It Gets Challenging

The arrival of summer in Oregon ushers in blueberry season.  I love this, because fresh-picked Oregon blueberries are for superior tasting than anything I could buy in a grocery store.  Aside from their superior taste, picking your own berries from one of the local fields is a summertime activity that is not to be missed.

The beginning of the picking season is the best!  All of the bushes are loaded with big clusters of ripe berries.  This makes for easy picking.  You don’t have to work very hard and in a short time you can be done picking and on your way with several pounds of blueberry goodness.

The scene is a little different as the season progresses.  The picking gets more challenging as more people get out and hit the field.  Gone are the huge, numerous clusters.  This is when you have to start searching the branches for smaller clusters that are hidden from site.  The more the season passes, the more you have to work to get the results you want.  The berries are still sweet and delicious; you just have to work harder for them… but it’s worth the effort!

I think it’s a lot like that when we’re learning new skills.  Starting out, we often see results quickly because we’re going from total ignorance on the topic to acquiring the most basic skills.  We go from knowing absolutely nothing to knowing something about the topic.  Although this basic knowledge often comes quickly, we soon realize that there is a whole lot more that we don’t know about the topic.  We also realize that if we want to get beyond a beginner’s skillset, it’s going to be challenging and require significant effort on our part.

I think it’s here that people often give up pursuing something they want.  They’ve gotten past the initial easy steps and arrive at the point where it’s going to take more effort than before to get where they want to go.  If that effort seems too great, they give up.

We’ve all been here in some form or another. It’s where we ask ourselves just how badly we want it.  How much do we want to:

  • Improve upon or learn a new skill
  • Learn a new language
  • Be able to use a new piece of technology
  • Improve a relationship
  • Become a better leader
  • Or simply pick enough blueberries to fil the large container we brought with us

Knowing that the challenges increase after starting is helpful, because we can anticipate them and be ready to address them when we might otherwise be caught off guard by them and give up.

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Start With a Dot

Think about learning a new topic, whether for work, for fun, or for a changing life circumstance.  There is so much you don’t know at the beginning of the learning process that it can feel overwhelming or even hopeless; like you’ll never be able to master the topic.  So how do we overcome this feeling?  What’s the best way to start our learning journey, on our way toward mastery?  I say, “Start with a dot.”

Learning usually starts with a book, a lecture, Googling a topic, or a number of other methods to begin gaining basic information about a topic.  This basic information could be things like, vocabulary or acronyms specific to the topic, names of people in the field, specific dates, places, or events relevant to the history of the topic.  Think of each of these basic pieces of information as unique individual dots.

As you begin your initial discovery, the first piece of information you learn, represents your first dot.  Congratulations!  You now know something about your topic that you didn’t know before.  Now that you have your first dot, continue the discovery process until you learn another piece of information.  Congratulations again!  You’ve discovered your second dot.

So now you have 2 dots.  That’s good, but it’s about to get great!  Here’s where you begin to catapult your learning to a new level.  Take your 2 dots and determine how those 2 pieces of information are connected, in relation to the context of the topic you’re studying.  Begin connecting the dots.

Once we are armed with a couple of dots, we are now able to go to people who are more knowledgeable on the topic  and ask intelligent questions.  Our 2 dots allow us to talk in the language of the topic with someone who can help us:

  • connect the dots we already have, and
  • discover new dots and make connections to those dots from the dots we already have

Here’s an example:  When I was first learning to fly fish I learned that dry flies were flies that imitated bugs floating on top of the water.  I then learned that files called nymphs imitated bugs that moved along the bottom of the river.  With that knowledge, I was able to talk to people who had been fly fishing for many years and ask them about these 2 types of flies and how they were used.

After reading and talking about these types of files with people, I realized that I could use both fly types to represent a significant portion of an aquatic insect’s lifecycle, thus improving my chances of success on the water.  If the bugs weren’t on top of the water, I could switch to fishing with a nymph, and vice versa.  I now had an understanding of the importance of the roll each of these types of flies played in the overall topic of fly fishing.  I had connected my 2 initial dots about fly fishing.

As I explored the connection of my initial 2 dots, my number of additional fly fishing dots (and connections) began to compound.  I was rapidly on my way to increasing and applying my newly found knowledge of fly fishing.

