The Chief Financial Officer stood at the podium giving a speech. I sat in the back of the auditorium and yawned exaggeratedly before pointedly looking down at my phone. The executive noticed and glared. I shrugged and tried to hide a smirk. She spoke louder, working to project her voice over my discourtesy. I kept my eyes on my phone, and I could tell I was getting to her. She spoke louder. My eyes stayed fixed on the screen.
Finally, getting frustrated, the CFO started to yell her scripted lines, voice cracking, composure coming unraveled at the seams.
I looked at her in the eyes and gave a double thumbs up. I could finally hear her naturally soft voice from across the room.
Lois was a high-level executive at an international automobile manufacturer, whom I tutored in business English. Her English was fantastic. However, like many of my students, she lacked the confidence to speak above a whisper. Something that held her back in her role involving negotiations with her primarily male American counterparts.
“It feels weird to speak that loudly,’ she admitted afterward.
“Good!” I replied, “That means you’re learning.”
There is a tendency to stay in your comfort zone when you are learning, trying to make a new skill feel normal, feel safe. This may work, but it will be slow. Progress will be frustrating to come by. You will probably give up before you see much of a change.
Instead, consider focusing on learning quickly.
To learn fast requires you to lean into the discomfort.
To poke at it and allow the weirdness to wash over you.
To break your composure and just scream.
Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable allows you to get a step closure to control. To modulate your voice from that scream into something more tolerable.
But if you want to change something faster, the secret isn’t to fight that weirdness; the secret is to embrace it. Accentuate it. Make it feel too weird and do it over and over again. By doing that, you’ll become comfortable with those new changes and actually master them faster than if you fought them.
Wanting to feel safe and comfortable is just you holding onto the past. It feels weird because it’s new; it’s a different way of doing things. That doesn’t mean wrong; it means a new muscle is beginning to grow. Each time you exercise that muscle, you strengthen it. You reinforce the pathway and reduce your dependency on your old muscles.
What feels weird to you probably looks normal to others.
I used to find it difficult to make eye contact — I found it awkward and uncomfortable. Every time I’d make eye contact, I’d have the urge to giggle, blush and look down. I decided to improve this area. When talking with someone, I’d focus on counting to ten before I could look down.
It was painful. I couldn’t process the conversation because I was focusing on counting. I felt weird and creepy.
But I improved.
And after asking for feedback from anyone and everyone, I was told that I was making an average level of eye contact. No one really noticed.
In a matter of weeks, I went from being able to look into someone’s eyes for half second to as long as I wanted.
By doing what felt like an exaggeration, I increased my skill far faster than making a gradual change.
Change is hard, and making tiny incremental changes is like pushing the snooze button on your morning alarm. It delays you from taking real action and saps your willpower.
So the next time you are trying to learn something new, don’t make a tiny change. Go big, embrace the weird, and just scream.