Trying to Solve a Problem? Stretch your Comfort Zone!

Each morning I make a habit of listening to a TED Radio Hour with Guy Raz. Today's choice, called "To the Edge,” featured a woman named Roz Savage, who related her shocking decision to quit her cushy management consulting gig in London to row alone across the 3,000-mile Atlantic Ocean in a 23-foot boat.

What is it that pushes us to create disruption for ourselves, to wrench our own bodies, minds, and sprits from of our cozy comfort zones? What happens to us when we choose to do the uncomfortable, ambiguous, daring thing?

Though not as extreme, I’ve had a life-changing experience that also involved the ocean. While my college classmates studied abroad in Paris or Moscow our junior year, I went sailing aboard a 138-ft tall ship in the North Atlantic. Along with other students, I learned celestial navigation, conducted oceanographic research, and participated in a bond with the ocean, my ship, and my crew.

 My time aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer changed my life, not as joltingly as Roz’s trip did her's, but maybe with some similarities. Here are a few lessons I learned while stretching my comfort that have changed my perspective and problem-solving approach:

  1. Humans are resourceful when they need to be. As Roz Savage says, “It’s amazing how resourceful you can become when you’re in the middle of the ocean and there’s only one way to get to the other side.” In a sense, we already have the tools we need to solve the problems we encounter. Though the solutions may not knock on the door, we can usually find them with enough inquiry, experimentation and skin in the game.
  2. I am a creature, part of this earth. If there is anything I’ve learned from standing at the top of a forsail, about 200 feet above the ocean, it was the paradox of insignificance and power. As Roz says, I am “just another creature. There’s real freedom to be found in that simplicity.” Given a seemingly complex problem, most of the time the simplest answer is the right answer.
  3. Manual labor with others begets a strong bond. “When you want people to get along,” a former manager told me, “make them build something together.” It’s true for team building, and it’s true for problem solving. Exercising problem-solving skills with your hands and bodies puts you out there, gets you up and moving, and that’s great.
  4. Great experiences make great stories. Did I ever tell you about the time I (accidentally) set fire to the galley? Or when we were caught in the middle of three storms, drifting closer to the Canary Islands than the U.S. coast? We use stories to relate to, teach to and sell to each other. A powerful narrative is as inspirational and informative as it is entertaining.

I hung up my foul-weather gear years ago, but my experiences have expanded my comfort zone to appreciate ambiguity, teamwork, ingenuity, and simplicity.

Have you had a similar experience of comfort zone expansion or even destruction? How did it change you? Message me: @ThoughtBee