I did make them think, or stretch, or grow.

And that’s why some of my posts may occasionally be more challenging than others.

“The sad thing is that, even though we know our lives aren’t working in certain areas, we are still afraid to change. We are locked into our comfort zone, no matter how self-destructive it may be. Yet, the only way to get out of our comfort zone and to be free of our problems and limitations is to get uncomfortable. We can only experience freedom in direct proportion to the amount of truth that we are willing to accept without running away.” — Robert Anthony

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Strength from discomfort

Strength from discomfort

A world that continually caters to making people more and more comfortable creates a world full of people who are less and less capable of coping with — and being open to — even the slightest discomfort or inconvenience.

We need to teach people to be able to deal with the challenges of life, not attempt to remove them all.

There will always be bullying. There will always be inclement weather. Flight delays. Long lines. Loud neighbors. Bumps in roads. Rule breakers…

Don’t give your child an unusual name, they’ll get made fun of? No. How about we provide children with the ability to effectively deal with name-calling and to not have their self-esteem be under other people’s control. How about we teach critical thinking and real-world problem-solving skills?

How about we teach people effective coping and communication skills and stop encouraging a world of people who simply want to make noise and complain?

I’m sorry, but not having enough whipped cream on your Mocha Frappuccino is not a real problem. Having to wait in line is not a real problem. Being bored is not a real problem.

If you’re on fire, yeah, that’s a real problem.

The above inconveniences are simply symptoms of a problem. And the problem is that we should all be able to easily and effectively deal with these things without them turning into some kind of negative “event” in our lives.

Don’t give people or minor inconveniences the power to ruin your day. As that will be a day of your life wasted.

We should work on being stronger — and helping others be stronger — and not on constantly trying to make life easier and more comfortable.

The real world doesn’t go away just because we dress it up to look like something else. All that does is alienate us from what’s real and lessens our ability to effectively deal with the inevitable challenges we all must face in life.

We acquire the strength we have overcome.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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"Strength from discomfort" by Zero Dean

Contrast is good

Contrast is good

You may not always like what’s happening in your life, but nothing provides a person with as much potential appreciation for the high points in life as the lows.

Everything we experience in life helps provide us with the perspective necessary to better be able to handle whatever comes next.

When one learns to appreciate contrast in life and accepts challenges as learning experiences they begin to see the value in all life experiences, not just the “good” ones.

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What it means to “live life to the fullest”

What it means to "live life to the fullest"

What it means to "live life to the fullest"

What it means to "live life to the fullest"

Living life to the fullest means continually reaching out for newer, richer, deeper, life-changing experiences. It means using those experiences as a means for personal growth and pushing the boundaries of yourself mentally, spiritually, and intellectually for the betterment of yourself and the world at large.

Living life to the fullest means taking an active role in your own development. It means steering the rudder of your own life and taking advantage of your unique and powerful potential as a person.

It’s about how the things you do in your life motivate & inspire others to do something motivating & inspiring in theirs — and, if you’re lucky, leave a legacy that long outlasts you.

“Your story is the greatest legacy that you will leave to your friends. It’s the longest-lasting legacy you will leave to your heirs.” — Steve Saint

To live life to the fullest means to maximize your capacity to experience what life has to offer around you. This, in turn, expands your consciousness resulting in even more opportunities to have an even broader range of life experiences.

To live life to the fullest means facing your fears with bravery, an open mind, and a lack of prejudice. It means making the most of what you have and never settling for less than the life you are capable of living. It means being truly alive and awake to life and not asleep in life’s waiting room.

There is a reason why Neale Donald Walsch said:

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

The key to living life to the fullest is opening your mind and stretching beyond your comfort zone. Because if you’re not being challenged or intentionally pushing yourself beyond the realm of things that are familiar to you, then the experiences you’re having are no longer changing you.

If we are growing we are always going to be outside our comfort zone.” — John C. Maxwell

Anything you do that limits your ability to experience the breadth of life reduces your ability to live life to the fullest. While this can include doing things that have an adverse effect on your health, it can also mean living in such a way that your lifestyle restricts your ability to have new experiences.

While living life to the fullest can, at times, involves living dangerously (in a life-threatening fashion), if you’re living in such a consistent fashion that your life expectancy is greatly reduced as a result, then this is simply thrill seeking. If the point of living life to the fullest is to maximize your capacity for taking advantage of what life has to offer you, then this involves maximizing the length of your life as well.

“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” — Diane Ackerman

While living life to the fullest often involves travel in order to experience new places, languages, or cultures, it isn’t a requirement. It is quite possible to push your personal boundaries simply by reading, performing a creative activity, or taking charge of one’s education — all of which can be done in the comfort of one’s home.

But simply “being busy”, having a full schedule, and living a life of routine is not living life to the fullest.

Working during the week and partying it up on the weekends is not living life to the fullest.

Going on a tour guided, everything-is-taken-care-of vacation, or a pre-packaged “adventure” every year is not living life to the fullest.

“The comfort zone is the great enemy to creativity; moving beyond it necessitates intuition, which in turn configures new perspectives and conquers fears.” — Dan Stevens

While living life to the fullest is about collecting experiences, it isn’t simply about knocking items off a bucket list. And it isn’t a competition to “do the most things before death.” It is about acquiring strength and wisdom from the challenges one has overcome and having experiences that alter how one perceives the world.

Living inside your comfort zone is one of the surest ways to know you’re not living life to the fullest. And as long as you are comfortable, you are not growing.

“Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not demanding more from yourself – expanding and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.” – Dean Karnazes

If you really want to live life to the fullest, make a habit of always reaching for new experiences that push you to grow. And when you’re growing, and your growth is having a positive influence on others, you’ll know you’re truly maximizing your life.

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