Leaning into the Uncomfortable

Most people avoid uncomfortable situations. You don't want to feel uncomfortable and that is totally understandable. However, that's where the concept of the comfort zone comes in, if you are totally comfortable, you are definitely in your comfort zone.

Uncomfortable is where the gold lies, and leaning into the uncomfortable does a few really important things. In terms of performing, this concept is vital, because if you are listening to this the chances are that at least some part of performing makes you feel uncomfortable (if not all of it), and you want it to stop feeling uncomfortable. The truth is, the only way it will is if you move through uncomfortable to the other side, which means leaning into it. Listen to this episode to find out more.

Podcast 9 Title

The Courageous Performer Podcast

Leaning into the Uncomfortable

Read the episode transcript here:


Hi, I'm Hattie Voelcker, from Find Your True Voice and in this episode, I'm actually coming from a different space. So I apologise if I sound a little different to normal, but I'm actually away for a night away on my own a little bit of space from my family to gather my thoughts and find where I'm at.



But today, I want to talk to you about leaning into the uncomfortable. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, it's all to do with the practice space, the rehearsal space, and the performance space, all those different spaces, and how they impact us, because so often, we spend a lot of time avoiding uncomfortable and the trouble is, it's in the uncomfortable, that we learn. Because we don't, you know, people talk about the comfort zone, we don't learn in our comfort zone, we learn when we're outside our comfort zone, and we have this fear of the uncomfortable and it's it's not surprising, the uncomfortable is uncomfortable. But the uncomfortable is where we can learn, and I actually think that you can change your perspective, that perspective about uncomfortable and see it as as the exciting place that although you feel uncomfortable, this is where your growth is, this is where things will change.



I love to use the idea of, there's a fabulous author, Michael Rosen, who writes amongst other books, children's books, and one of his most famous books is called, We're Going On a Bear Hunt. And it's all about the fact that, "We're going on a bear hunt, we're gonna catch a big one". And then they see an obstacle, "We're not scared," they say, but you kind of realise that they are scared. So this is an adventure they're going on. But you know, they're going on this adventure, but they're a little bit scared about what might go wrong.



It's a bit like when we've got an upcoming performance that is daunting us whatever that might be, there might be a part of us, that's really excited. But there is probably a part of us that's really scared in case something goes wrong, or even just a little bit scared, because something might go wrong. And then they see an obstacle for one thing, it's long grass, and they say we can't go under it, we can't go over it. Oh, no, we've got to go through it. But then as they go through it, there was a wonderful onomatopoeiac sounds, so "Swishy, swashy, swishy swashy." And there's this element of enjoyment of going through the long grass, I think then there's a forest and then there's the mud. There are all these different obstacles. So there's this daunting idea, and I like to draw the analogy that this is very like, when you are facing an emotion that's going on for you, and how you don't necessarily want to lean into that uncomfortable emotion, you don't want to lean in to an awkward emotion.



But if you don't, it just sits there. It sits there feeling daunting. It sits there feeling uncomfortable. So even if you don't look at it, and you don't face it, it's sits there and it judges you so to speak, and you spend a lot of energy, trying to avoid thinking about it. But then all of that energy is there, and you still haven't processed that emotion. Instead, if you lean into it, and lean into feeling uncomfortable, you get to process it.



So for example, I used to want to be perfect in my practice. Now I know that sounds insane, because practice is the space where you're allowed to mess about. But it used to, I used to find that when I practised it would make me feel uncomfortable, because I wasn't achieving what I wanted to achieve, and I would use it to judge myself, you know, I'm not good enough. If I can't even do it in practice, I'm not good enough. But then I heaped a whole lot of pressure on myself. So the moment I open my mouth was, "Is this going to be good enough?" As opposed to "Let's just give it a go and see how it sounds? Oh, that doesn't sound good. I'll try something else." And I did this, because I didn't want to go through that uncomfortable feeling of "No, that isn't how I want to to sing. That isn't how I want to approach this song. I'm going to do that though, okay, and then I'm going to assess it and do it differently." It felt so uncomfortable to do it, in my head, badly that I didn't want to go there. So I often didn't practice.



Other people find it really easy to practice because they find it's really easy to be imperfect, in in inverted commas in that practice space. But then when they go and rehearse. They don't want to look foolish in front of other people. So they want to get it all right in rehearsal, and it was interesting because a client emailed me today, she just finished an opera, and she was talking about how she had been leaning into the uncomfortable, and this idea that the rehearsal space is for making mistakes. Yes, you've got to know your part really well, you got to know the words going to music, but the rehearsal space is where you start to integrate what you're doing with everybody else and it will be off putting and you'll find your weak spots, bits, you want to work on bits, you want to do differently, how it integrates with other people, how it overlaps, maybe somebody else is putting you off, or what somebody else is doing is putting you off. And she was saying how actually, she learned that mistakes were valuable in that space. And that the rehearsal space was for learning. And those people who made more mistakes in the rehearsal space, generally made fewer mistakes when they got on to the performance. So leaning into the uncomfortable and being prepared to be okay with making him a rehearsal space, making a mistake in the rehearsal space, can be really useful. Because if you can become so self critical there, you become uptight, and you tend to make more mistakes, not fewer, but they're not good mistakes, they're not learning mistakes. They're the mistakes that come from tension.



