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Embracing Neverland

“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.

– Abraham Maslow, Psychologist
Who Knows What’cha Need

We’ve reviewed the negative effects of one of my earliest “I can’ts” a few times.

“I can’t run” brought me a childhood fighting my own feelings of physical inferiority, body image issues and ultimately resulted in being over 200 lbs. overweight.

But I overcame that, so I’m fine now! Right?

Well, sure, I’m improved. But one of the things about life is that we either grow or we stop growing. If we stop, then we soon become outpaced by our own life, which only moves forward. The last three years many of us—myself included—had long periods which felt stopped.

One of my goals this past summer was to face this and start growing again. This meant facing an “I can’t” that had become “I’ll never.”

“Nevers” are like the prison built on a foundation of “I can’ts.” They are nearly always rooted in fear.

What was mine? “I’ll never join a gym” and its toxic twin “I’ll never go to a workout class.”

This was fueled by fear of looking foolish, appearing unhealthy around ultra-fit people and being unable to keep up due to some of my physical issues. I run alone for just this reason. It’s always been a solo fight.

Though all those fears may have some tiny seed of personal experience, none are certain to happen. All those fears—and most future-focused fears—boil down to one true fear: Fear of the unknown.

Fear of the unknown is real and strikingly powerful according to Dr. Alex Lickerman who asserted that “Studies suggest we fear an unknown outcome more than we do a known bad one,” and thus we stay stuck in our Never Prison (2010).

Here’s the short version: I joined a gym by accident. It only does bootcamp classes. It’s been nearly five months and the two coaches—and especially my amazing, supportive classmates—have helped me put this never to bed. It’s meant life change, but it’s made for a better life.

I have helped people break out of different Never Prisons most of my career. I’m stepping out of mine in a big way, which even meant change for this website. For our collective benefit, I offer these five clinically sound reasons from two amazing doctors, as to why we all can, and should, break out of our Never Prison and thrive in Neverland.

Five Reasons for Freedom

My comfort zone is like a little bubble around me, and I’ve pushed it in different directions and made it bigger and bigger until these objectives that seemed totally crazy eventually
fall within the realm of the possible.

– Alex Honnold,
World-renowned Champion
Free Solo Rock Climber

Finding Fun – Yep, the first one is real earth-shattering right? But it’s true. “Trying something new opens up the possibility for you to enjoy something new.” As we grow older, life gets stagnant and previously fun things grow less so, unless we find new fun things.

We Shake off the Daily Grind – “We don’t ever grow from taking action we’ve always taken (the growth that enabled us to be able to take it has already occurred). Growth seems to require we take new action first, whether it’s adopting a new attitude or a new way of thinking, or literally taking new action” (Lickerman, 2010). This almost certainly requires a shift in our schedules, new clothes, new connections or new interests. Yesterday falls behind and new begins.

We Become More Richly Skilled People Who Can Better Handle Life – Want to be MacGyver? Get to your growth zone. Dr. Oliver Page (2022) cites the Yerkes–Dodson Law (Yerkes & Dodson, 1907) which was first to research the anxiety-performance relationship which we now know as the comfort zone, stress zone and beyond. “The core idea is that our nervous systems have a Goldilocks zone of arousal,” he said. “Too little, and you remain in the comfort zone, where boredom sets in. But too much, and you enter the ‘panic’ zone, which also stalls progress. It takes courage to step from the comfort zone…without a clear roadmap, there’s no way to build on previous experiences. This can be anxiety provoking. Yet persevere long enough, and you enter the learning zone, where you gain new skills and deal with challenges resourcefully. After a learning period, a new comfort zone is created, expanding one’s ability to reach even greater heights. This is what it means to be in the growth zone.”

We Get Superpowers – Okay, maybe not flight or mind control, but open any current psychology text and you will find that we have now tomb raided the top of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—the mysterious pinnacle of “Self-Actualization”—and found that as you continue to live in the growth zone, you foster a personal growth mindset, become more resilient, thrive creatively in positive stress and possess greater grit. Every one of those is a psychological superpower.

We Expirience Truth – Both doctors agree that once we leave our Never Prison, we learn that some of what we believed inside it was a lie. Usually, it was a lie about ourself or the world which helped locked us in. Growing must “challenge your beliefs” to be real growth, according to Dr. Page (2022) and this “spirit of constant self-challenge keeps you humble and open to new ideas that very well may be better than the ones you currently hold dear…” (Lickerman, 2010).

As we can see in the diagrams, the road to growth is never over, nor should it be. As we move towards the new year, now exactly 30 days away, I encourage us to look around and see if there are any Never Prisons that we’ve made for ourselves. Just consider, for a moment, what life would be like outside those bars, thriving in Never Land.

Lickerman, A. (2010) Trying New Things: Why new experiences are so important to have. Psychology Today. Retrieved from:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-in-world/201004/trying-new-things

Page, O. (2022) How to Leave Your Comfort Zone and Enter Your ‘Growth Zone.’ Positive Psychology.com. Retrieved from: https://positivepsychology.com/comfort-zone/

* Though I regret the (thankfully non-COVID) illness that delayed it’s posting the last Friday in November, I’m practicing a little mindful self-acceptance and think it’s nifty that this article posted 30 days from New Year’s Day.

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