The next time you feel overwhelmed at the beginning of a new learning process, just focus on identifying 2 dots.  Once you have them, look for the connection.  Then, repeat the process of collecting an additional dot and looking for the connections to the dots you already possess.  You’ll be surprised how quickly your number of dots and connections will increase.

What a Difference A Week Makes

My wife and I got a new cat 2 weeks ago.  We named him Chewy.  The 1st week was rough!  Chewy had a traumatic introduction to our house and also destroyed a piece of furniture via bodily functions.  I was extremely frustrated.  All I could see was a future of destroyed furniture and a cat that didn’t like being in our home.

In an effort to start over, we moved Chewy into the spare bathroom with his food, water, litter box, bedding, and toys.  We also spent time in there with him every day and re-started the slow process of building trust.

Since being in his own space, and coupled with our consistent effort, Chewy has become very comfortable and affectionate with us.  He is adapting well and is a totally different cat than he was a week ago.

This experience reminded me of other times when I have been in frustrating situations, or ones that were not what I was expecting.  In those moments, it can be hard to see past the present situation and into a brighter future.  However, I think being able to have a long-term perspective while in the middle of a bad situation is crucial.  Keeping a longer-term perspective helps us stay motivated to take the necessary actions today that will lead us to the brighter future we envision.

As we all know, not every difficult situation is rectified with a week.  Some situations require a longer timeframe.  Others require much longer timeframe.  But nothing happens, nothing changes our situation, when we fail to take the necessary action to move us forward.

Today’s frustration can be distracting and, if we lack a long-term perspective, that frustration can keep us from doing the work required to pave the path to our better future.  That’s why it’s so important to see beyond our current situation.  For it is multiple days of consistent effort in the right direction that will one day cause us to look back and say, “Wow!  What a difference a <insert timeframe> makes!”

Your Comfort Zone and Beyond               

We all know that in order to stretch and grow we must consistently get out of our Comfort Zone.  But just how far out of our Comfort Zone should we be going?  Is there a limit?

I think there are 3 sections relating to our Comfort Zone that look like the following:

ComfortZoneGraphic-4-Jul-15

The characteristics of each section are as follows:

Our Comfort Zone:

  • Things you attempt are easy to accomplish
  • Success is almost certain
  • This space can expand as we master items in our Challenge Zone

Our Challenge Zone:

  • Things in this zone represent endeavors we have not yet attempted, or are in the early stages of trying
  • Success is not certain, but is likely with practice and continued effort
  • Mastery of items in this zone causes those items to move out of our Challenge Zone and into our expanded Comfort Zone

Our Danger Zone:

  • Items in this space represent skills or talents we do not yet , or may never, possess
  • Outcomes are disastrous at best; dangerous at worst
  • Items in this space can move into our Challenge Zone, and even our Comfort Zone, but only after significant effort, failure, and disciplined practice; it is a slow process

When we step out of our Comfort Zone, we should look for those items that lie within our Challenge Zone, perhaps those items close to, but not exceeding, the far edge of our Challenge Zone.  These items are the ones that will stretch us the most and cause the most rapid growth.

Take for example, a person who wants to be an airline pilot who has never flown an airplane before.  They would not start out flying a 500+ passenger aircraft for a major airline.  That would certainly be in their Danger Zone and would have disastrous consequences.  They’d first start out learning to fly small single engine airplanes.  Initially, this would be something that would be in their Challenge Zone, but as they spend time with a flight instructor, they would eventually develop mastery in this area.  At that point, flying small single engine aircraft would be in their Comfort Zone and they would be ready to move to move up to the next larger aircraft that is in their Challenge Zone.  They would continue learning to become familiar with increasingly complex aircraft, until that 500+ passenger aircraft has moved from their Danger Zone into their Challenge Zone.  At that point, they would begin training in that aircraft, until its mastery, which was once in their Danger Zone, becomes part of their Comfort Zone.

Moving items from the Danger Zone to the Comfort Zone is a process that is usually timely and slow, so patience and discipline is required.

What items would you like to add to your Comfort Zone?  What item in your Challenge Zone can you begin working on today to move you one step closer to its mastery and an eventual placement in your Comfort Zone?  Don’t wait!  Get started today and begin seeing your Comfort Zone expand as you achieve things you never thought possible.