So I was going to events. I was going to conferences, walking up to like the most important guy, shake his hands and say, “Hi, my name is Till. I would like to learn from you”.
Well, this man was – I was literally confronting my fear of rejection all the time. And back then, I was thinking, hey, if there would be a good point of time to get all the fear of rejection, it will be right now. Ironically or fortunately, basically, exactly this time, I heard about comfort zone challenges for the first time. Back then, I read in Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek and he described it as a technique to overcome certain limitations and to progress faster in business.
And to me it sounded kind of interesting, and for those of you who don’t know what comfort zone challenges are – comfort zone challenges where you constantly put yourself in a situation that makes you nervous or insecure. For example, if you are afraid of rejection, one of the challenges you can do is you go out and try to get rejected 10 times as fast as possible. If you’re afraid of embarrassment, you go out and, for example, stretch your arms as high as you can and walk through across the street, so embarrassment has been public. The idea behind it is you do it over and over again, at one point you stop caring what other people might think.
To me it sounded pretty cool. Why? Because this would mean I could get off my fear of rejection quite easily, right? So I looked deep into psychology and psychotherapy what they have to say on this topic. Most specifically, evidence-based psychotherapies, so cognitive behavioral therapy. And they had a solution for this since the 1950s. And this solution was called exposure therapy. Why exposure therapy? Because similar to comfort zone challenges, you go out, you expose yourself to the thing that scares you. And there also is an explanation why this whole thing works.
Okay, so like in really over-simplified way, you have autonomic nervous system that fires a fear response. So your autonomic nervous system, at this part of your nervous system that you can control consciously and they are responsible like for sweating, heart rate and so on and the fear response. And at one point or the other in your life, you encounter a situation and your autonomic nervous system for whatever reason learned to respond to the situation with fear. And from that on, every time you encounter the situation again, your autonomic nervous system will send the fear response, even though you consciously understand the situation is not dangerous or scary.
So not to fear over it what you need to do is the following. You put yourself in a situation, you get anxious, scared, whatsoever and you stay in there, so your anxiety step-by-step decreases and your autonomic nervous system learns, hey, the situation is actually not scary. So that is the process how you become more confident. And for me, I want – hey, this sounds pretty good.
So I decided to start doing comfort zone challenges. And I have very very vivid memories on my first comfort zone challenge, and it was a Thursday when I committed myself to start – to do comfort zone challenges. And with most things, you know, when you commit to do something what do you say, I will start tomorrow. So one Thursday, I said, okay I will start tomorrow.
The same day, Thursday afternoon I was going home from university, waiting for my train around five o’clock, rush hour, people everywhere. So I was standing there, waiting for the train. I was thinking, well, I’m going to lay down on the floor for 30 seconds tomorrow, that’s a pretty scary thing.
And when my train arrived, I was thinking, hey, why shouldn’t I do today? And the moment I just started pondering with the idea, boom, two things happened. On the one hand, oops, my heart started to race, my hands were getting sweaty, it was kind of hard to swallow, this is on the one hand. On the other hand, boom, boom, boom, all those really really good excuses popped up, like your friend is waiting at home, the floor is dirty, what might other people think and so on and so on.
So standing there, you know, kind of like torn in between. On the one hand, I wanted to do it. On the other hand, excuses and the fear. So what did I say? I said, you know, my train was going to say, fuck it, you do tomorrow.
So I walked with the train, and then I can remember it, with the first step, I had this epiphany, this aha moment. So I understood something — I heard this concept before but now I really understood it. Because this fear will always be there and those really good excuses will always be there. So if you’ve allowed this set of rationalizations and this fear to hold me back now, I will never do it. So I put on my bag, turned around, lay down, almost – honestly guys, I was terrified, so I lay down, and my heart was racing.
And then I noticed three things. The first thing was, of course, I got a lot of weird looks. People walking past me gave me weird looks. There was even one mom with a kid, the kid wanted to walk to me because it was interesting, the mom pulled away, don’t go next to this stranger dude. But I also noticed that all those weird looks were not scary of a thought.
The second thing I noticed was that a lot of people were really confused, because I knew what I was doing but they didn’t have a clue of what I was doing down the floor, right?
And the third thing that I noticed was the majority of the people didn’t even care. They didn’t even look at me. They all walked so close to me, they didn’t even look at me.
And with every second, I got more and more relaxed and I have like one or two minutes, completely anxiety vanished. I got pick up, picked up my bag, I still noticed all the people were looking to me, got on the train, went home, looked out the window with a big smile on the face.
So that was my first comfort zone challenge ever. And from that I made a list of all my fears and step by step took out all my fears. And some went away quite fast, other took longer to overcome and so on. Then I saw how it helped me, so I told my friends about it.