I’ve been reading the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss which is an absolute must-read. In it Tim talks about “lifestyle design” and turns old adages of “work hard, save, and have fun when you retire” to “work effectively, spend what you need for the lifestyle that you want, and have fun NOW.” This is a philosophy that I can really subscribe to and Tim is the model of how to put it into action. So when I got to page 63 and encountered my first “comfort challenge” I was game.
Comfort challenges are designed to condition yourself to discomfort and rise above it. “The most important actions are never comfortable” says Tim. I guess he must be right, otherwise everyone would do them! Then we would all have designed the perfect lifestyle and Tim’s book wouldn’t have been on the New York Times’ Bestseller list for 84 weeks.
Rules of Engagement for Eye Gazing:
Simple – look people in the eye (friends, family, colleagues, strangers) and don’t be the first one to break the gaze. This is the grown up version of a staring contest only no one else knows that you’re playing with them. Hints:
- Focus on one eye and be sure to blink occasionally so you don’t look deranged
- During conversation be sure to maintain eye contact, this is more easy if you are listening
- Practice with people who seem more confident than you feel
At first glance (pun intended) it seemed easy. I look people in the eye all of the time. Or do I?…. Colleagues, yes definitely. Family, friends, partner ironically probably slightly less than colleagues (what’s that all about?!) Strangers walking down the street, or on the tube, absolutely not. And if accidently I do then common courtesy is to look away as quickly as possible and not look remotely in the same direction again for the remainder of the journey. I live in London after all, and I am now a British naturalized citizen. Any natural tendency I used to have for holding a stranger’s gaze should have been expunged when I took the oath.
I first read about the challenge on a Friday but I decided to give myself the weekend to psych myself up for it to start on Monday. As with any dreaded task, procrastination is not the answer. On Sunday night I re-read page 63 to remind myself of the tips for the challenge. This wasn’t good reading material for me to drift off to sleep. It just made me more anxious.
Monday morning arrived. Game on. I left my flat on a slight adrenaline high. I was determined to do this. Alas I blew it on the first person I made eye contact with – a stranger outside the door of my building. After a slightly longer than average eye gaze with a man on the street (I’m estimating 1.5 seconds to a normal 0.75 seconds) I dropped the gaze first and felt so mortified that I walked with my head down staring at the ground the whole way to the tube station.
Second half-hearted attempt – on the tube. This time three different people I tried it with looked away first. But the gaze was held for such a short period of time that I couldn’t be sure if it wasn’t a reflex on their part of whether the way I was playing my game of chicken was having an effect. I decided to be more assertive on the walk from the tube station to the office. Only no one would actually bloody well hold my gaze! I have never felt so lonely in a big city when I finally decided to have some human contact through eye gazing and no one would oblige me. Humpf.
Amongst work colleagues it was much easier to hold my gaze with them once I put my mind to it, even if I was the one doing the speaking. In fact it made me much more aware when people were speaking to me and kept looking away. It was actually kind of distracting, and made me wonder what they were hiding or nervous about. It’s interesting how noticing something so simple as breaking an eye gaze can suddenly give you an entirely different perspective on the person speaking.
But I digress. The point of this challenge was to put me outside my comfort zone and so far I only dipped my toes in the water. Tomorrow I’m determined to stare down some strangers and get some better results. Hopefully I’ve got Lenny’s staying power.