Overcome Fear, Comfort, and Constraint with One Drawing Exercise
Over time, you believe that being an innovator isn’t for you. You train yourself out of using your natural innovation strengths. They become weak so, when you do try to be innovative, you find it hard and exhausting, only validating that you aren’t the innovative one. Then, the internal chatter starts to hold you back, squelching your internal compass that keeps pointing to a more innovative path, so you stop trying completely. It’s been my experience that this manifests itself into three main reasons why you don’t innovate even though you know it’s possible and necessary.
Fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, fear of consequences, fear of the unknown … the fear list is long. What do you fear?
Fear is real. It’s a primal response that your brain uses to keep you from getting hurt. Back in your caveman days, fear is what made you perk up when there was a rustle in the bushes. It could be a tiger coming to eat you. But in today’s modern world, fear plays tricks on you. It keeps you tied down to status-quo. Our minds manufacture false fears that unnecessarily put us into flight mode.
Almost five hundred years ago, Michael Montaigne said it best: My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.
One study showed that 85% of what we worry about doesn’t even come to fruition.That means most of what you fear—a negative response, an epic failure, being perceived as not worthy—never comes true. It’s just your internal chatter holding you back. While the feeling of fear is very real, what we fear often is not.
The feeling of fear will never go away, it’s hard-wired into us. It’s why you’ll never hear me tell you to “dare to be fearless.” It’s unrealistic and impossible. It sets you up to fail, especially in that moment when fear creeps in. Then you think, “forget it”, I can’t be fearless and you are right. You can’t, it’s part of the human design.
My goal is not to eliminate your fear but to unlock the innovative mindset you need to embrace it and push through it.
It’s easier to stay where you are than to shift. There is comfort in the familiar. Even if you don’t like it, at least you know it, and it doesn’t rock the boat.
Take a look at your work and life. How often do you choose to go to a restaurant simply because you could recite the menu back to the waitress without even having it placed on the table? Do you ever hold back from saying that innovative solution in a meeting because, if you say something, it might mean having to challenge yourself to do something new? Perhaps you think, “that will be too much work” or “I don’t even know how I’d implement that.” That’s comfort talking. It’s a warm, supportive place that keeps you from growing into your full potential. Where are you letting comfort hold you back?
If you are part of the LaunchStreet community, you’ve probably seen my live 10-minute webcasts that I do randomly. The first one I ever did was on this topic of fear, comfort and constraint. A girlfriend of mine watched the recording and sent me this text:
“I’m so bored in my role and ready for something new but comfort keeps me from applying to other positions. And we’re currently without a supervisor so the team comes to me with all of the questions. I know most of them but I just recognized that I do a little fear chatter because I can hear them in their heads like why is she telling me what to do??”—Holly, Grants and Contracts Manager, Imaginative Inquisitive.
I think a lot of us can relate to her text: Comfort and fear help us play it safe in subtle but powerful ways in life.
Erica took a job at a large healthcare system. She even took a pay cut because she was excited to take her years of experience in marketing and strategy and apply those skills to something meaningful—exceptional healthcare for children. When she started her job, she had big dreams of implementing meaningful programs that would expand the reach of the hospital and children they served. She recognized that these new programs would require some adjustment in how the hospital thought about and managed the department, but she never shied away from a good challenge, and leadership gave her the verbal thumbs-up to innovate. It’s why they hired her.
Erica immediately went to work. She worked quickly to present her ideas to her department. Her colleagues’ immediate reactions were skeptical, but she expected some resistance to start. The initial resistance fueled her desire to keep going. But, time and time again, she found herself standing at the brick walls of “not now,” “too risky,” and “not how we usually do it.” The constraints of the system and the culture wouldn’t budge and were starting to wear on her. She found herself less enthusiastic, not just for her new program ideas but work in general. She found herself continually thinking, “Why bother?” Every now and again, she’d bring up her innovative ideas to see if the tenor had changed, but she’d find herself standing at the base of those brick walls, feeling totally beat down by the constraints, Erica left her position.
Some constraints can actually fuel innovation because it forces you to think differently and do more with less, but continual, heavy constraints will snuff out innovation fast. It will wear down even the most resilient of us. Have you felt those constraints and found yourself in a “why bother” mindset like Erica? It’s hard to keep banging your head against that brick wall. You may start out with good intentions but get worn down and exhausted from trying to move forward without an end in sight.
I’ve seen massive brain drain, teams losing incredible people, because the constraints of the system sucked the innovative life out of them, and they went in search of a system that would support their desire to innovate and grow.
Is your culture constraint- or opportunity-focused? Did Erica’s story resonate with you because, even with all the talk of innovation, the culture and the system work against you?
“I didn’t sign up to do remedial work. I signed up to innovate and help the business grow. They were more interested in toeing the line.”—Erica, Vice President of New Business, Inquisitive Instinctual
If the constraints of the system you work in don’t allow for anything but “how it’s always been done.” or decisions are made by determining how to avoid all risk, you are probably nodding your head right now. Constraints show up in unnecessary bureaucracy, complicated processes, and risk-adverse cultures. Over time, these constraints feel like a heavy ball and chain weighing you down. What’s the point of innovating if you are continually going to get shut down by the culture? Why spend your energy on innovating when the system forces you back into the box?
Sometimes constraints show up as self-created routines and boundaries. Why shake up your routine when it’s clearly working for you?
Why move the boundaries if you can see them clearly?
A few paragraphs up, I asked if you continually go to the same restaurants as a sign of comfort. My kids and I have our favorite weekend go-to restaurant. It’s a dingy Greek diner we’ve been eating Saturday lunches at since the kids were in highchairs. We know the menu, the wait staff, and the perfect times to go when it’s not too busy. One Saturday, my kids just weren’t feeling the stand-by gyro salad.
