With summer drawing to a close, I got to thinking about vacations. I find it fun to look a map and pick a location I’ve never been to before. Usually, just as I arrive at my new destination, I get this sense of accomplishment that I have expanded my personal map just a little bit further. But it wasn’t always this way.
As you may know, I tend to lean on the introvert side of the spectrum. Ever since I was 9 years old, I knew that I had agoraphobic tendencies, which is an irrational fear of public spaces. When I was in my 20s, a series of unfortunate events dropped me deep into the introvert side of my nature. Before I knew it, I had not left my home in three months.
I stayed in my apartment because it felt safe to me. I knew what to expect and I knew I could survive there. My job was kind enough to keep employing me during this time, allowing me to do my software development at home. However, I knew if I remained in that state for too long I could soon be out of a job and might never leave again.
What I realized is that I wanted (needed, really) to make other places feel as safe as my house. The only way to do that was to make a game out of expanding my personal map, a little bit at a time. First, I stretched my map to the corner store, then to the bank, then the office, across town, across the state and so on.
Just like the map of our physical world, we have internal maps where certain places feel safe and others feel truly foreign. Using these maps, we create entire worlds for ourselves where we feel confident and in control. We avoid places, experiences, people and even parts of our own personalities that have not been mapped out yet. In those places we feel like foreigners in a foreign land.
Life lived on a small personal map for years without expansion is like living on a deserted island. It can be boring, isolating and eventually lead to stagnation, where even the smallest bit of change is resisted fervently.
Each and everyday it’s important to stretch the boundaries of your personal map, whether internal or external. However, don’t go for big, dramatic stretches, instead make little movements to stretch yourself.
When I was overcoming my agoraphobia, I didn’t drive across the state the very next day, that would have been too traumatizing. Instead, I drove to the corner store and back. If you have a fear of heights, don’t just go jump out of an airplane. Instead, go to the second floor window and look down and get used to how that feels. The next day go to the third floor and so on.
Gently pushing out the edge of your personal map is actually faster and more effective compared to making dramatic leaps. The methodical expansion of your boundaries allows you to code each step along the way as safe in your mind. This helps to prevent any regression that could occur when you push yourself too far too fast.
What’s one aspect of your life that you feel pulled to, but also feels too far out of your comfort zone? What are seven different steps towards this goal you can take within the next week? Organize them from simplest to more complex and complete one a day. At the end of the week, look back and assess how you different you feel, then repeat the process until you reach your goal.
“If you put yourself in a position where you have to stretch outside your comfort zone, then you are forced to expand your consciousness.” — Les Brown