I have a lot to write about that I haven’t yet! I’m now 3 weeks into Le Jeu at Ecole Philippe Gaulier (the second time I’ve done this module)

Why haven’t I written?

Well, partly I’ve just been having fun. A core driver here at the school is “You must feel pleasure! If you do not feel pleasure, get off the stage.”

And this time, this term, I’ve been feeling that pleasure fully for the first time. I’ve now been here at the school for 6 months…

This is my last full term at the school…

And FINALLY I feel real pleasure on stage. The pleasure of performing is now larger than my fear of looking like an idiot and failing (or “flopping”).

My goal this term is: Have fun.

Am I still failing? Yes, a lot.

Am I still afraid? Yes, I do work on that every evening.

Am I a “bad student”? I’m getting better…

By which I mean, I’m getting better at being a bad student. For ages, I’ve tried to be a “good student.” This time, I’m trying to be a bad student… which is a better way to be here at the school.

Am I still pushing myself out of my comfort zone?

Yes and not-yes.

I mean… I am pushing myself out my comfort zone, because I always do. But I’m also experiencing a change in my perception of the comfort zone.

I was reading a post the other day about autism and comfort zones – part of my journey into trying to get diagnosed for ADHD has revealed that I may have autistic symptoms too… we won’t know for sure until I get diagnosed (the wait list is years long so I’m not holding my breath). There are certainly some autism dynamics that are very familiar to me.

Anyway, the post was saying that the advice to “always push outside your comfort zone” can be unhelpful for some neurodivergent people.

Why unhelpful?

Because some of us have a tendency to ALWAYS push outside our comfort zone. We learn about the comfort zone and we interpret the advice (unconsciously) as “I must ALWAYS operate outside my comfort zone. If I am ever comfortable, I am a failure.”

We never feel what it feels like to actually operate WITHIN our comfort zone. So we rarely feel comfort.

I’m currently on a “dual learning track” here at Gaulier, as I always am:

1. I am learning what I learn in class. And having great fun with my performances and games.
2. I am continuing to learn how to operate in the social environment around the school… which is always harder for me, but I feel I have been doing far better at this than I ever have before.

The “social track” is a far more complex learning track because it involves: many competing social dynamics; unclear subtexts or “signals”; attraction and desire; social politics; the possibility of social rejection; and both micro and macro cultural differences.

The learning in my “social skills track” has been encompassing a bunch of skills that directly relate to the learnings in class, such as:

  • Complicity – Making connections and building trust with people socially.
  • Play – Playing games in conversations. For this, I’ve been learning about flirting, which is basically just adult play.
  • Making big offers – Not “playing it safe” in conversations (in my case, sticking to long-developed social “scripts” and “mental flowcharts”), but making big, risky-feeling moves.
  • Flopping – Doing things in conversations that can, and probably will, “fail.” You crack a joke and nobody laughs, you propose a topic of conversation and it is ignored by the group, etc. When I flop socially, my natural tendency is to retreat into my own head and stop talking… to avoid “making social mistakes.”
  • Pleasure and fun – Making communication into something fun and light rather than deep and heavy (which is a particular challenge for me as I actually love deep, intense conversations more than any other type of conversation.)

For me, this second track is definitely pushing my comfort zone. But I’m also enjoying it a lot more than before.

But I also notice a “pull.”

The pull comes from the unhelpful habits I’ve developed around socializing that say “I must always push my comfort zone.”

A few days ago we had a party. It was loud and there were many people. For the first time, I now recognise this as a prime situation for “sensory overwhelm” (a neurodivergent affliction that I didn’t relate to before, but now see could be why my social brain basically shuts down and spirals into social burnout during parties).

During this party, I noticed all my previous unhelpful social patterns reemerge…

“I must always be outside of my comfort zone.”

“I must feel uncomfortable and I must push myself.”

“I must stay in the noisy party and I must *appear* to be comfortable.”

“If I am not ‘succeeding’ at flourishing in this social environment then I am a failure.”

This is an example of a very unhelpful relationship between my comfort zone and myself. I have discovered recently – with help from a therapist who really understands neurodivergence – that I have very little understanding of my own limits and boundaries.

When you understand your own limitations, you can operate in the world without “killing yourself.”

Sure, if you get TOO comfortable operating within your own limitations, the advice “push your comfort zone” is good advice.

But if you NEVER operate in your own comfort zone (as I basically haven’t all my life) then you are always stressing yourself out. You are always pushing yourself “to the point of (painful) failure.”

As I wrote in this blog earlier this year, last March I broke my spine when going over a ski jump… largely because I don’t understand my own limitations.

In school this term, I am enjoying myself on stage so much, partly because much of the environment here at Gaulier is within my comfort zone.

Instead of always pushing myself to “be better,” I’m instead learning to relax back into that comfort zone and just have fun… which then means I’m giving more interesting and enjoyable performances.

On my “social learning track,” I am still pushing myself too much sometimes and not taking big enough risks other times…

Socially, I sometimes still operate in my “safe zone” (because comfort is not the right word).

As this is the start of a new school year, most of the current students haven’t been here at Gaulier before. As I’ve been here for months now, I feel a sense of ease and joy on stage that they haven’t yet found because they are new…

But in the social environment, it feels like I’m brand new and everyone else is experienced. I feel outside my comfort zone in the same way that most other people feel in class. I “flop” socially on many days – just as I did at the party (though there were moments of enjoyment). But I also “succeed” socially far more often than I did previously and am finding pleasure in social connection more than I did before.

The thing I need to remember is to honour my social comfort zone as well as pushing it. To allow myself to feel comfortable AND grow to be more playful socially.

It’s easier to find pleasure within your comfort zone. But when you find that pleasure, you can use it to take yourself beyond your previous limits.

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