“Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning into the funeral”.
-Khalil Gibran, The Prophet- 1926
As many of you know, I am a great collector of quotes. Each morning on the way to taking my daughter to school we engage in a little exercise that I like to call words of wisdom, where I relate a famous quote to her and we talk about what it means and how it would apply to her life. Every staff meeting I hold ends with a famous quote that is topical to the day’s discussion and I file each and every one for use at a later date. But as much as I have collected and compiled innumerable quotes over the years and continue to do so daily, now and then I come across one that is impactful in a way that it really stays with me, and serves as a recurring reminder of virtues I truly value. So it was with this one, and while it can be applied to a myriad of facets of life, when it comes to golf, for me it really serves to highlight how our near desperate attachment to our “Comfort Zones” can very often be the linchpin to our problems in reaching “The Zone”.
You’ve heard of the “The Zone”, that Holy Grail that athletes in nearly every sport search for as it holds a near magical elixir of exceptional performance. Golfers of nearly every level have at least tasted it, even if only briefly. It is that elusive stretch of holes or rounds (less common), where we can seemingly do no wrong. Drives fly farther, approaches straighter, and the hole looks as big as bucket. You play with a sense of quiet confidence, as if you’ve finally discovered the key to making the game easy and for at least a fleeting moment you’re teased with the idea that it will be forever yours to hold. As we all know, however, it is merely a mirage, and like a desert oasis, it is an illusion that fades from view nearly as quickly as it appeared. When the game is your passion, though, you don’t give up easy and once we’ve tasted it many of us will spend a near lifetime on a proverbial “Grail Quest” to get back there.
Your “Comfort Zone”, on the other hand is a place that is easily found. It’s one you inhabit on a day to day, round to round basis, and a place where some innate force seems to pull you inexorably back to like a tractor beam every time you step just beyond it to taste the tantalizingly sweet nectar of “The Zone”. You par three holes in a row, only to follow them up with two double-bogeys. You hit your best drive in a year, setting you up for a short wedge to a vulnerable pin, and you dump it into the bunker. You knock your approach stone dead, 2 ½ feet from the pin, only to walk up and make a quick yippy little stab at the ball that slides by the hole without even touching the cup. We’ve all done something like it before and we walk away frustrated, muttering to ourselves, possibly applying something a bit short of what would qualify as love to the offending club, or pitching the stupid ball into a nearby lake. It’s simultaneously comfortable, yet unfortunately familiar territory. And it’s a place where we are continually beset with that terrible nagging feeling of knowing that we are capable of better, but not knowing how to get out of our own way to reach our true potential and escape from our “Comfort Zone” to “The Zone”.
Well truth be told, even Tour Players deal with similar issues. And while on the surface it sure appears their “Comfort Zones” are a lot closer to “The Zone”, it doesn’t feel any different and isn’t any easier for them than it is for us. And the first step we all need to take to get beyond it is often the most difficult. Our “Comfort Zones” are places we’re familiar with, where we can typically control the outcomes, we understand the expectations and, whether we want to admit it or not, they are places that our brains have been overtly conditioned to crave almost since birth. Moving beyond our “Comfort Zones” is by definition uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and this lust for comfort is something most of us have been conditioned into. Our family, friends, and society encourage us to go along and get along, to conform and acclimate, to blend and behave, and ultimately not do anything that will make us stand out, or embarrass those same friends, families, or ourselves. As much as we celebrate and reward stand-outs and individuality as a culture with our Hollywood Stars, our Sports Heroes, and our American Idols, behind the scenes the pursuit of such frivolity and more lofty ambitions is commonly discouraged as we are more often than not steered towards more realistic goals and down the safer path of the 4-year degree, the steady job, and the security of a comfortable yet modest retirement.
Despite all that, I’m here to tell you that you can defy years and even decades of conditioning, but if you want to get beyond your “Comfort Zone” you might just need to kill it! The formula for doing this may not look exactly the same for everyone, but to get started you need to do so by doing those things that you instinctively avoid the most. Sign up for Speechmasters if your fear is public speaking, sign up for open mic night at a local coffee house, or even audition for a part in a local production. Go bungee jumping, sky-diving, or rock-climbing if you have a fear of heights and look down, intentionally and repeatedly. Afraid of flying, book a flight somewhere, anywhere, but preferably somewhere you actually would like to go and the smaller the plane the better. And if you just can’t stand standing out, do something that will make people take notice. Dance down the street without any apparent music, lie down for a quick rest in a crowded public place, or any other silly “embarrassing” act you can think of that won’t immediately land you in jail, get you fired from your job, or have your relatives scrambling for the phone number of the guys in the white coats.
Stepping beyond your “Comfort Zone” in one area, any area, has amazing benefits in almost every area, and when it comes to golf will very likely get you a little closer to “The Zone” on a more regular basis than you ever thought possible as you get more and more comfortable with feeling a little bit of uneasiness on a regular basis. And as far as life goes?… Well chances are you’ll end up re-awakening that passion in your soul and feeling more alive than you have in quite a long time. So kill your “Comfort Zone” by facing those things that have been holding you back, and making it a habit of putting yourself into places that make you feel at least a little bit less than comfortable. It’s never as bad, or as hard as you think it will be and if you do you will grow in so many ways that when all is said and done and it’s time for the ol’ pine box I’ll venture to bet you’ll be the one left grinning. Let me know what you think.