Singing In Public, Part 1

When starting this project, one thing I didn't fully think through is that I’ve given my friends a perfect excuse to make me do anything embarrassing for their entertainment, simply by claiming “...but it’s outside of your comfort zone!” On Sunday evening, I was having dinner at home with a group of friends, and the particular suggestion made was that I sing in public. I actually already had “go busking” down on my list of things to do for this blog in the future - emphasis on in future. It must be at least 10 years since I’ve sung alone in front of any kind of group. I certainly wasn’t planning it for my first post.

I had a string of excuses for this. It was 8pm on a Sunday evening - not exactly prime busking time. I was pretty busy for the next couple of days. I’d do it in a few weeks’ time, when I had someone with a guitar to accompany me, and we’d worked out the best spot do it, etc etc.

Then someone pointed out that we actually had a particularly good guitar player amongst us, and a guitar. Why not start by singing to us, right now, before dinner? Actually it was less of a request and more of a command: I think the exact words used were “You can sing for your dinner. You don’t have to sing, if you don’t mind not eating.”

So I sang. I sang Jessie J’s “Price Tag” (with a, quite frankly, fantastic guitar accompaniment.) Singing in your living room to a group of friends might not sound like the most uncomfortable thing ever to many people, but it was a fairly big deal to me (did I mention I haven’t sung since I was about 12?). The experience also taught me some useful lessons about trying new things and pushing our comfort zones, so I thought it was worth writing about.

1. Don’t do it later. Do it now.

In the past few days I’ve spent much more time coming up with ideas of things I could do to push myself out of my comfort zone, than I’ve spent actually doing any of these things. Each time I’d come up with an idea, I’d think something along the lines of “ooh, that’s a good idea, but maybe too ambitious to start with/I don’t have the time this week/I should do something else first.” In some cases these excuses were legit, but in most, they were just excuses.

When thinking about doing things that make us uncomfortable, obviously the reaction “I’ll do it, but later” will be natural. But waiting until a more comfortable time kind of defeats the point. Going forwards, I’m going to try and notice and dispel these “I’ll do it later” thoughts when they’re not justified.

2. Think of things you used to enjoy doing before you were self conscious, and do them.

I loved singing in primary school. I was in the school choir and sang solos in multiple concerts. When I hit teenage years I got self conscious and stopped. The thought “I wish I’d had the confidence to continue...” has certainly crossed my mind since, but never carried enough weight to get me to do anything about it. But when I started singing on Sunday I remembered how good it made me feel. It struck me as a real shame that I’d been missing out on something really great for so long because I was afraid.

This made me think: how many other things are there that I used to really enjoy, and could still, that I stopped doing because I got self-conscious? I’m going to use this question to guide more of the things that I try in future.

3. Trying new or different things can be really, really fun!

I ended up having one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had in a long time on Sunday. Rather than just sitting around and chatting all night as I normally would when having dinner with friends, we ended up playing guitar and singing as a group all night, and it was so much fun. This would never have happened if I hadn’t been pushed to do something I was scared of.

Staying within our comfort zones means we fall into comfortable routines. But when you think about the times you’ve had the most fun, are they times when you’ve stuck to a routine, or broken out of it? For me at least, it’s definitely the latter. One of the best experiences of my life so far was spending nearly two months living and teaching in rural Thailand. I don’t think it’s a coincidence this was also about as far away from my everyday routine I’ve ever ventured.

That trying new things can be lead to fun and novel experiences may sound like an obvious point, but I’m not sure I’d fully appreciated it before. I’d been thinking of comfort zone expansion as something that would be good for me but I might not really enjoy. This project might be scary at times, but I now realise it might also be a lot of fun.

(You may have noticed there’s a “part 1” in the name of this post.  I’m hereby promising that there will be a part 2, in which I sing in a venue more public than my own living room... and also try to shed a bit more light on the question of why we find singing in public so embarrassing.)

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I meant to credit/thank a few people in my last post but forgot, so better late than never: thanks to Cat Lavigne and the rest of the Center for Applied Rationality for inspiring this idea, Uri Bram for making me execute it (and sing!), and Ben Clifford for the aforementioned fantastic guitar accompaniment.