My oldest said to me, “Hey let’s try that new restaurant down the street. It looks interesting.”
I responded with a shocking amount of resistance. I said, “No, let’s just do the usual. At least we know it’s going to be good and I don’t want to take the risk of a bad lunch.”
My oldest responded, “Is one bad lunch really a big risk, Mom?”
I suddenly realized what I was doing. I was staying in my warm, soft, fuzzy comfort zone over one simple lunch! My fear chatter made the risk of a possibly bad meal outweigh my ability to try something new. And, my Saturday routine that I loved so much had turned into a self-imposed constraint. Was I doing that in other aspects of my life, my work? Are you doing that?
We went to the new restaurant. While it wasn’t knock-your-socks-off delicious, it was good enough. That conversation with my kids about where to eat lunch made me realize how often we let fear, comfort, and constraint override taking the more innovative path. We attach perceived risk and consequences to it. We let that chatter dictate what we say, do, and believe.
I can’t eliminate the chatter in your head, but I can help you put it in its place. The first step in showing your chatter who’s really in charge is identifying how it shows up for you.
The Exercise To Overcome Fear, Comfort and Constraint:
If you are open to challenging yourself (fingers crossed you say yes), I have an exercise for you to do. This exercise will bring to the surface the fear, need to feel comfortable, and even constraints you may be feeling. Don’t worry, while it’s short and fun to do, the “aha”s that come from it are very powerful. Here’s the thing: to get the benefits of this exercise, you can’t just read it, you have to do it. Believe me, the thousands of people who have done it are glad they did. It’s like how I feel about running—sucks while I’m doing it but also extremely glad I did when it’s over. And, this only takes five minutes, requires zero physical exertion—just a desire to improve.
If you are alone, do this in a busy café. If you are with a team, do this in your next meeting.
First, I want you to identify someone you don’t know (easy to do in a café) or know the least (possible in your next meeting). Make sure you can see their face from your vantage point.
Then, pull out a blank piece of paper and a pen. Give yourself 90 seconds to draw that person. Do not tell them what you are doing.
Finally, I want you to show your drawing to them. I know. Horrifying, right?! First, I’m asking you to draw and then show it to them.
I’ve done this exercise several hundred times with teams as small as ten and with groups as large as a few thousand. What I love about it is that all your deepest darkest fears show up in this short experiment: fear of your own inadequacies as you try doing something outside your comfort zone; fear of looking stupid as you show them your drawing; fear of the judgment that comes with stepping out of what you know works.
I love how this exercise also shows how many layers of judgment you put on your own ideas before you even get them out into the world. With the sharing part of this exercise, those judgments show up in fear statements like, “I failed art” and “I’m so sorry.” Those thoughts are trying to keep you in your comfort zone. Some people will even hide their drawings so they don’t have to go through what they think is the pain of showing their hideous attempt to draw to someone who is obviously going to ridicule them for their poor performance; better to stay totally complacent.
In doing that, you shut yourself and your innovative mind down. How do you expect to unlock your greatest competitive advantage, your ability to innovate, and create break-through results if you let fear and comfort take over and shut yourself down before your ideas even see the light of day? How are you going to thrive in today’s competitive world if your own constrained thinking holds you back from moving forward?
You are your own worst critic and the root of most of the fear—not the boss or client or family member you are intimidated by. It’s Y…O…U!
In work, this often shows up in fear chatter in your mind like, “They’ll never go for it,” “It will never work,” “Who am I to have this idea when it’s not even my area of responsibility,” or “There must be a good reason no one has thought of this before, so never mind.”
After you’ve done this exercise, take inventory on the experience by answering these questions:
When you read the exercise description, did you think “that’s exciting” or “that’s horrifying”? And why?
What emotions did you experience while doing the exercise?
While drawing someone?
When showing it to a stranger?
After showing it to a stranger?
What did you learn about your own relationship with fear, comfort, or constraint in doing this exercise?
In what situations do you hold yourself back, and where do you leap into things across your work and life?
If you decided to do this exercise, what made you do it? Did your answer include: because I wanted to see if it was as awkward as it is for others; because I love trying things that scare me; I’m always up for a challenge; I leap and then think; ____________ (insert your observations here)? I ask this very basic question because it gives you tremendous insight into who you are and how you tackle work and life. While you are on the front end of unlocking your innovation advantage, how you responded to this exercise helps you identify your internal chatter. When we layer on your Everyday Innovator Style, you’ll be unstoppable.
If you decided not to do this exercise, which excuse did you 29 use? Hint: your answer might include “I’ll read everything first and go back and do it later; “I can’t draw; no one will know I did or didn’t do it anyway;” ”That’s way too uncomfortable for me;”, __________________ (insert your reasons here). If this last question is uncomfortable for you, don’t beat yourself up about it. We are only at the beginning, and this is a very insightful start to your journey in unlocking your innovation super powers. Do not feel inadequate or called out for this. Rather I want you to feel empowered because you just gained some deep insights into what might be a pattern holding you back in the rest of your work and life. Now you know how to recognize it, and this book will give you the framework for overcoming it and becoming unstoppable.
What’s holding you back?
Before reading further and unlocking your greatest competitive advantage, I encourage you to take a moment and address the attitudes holding you back. Don’t settle for surface answers; dig deep. Sometimes what’s holding you back is obvious and, other times, it’s so insidious you don’t realize it’s happening, like a frog in boiling water. Try to take a step back and look in from the outside.
You can’t tap into your greatest asset—your innovative mind—if there is an invisible barrier between you and the world around you shutting it down. It’s time to be the rock star innovator you were meant to be.
To be a rock star innovator, we need to be aware of the world you are dealing with and how to address change.