Some people find that the performance space is where they find it hard to lean into the uncomfortable and let go and see what comes out. You know, you've done all the preparation, all the practice, you've done the rehearsal. This is the point I spoke about this last time where you let go and lean into the performance. But some people find it really hard to let go and lean into the performance, because they want it to be perfect there. And it feels uncomfortable to just let go. But it's so important to lean into that uncomfortable, because that's where the genius lies, and if you learn how to lean into the uncomfortable there, then you are more likely to go "Okay, this is alright, I can do this." Because the truth is, you are never going to be as good as your ideal. And even if there are times where you can think "Yeah, I nailed that I absolutely nailed that." There will be things you can look back on and say "No, I could do that better, I could do that differently" or "I'd like to try this instead." And it's that whole idea of you're never going to get it completely perfect, and being okay with that.



So I've been listening to a book recently called the Gap and the Gain, and it's been really interesting, a lot of the stuff they talk about is stuff that's familiar to me, but the way they put it was a real reminder that we can either focus on the bits we didn't do well, the bits that were the gap, or we can focus on the bits, we did better than we did last time, and go "Hold on that was better and that was better and that was better. So where else do I want to be better?" And if you focus on the gap, it always feels negative. It always feels less than. But if you focus on the gain, you think, "Yeah I'm making progress. I like this feeling I want to make more progress, what can I do next that will make me feel good?"



And it's that whole idea of instead of looking negatively at what you've just done, and saying "This is what I did badly, this is what I did badly." You look positively and you go, "This is what I did well, what do I want to do well next?" I had an example of this recently, I got to the end, and I like "Yay, I totally have made progress with this. This is really reassuring." And I did a speech in a situation that I hadn't done a speech like that, probably in about 30 years, if not 40 years, I was really nervous because it was an audience that mattered to me. And I did the speech and I got some really good feedback. I got some really negative feedback from my son who heard it, he said "Oh that was a bit flat!" And he probably wasn't wrong, because when I sat down, I was realising that I hadn't made the eye contact I had wanted to make. I hadn't done this. I hadn't done that, and then I was like, "But hold on. I did it!" And then there were you know, people that came up and said, "Wow, that was the best I've heard in a long time in that environment," and some really good feedback that seemed really heartfelt and honest. And it was like "Yeah, so there was really good bits to that. Cool. I got into this familiar, yet unfamiliar environment. So I was likely to go back to my old habits. And I kind of did go back to my old habits, but I kind of didn't do. More than that. Not only did I not completely revert, I was also able to go "I'm really proud of myself that I did this well, I did this well, I did this well."



So next time when I get up I'm going to focus on the eye contact, and that's my next gain that I want to make. So as I would have done 10 years ago, I'd have beaten myself up, even five years ago, I'd have gone, "Aah, I should be better at this! This is the stuff I teach la la la," I was actually kind to myself, and now I'm excited to try it again. If I'd beaten myself up, I would have made myself more nervous to do it again. Instead, I go, "Yeah, that was good. I want to make it even better. I now I'm looking forward to an opportunity to try and do it and do it better."



And I think the secret is really that willingness to make mistakes, to not avoid the uncomfortableness of making a mistake. Because, as I said, that uncomfortable feeling doesn't go away by ignoring it. You know, if I hadn't tried to do the speech in that place, I would have gone on thinking, "Ooh I'd like to try that, I'd like to try that, but I'm a little bit too nervous." And that would have eaten away at me. As it was, I tried it and I was like, "Yay!" And I, it, I then processed that feeling, and I'm on to the next level, the level up.



And you'd be surprised, you know, how often you don't die from experiencing, you know, the performance. For putting yourself out there. When it goes wrong, you don't die. Even though it feels existential before you go up there. It feels like you want the world to open up and swallow you up. So often, you get out there and you go, "This isn't as bad as I thought it was." And you don't, the worst doesn't happen. People don't reject you. People don't go, "Oh, that was terrible." Sometimes you get bad feedback, definitely. But then next time, you can go "Right, well, I was brave enough to do it. I did it. What do I want to change for next time? Where are the steps I want to take to make my next experience? What's the next bit of uncomfortable I want to lean into?"



So what I'd love for you to take away from this episode, is this idea that uncomfortable isn't bad. Uncomfortable, is where the growth is. Uncomfortable, is where you experience learning, and it's almost never as bad as you think it's going to be, if you were to write down a worst case scenario, it almost never is that and actually, if you write down a worst case scenario, you usually realise that the worst case scenario isn't that bad. But in our heads, it feels that bad.



So if you just lean into the uncomfortable, and then when you've done it, be kind to yourself and look at the gain, not the gap. Look at what you've done, what you've achieved, what went well, rather than what you did badly as the first thing you look at and then you go "Where is my next area of growth? Where do I next want to lean into the uncomfortable?"



Thank you very much for listening. I'm Hattie Voelcker from Find Your True Voice