This excerpt from Your Comfort Zone is Killing You by Billy Anderson is reprinted with permission from the author.
Courage versus Confidence
I am often asked "What's the difference between courage and confidence? Aren't they kind of the same?"
While they are not the same, they are very closely related. Imagine this life-threatening scenario that I found myself in one day.
My 89th skydive started out fine. I jumped with a friend and as we got stable in the air, falling at about 120 mph [190 kilometres per hour], we played a game of cat and mouse where one person chases the other. An experienced skydiver has so much control that they can literally fly in towards their partner, stop right in front of them, then turn around and fly off in the other direction.
At the end of our jump we separated and opened our parachutes. But mine didn't open all the way. It was maybe 75 per cent open. It put me into a spin that I couldn't get out of. I would not survive if I landed in this spin. Thankfully, my training kicked in immediately. I checked my altitude to figure out how much time I had before I would need to deploy my reserve parachute. I looked at the lines (the ropes) and tried to open the rest of the parachute. It didn't work. I checked my altitude again, realizing I now had to open my reserve parachute. I knew that if my reserve didn't open, I would have about 13 seconds left to live. It was time to act.
I released the main parachute and opened my reserve. As it opened perfectly above me, my first thought was, "Hey… it's blue."
I'd never seen it before.
I felt surprisingly confident throughout the above life-and-death scenario because of two things. 1) I had the courage to act even though it was scary, and 2) Thanks to hours and hours of training, plus being familiar with skydiving statistics and the odds that my reserve would open, I was convinced that I would be all right. However, if that had been my FIRST skydive, I would have been terrified. I had so much less experience on my first jump and I wasn't as aware of the statistics and the odds.
Confidence = Courage + Expertise The involvement of courage is clear: without the willingness to go into the unknown, face fears and try new things you will never be a truly confident person.
However, the more we can feel like an expert, the more confident we will feel. If I was asked to speak in front of 500 people on the topic of nuclear physics – which I know nothing about – part of me might be willing to try it (What a challenge! What a rush!) because I'm an expert speaker and a courageous person and I understand the opportunity in stepping out of my Comfort Zone. But since I am the farthest thing from an expert in nuclear physics, I would not feel confident going up there.
Similarly, someone with a PhD in nuclear physics might feel confident with the topic, but if they have never spoken in public before then they do not feel like an expert speaker. The only way to feel more confident is to become a more experienced speaker, and the only way to do that is to have the courage to try it.
You could stay in your present job for the rest of your life and be a very serious expert in it and therefore feel confident at work all the time, but without using and testing your courage you will not be a confident person in other areas of your life, not willing to try new things, not willing to grow and learn and live. And let's face it, nothing stays the same forever. Your job will change at some point or you could find yourself laid off when your company goes tits up. What will you do without courage then?
Let's look at Confidence in terms of our Comfort Zone:
Each time we step out of our Comfort Zone into our Courage Zone we experience fear, stress or some form of anxiety. Because of that, we never feel truly confident when we're being courageous because we don't feel like we know exactly what's happening or going to happen. However, each time we venture out there we know we are becoming a more courageous person overall, right? We also learn every time we're in our Courage Zone. It's impossible not to, because we're trying something new or different. Therefore every time we leap into that Courage Zone we are becoming slightly more of an expert on courage, and more of an expert on whatever the specific action is that we're undertaking.
Imagine you're on your way to an interview for a job you're extremely excited about. It matches your skills, your mission in life and the impact you wish to have, and gosh darn it seems like a super fun place to work. If it's a job that you're fully qualified for thanks to your experience, skills and education, then you will be confident going into it. However, Mother Nature and evolution will stop us from ever being a true expert in that one, most fearful area: not caring what others think of us. Therefore expertise alone will not get us there nor make us feel perfectly confident. We need courage as well.
We therefore feel the confidence AFTER we've been in the Courage Zone. We pushed past the fear and did it anyway. As a result we are a little bit more courageous and we increased our expertise.
This is also why being in your Comfort Zone sometimes is a good thing. If we spent our whole life in the Courage Zone we would be a stress case. We would never feel like an expert and our confidence would start to erode.
A very common question I get asked is "How do I know if I'm in my Comfort Zone too much, or just the right amount?" This is a great question because your Comfort Zone isn't a BAD place to be, because it can actually be healthy. There is no shortage of evidence that stress (which is fear in disguise, remember?) can wreak havoc on your health in the long-term. Stress attacks us when we're out of our Comfort Zone.
Whether or not the time is right for you to step out of your Comfort Zone will often come down to a feeling. Remember that word, the f-word? The thing that is always trying to tell us something? Yeah, your feelings. We shouldn't put pressure on ourselves to constantly be out of our Comfort Zone, we should simply ask ourselves these questions:
· "Do I feel like I've been in my Comfort Zone too much lately?"
· "Am I happy with how much I've challenged myself lately?"
· "What would be the opportunity in stepping out of my Comfort Zone today/tomorrow/this week?"
Once you ask yourself those questions, you can often feel which answer is right for you. The right option may be scary, but inside you'll know if it's the right thing to do for the person you want to be, and the life you want to live.
Or you might answer them with a big fat "Yeah, I've been out of my Comfort Zone PLENTY lately. Gimme a bag of Doritos and watch me wedge myself between the couch cushions for the next 3 hours." That's fine too, so long as it feels like it's the right thing for you at that moment.
Billy Anderson is the Founder of The Courage Crusade in Toronto.