Get outside your comfort zone for breakthroughs in performance

The feeling of comfort can often be the Achilles heel blocking you from where you are now to where you want to be. Throughout your life, you have probably heard the saying, “get out of your comfort zone” or “stop playing it safe”. Like many people, I used to roll my eyes when I heard these types of statements from parents, teachers, coaches and anyone offering free life lessons. It used to annoy me. I would always think, “just let me be good at the things that I like and know I can do really well.” Let’s be honest, we all love doing things that we know we are good at, because we get compliments, a sense of achievement/purpose, validation and not to mention a big head! Who wouldn’t want all of those feelings? It’s part of human nature to like doing the things that make us feel good.

It’s obvious when I’m working with clients, they always love doing the exercises that they do well and will avoid the exercises that they aren’t able to perform with the same skill, like the plague! Often the greatest level of growth and bang for buck comes from doing the exercises that you are NOT good at. For example, take the guy at the gym that always skips leg day – he might be WRITEable to bench press a house, but he can’t lift much more than his body weight on a squat. It wouldn’t make him feel good or encouraged seeing people half his size warming up with a weight that he wouldn’t be able to lift. The only way of making a change in this case, is stepping up and doing something completely uncomfortable that is going to challenge him and force him to grow. This takes character to act without ego – to work on the weakest link with humility and conviction.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

A mistake I used to make with clients was to always commend them for achievement rather than effort. If they hit a PB or did really well on an exercise, I would give them praise and tell them how well they had done. This very act can create a negative pattern because the client will always be striving to gain approval and will inevitably want to avoid the exercises/work that is going to get them fewer compliments. Unless you’re loaded up with anabolic steroids comfort or you are a beginner, hitting PBs in lifts and increasing overall performance every week isn’t feasible. The human body is an organism that can achieve peaks several times a year when planned correctly, so pinning peoples emotions to compliments for achievement only, can work against you. (3) Learning from my mistakes, I now try to place more emphasis on commending people for EFFORT. This reinforces positive behaviour patterns, makes people more compliant in doing the exercises that make them uncomfortable and will ultimately lead to better performance outcomes. Win-win for all!

We all need comfort at times – for rest, recuperation, dealing with stress and to be able to refocus our efforts for future uncomfortable-ness. If you read any autobiography of someone who is successful in their chosen field they all have one common thread between them. They all have a story of how they overcame some sort of resistance, whether it’s racism, sexism, abuse, lack of resources, confidence, mental illness, shyness etc. More often than not, those very obstacles that were once perceived as holding them back were actually the major reasons why they succeeded – the truest example of making “lemons into lemonade”.

Whether you call it resistance or being uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter. The most important concept to understand is that growth in every life situation comes from being uncomfortable to begin with. The reason why we have survived as a species for thousands of years is from our ability to adapt to the environment and evolve to stressors. For example, there is a direct correlation in bone density and how much resistance is placed on it. It has been shown is several studies that people who partake in weight training (being uncomfortable), have a higher bone density to those people who don’t (being comfortable). (1, 2) Take home point: get uncomfortable!

There is an optimal level of being uncomfortable that gives us the results we are after. Too much and we go into an over-arousal state – sweaty palms, unable to think straight, communicate and deal with the outside resistance. It’s a very similar concept that I spoke about in my article, “What get’s you aroused” – everyone has an individualised sweet spot with how much they can deal with before the resistance becomes too much.

A personal example of overcoming being extremely uncomfortable was signing up to a Toastmasters club around 12 months ago. For those of you that don’t know, Toastmasters is an organisation that has been running for close to 100 years in helping people improve their public speaking and leadership skills. I know for sure that I’m not alone when it comes to speaking in front of a crowd of people.

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means comfort to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” ― Jerry Seinfeld

The reason I decided to start working on my public speaking skills was feedback that I received when conducting a one-off seminar on nutrition. The feedback was that I had great content, but lacked in my delivery from obvious nerves and that I relied on my notes too heavily, which didn’t engage the audience enough. Inside I was like, “No shit! I was nervous!” Rather than beating myself up over it and deciding that public speaking wasn’t for me, I made a plan to make myself uncomfortable on a weekly basis to improve and learn from the gift of feedback that I received. Knowing that, I purposefully put my clients in uncomfortable situations each week, which forces them to do things that they are not comfortable with, in order to get results. I can’t be all about creating positive change for them, if I don’t practice what I preach!

I vividly remember the walk to my very first Toastmasters meeting… Heart rate elevated, stomach
churning, sweaty palms, red face, the thoughts of running in the opposite direction and praying that I didn’t have to get up to speak in front of anyone. That was over 12 months ago now and I would say it has been one of the most comfort rewarding things I have done. The weekly exposure of being uncomfortable has given me confidence and skills that I previously didn’t have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Anthony Robbins and I still get nervous before each talk I give, but now I have gotten used to that uncomfortable feeling and made an association to pleasure and reward, knowing I’m moving towards something better.

In summary, prioritise doing the exercises and things that put you in your uncomfortable place and watch your results take off! (Your future happy place).

Adam

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References: 

  1. Bass SL, Forwood MR, Larsen JA, and Saxon L. Prescribing exercise for osteoporosis. International SportMed Journal 1: 1-13, 2000.
  2. Blimkie C, Rice S, Webber C, Martin J, Levy D, and Gordon C. Effects of resistance training on bone mineral content and density in adolescent females. Canadian journal of physiology and pharmacology 74: 1025-1033, 1996.
  3. Martini F, Bartholomew EF, Garrison CW, Hutchings RT, Nath JL, Ober WC, and Welch K. Fundamentals of anatomy & physiology / Frederic H. Martini, Judi L. Nath, Edwin F. Bartholomew ; William C. Ober, art coordinator and illustrator ; Claire W. Garrisson, illustrator ; Kathleen Welch, clinical consultant ; Ralph T. Hutchings, biomedical photgrapher. San Francisco, Calif. : Pearson/Benjamin Cummings, c2012. 9th ed., 2012.

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