Be Ham Fisted: Break your comfort zone.

I recently started reading Brian Tracy’s Maximum Achievement, one of umpteen personal development books out there, and one of the oldest (originally published in 1993). There was no specific impetus to seek the book out: During my random Sunday research I landed upon references to it, found it and started reading it. It’s sold as a business book but the principles apply to pretty much everything in life.

What separates Tracy’s book from the others is it has far less self-congratulatory fluff text than the others, and far more analysis and discussion on how our minds fundamentally work, plus how you go about re-aligning yourself for success from the ground up. About 1/3 of the way in, I’d already highly recommend it, even if you just read the first 120 or so pages and put it down with a new understanding of how your brain works.

I bring the book up not just because I’m reading it, but because he hit my current situation right in the gut with this quote:

“A major difference between leaders and also-rans is that superior men and women are always stretching themselves, pushing themselves out of their comfort zones. They are very aware how quickly the comfort zone, in any area, becomes a rut. They know that complacency is the great enemy of creativity and future possibilities.”

A comfort zone, in any area, can quickly become a rut. I am in a rut. It never occurred to me until now that my rut could, in fact, be the direct product of my comfort zone dictating my actions. Why did I suddenly lose confidence in my abilities? Perhaps my growth and experience has just landed me in an unfamiliar place. The umpteen mile road trip of our lives just has me on a steep highway incline climbing up a mountain range. It may not seem that way, since I don’t distinctly feel like I’m struggling with anything in particular, but the combination of my experience with my current work has me re-learning to walk with yet another new set of bionic legs.

Or, conversely, my previous comfort with my work (which I’ll peg from about mid February until about a week ago) may have been a plateau of development, where I had developed substantial ability but at that time wasn’t growing or pushing myself. I had enough time to get comfortable with my ability in that period. Suddenly, I’m once again pushing myself, and that comfort has dissipated.

The next line from Tracy after the above quote eerily echoes another concept I’ve been working with:

“For you to grow, to get out of your comfort zone, you have to be willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable doing it the first few times. If it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing poorly until you get a feel for it, until you develop a new comfort zone at a new, higher level of competence.”

I did a scene in Jorin Garguilo‘s iO class where I didn’t quite get to the heart of the scene. After the scene I totally knew it, and Jorin addressed it. Instead of telling him yes, I know I know (a defensive tendency I’ve always had to work on quelling), I listened and took the notes.

A classmate chimed in (the following is all paraphrased), “If the dialogue in the scene isn’t conducive to him making that point, how do you do it without being ham-fisted?”

Jorin replied, “Go ahead and be ham-fisted. If you have important information to share, do what it takes to get it out there. It might be awkward for a moment, but it’ll move the scene forward and make it better.”

I realize part of our comfort zones as improvisers is to make our dialogue and actions fit our usual narratives and patterns of behavior. And often times those narratives and patterns can be useful and engaging.

But a lot of great, funny scenes are about testing and often breaking those patterns. The most frequently productive way to do this is with brutal honesty in the moment, e.g…. your character hates another character’s cooking. I bet just saying it as bluntly as possible will not only make a funnier moment and scene than the most clever lines you could concoct, but getting over the hump of revealing that info will push the scene somewhere no one would have imagined it would go, which probably makes a better scene than to dance around the subject and not say what your character is feeling or wanting.

Plus, most of all, we as the audience and your fellow players may not know what you’re thinking, or see what you’re seeing. Trying to figure the scene out if we’re not sure will take us out of the scene. Plus, bottling that detail inside gets you in your head and takes YOU out of the scene. If you as a player get that info out there, everyone now knows, keeping everyone (you, fellow players and audience) in the scene with you and allowing us to enjoy where it goes.

I realize one of the things that draws me to improv is each scene’s fascinating exploration of humanity. That exploration is a lot more possible and fun for players by challenging our comfort zones, which includes clearly communicating thoughts out of our heads and into the reality of the scene. We get in our heads because that is part of our comfort zone. We can’t be present and in the moment without getting out of our heads, which requires we get out of our comfort zones and be willing to take the risk of truthfully being in a scene as a character.

I don’t know if this will break my rut, but I do know this idea is worth considering. Plus, you ought to read Maximum Achievement.

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