Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Have You Organized Your Expedition Yet?

de3If you search Google for “self confidence” you will often come across articles about children gaining confidence by participating in various activities, as diverse as karate, ballet or magic. One of my favourite posts,  “How to Build Self Confidence Through Activity” discusses this issue.  I did express concern that the amount of practice and skill required to do some activities (ballet, karate) well may make them counter productive – especially when aimed at children.

However, the post and my general attitude to activity (especially as an Occupational Therapist!) as a tool to build self confidence is very positive. I had a chance to reflect on this last week when my daughter received her Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Gold Award at an elaborate ceremony in London.

The DofE  has been going over 50 years and over 4 million young people have completed either the bronze, silver or gold award. The purpose is:-

DofE programmes help young people develop into fully rounded and responsible individuals.  Participants will see new talents and skills develop and emotional maturity blossom whilst also building their fitness and initiative.

At the ceremony the expression “build self confidence” came up on a few occasions; from a recent survey 85% of gold award holders reported increased self confidence. To achieve any of the three awards the youngsters have to take part in various activities in the following sections:-

Volunteering – helping someone, your community or the environment
Physical – becoming fitter through sport, dance or fitness activities
Skills – developing existing talents or trying something new
Expedition – planning, training for and completing an adventurous journey
Residential (Gold only) – staying and working away from home as part of a team

I should add that my other two daughters did start the DofE but didn’t pursue it.  One major problem with the DofE is that it needs the support of schools and volunteer leaders to help facilitate the programmes. My elder daughter happened to go to a school where the DofE was seen as a “good thing” and she got the support.

As adults, how often do we get involved in volunteering, take up sports and get fit, make a concerted effort to improve one of our skills, or plan and take part in an expedition!  Some may sound unrealistic, but the common thread is they all involve stepping outside our comfort zone.

I write this as Ranulph Fiennes becomes the first Briton over 65 to reach the top of Everest –  having also been to both North and South poles and only a few years ago ran 7 full marathons in 7 days. Yet:-

He achieved this feat despite having had a heart attack, triple bypass surgery, prostate cancer treatment and a previous attempt stopped by a critical angina attack at 28,000ft.

The above quote is from an excellent full profile in The Times.  I’m not suggesting anyone else goes to that extreme, in a previous post I have challenged some of the mentality behind risk taking:- Does taking risks build confidence? But stepping outside our comfort zone for the most part shouldn’t involve life threatening risk.

Make my Kids Happy

clownCoincidentally, there was an “experiment” conducted by a TV show recently that also looked at introducing activity. But initially they took  away teenagers “bling” for 4 weeks.  By bling they meant any electrical item (TV, MP3, phone, computers) and things like make up. By removing bling and introducing other activity, did this increase the teenagers self esteem?

As an experiment I was somewhat sceptical as they only used 12 subjects. Also, as with the happiness experiment I reflected on, being part of a television programme and being in a select group is going to have an effect on your self esteem anyway.

As part of the experiment they had to fill the vacuum left by giving up their electronic entertainment by doing voluntary work and other activities – such as talking to their families!  However, the big focus was on the use of make up by the 14 year old girls, as that, worryingly, was what they found most difficult giving up.

Using valid and reliable self esteem rating scales they did show a significant increase in the participants self esteem – which the tests showed was quite low to start with.

What I thought was significant was the ongoing work that was done by the psychologist running the experiment.  From the ongoing interviews it was clear how much the self esteem of the participants – particularly the girls – was tied up with their appearance.  Giving up their make up was like being asked to go to school naked.

In this case the activity became secondary. Convincing the children that their value didn’t depend on creating a false beauty, that they all had a natural attractiveness that didn’t need “paint” to realign, was the central theme of the programme.  It did appear to convince some of the participants, but to me flagged up how easy it is for people to develop a fragile self esteem.

“If rejection destroys your self-esteem, you’re letting others hold you as an emotional hostage.” ~ Brian Tracy

Comfort Zone Again

The actual DofE presentation was carried out by Sian Williams, a TV anchor from the BBCs Breakfast Show (so I was told, never watching TV at that hour). She gave a short speech, confessing to being extremely nervous at doing so in front of about 150 people.

This from someone who regularly appears on television in front on millions of viewers, and has reported from very challenging situations. But whilst appearing in front of a camera was now “comfortable”, giving a speech to “real” people was suddenly a step outside that zone!

Photos by Successphotography and Mel B. (latter on Flickr)

animal liability insurance May 27, 2009 at 4:07 pm

I think expeditions are great self confidence builders for adults.

I used to feel a little dependent on familiar surroundings so I decided to take adventures to different US states and various cities alone. It forces you out of your shell especially because you have to get your money worth. Watch the travel channel / food channel and visit the places and do the things you see on the TV. So worth while.

Tim June 16, 2009 at 4:34 am

You know, self confidence is one thing, being able to perform under certain conditions is yet another. I think that we often expect a little too much from both our kids and organized kid’s sports, etc. I am not a believer in “every kid gets to play” but then I come from the “old school” where the kids with the talent got to play first. If every kid is going to have to play and winning “doesn’t matter” anymore, what kind of message does that deliver? I don’t think it has anything to do with self confidence. The talented kids still get the attention and play more so why make a non-talented kid play at all? Just an old fart harping about today’s values. Don’t pay me any mind.

Tims last blog post..Get Rid of Warts

David June 16, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Having gone through school myself as someone who was crap at team sports I certainly wouldn’t subscribe to either making non talented kids do something they don’t like or are very poor at, nor the view that competition is bad. My point is that stepping outside our comfort zone is good for building self confidence, and often (but not for everyone) sport is a good vehicle for doing so.

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