A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown. ~ Denis Waitley
One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again. ~Abraham Maslow
Life Begins Outside Of Your Comfort Zone!
Throughout everyday life, each of us has certain physical and psychological “comfort zones” that influence who we are and how we act. Perhaps you follow the same routine when you wake up in the morning, or drive the same route to your job each day. Similarly, from a training standpoint, do you tend to migrate toward the same pace, intensity, or routine, day in and day out, because it is “comfortable”? I thought so! :)
Physical comfort zones are usually easy to identify. For example, if you have recently trained at or around 8 minutes per mile during your long aerobic runs and suddenly increase that pace to 6 minutes per mile, you will quickly step outside of your comfort zone. Running at 6 minute pace quickly elevates your heart rate and perceived effort, immediately putting you outside your comfort zone!
Psychological comfort zones can be a bit harder to quantify, but here’s an example. I think we can all agree that for most of us, talking one on one to a friend or two is usually not that tough. But, stand up in a room in front of a live audience and try to give a speech while everyone is staring at you is a lot more difficult, and perhaps way outside of the comfort zone for many of us!
A KEY TO PERSONAL GROWTH AND SUCCESS
In my opinion, one key that can unlock the potential for greater personal growth and success in many of life’s endeavors is the willingness to step outside of comfort zones. If you’re going to reach your potential as an athlete, as you execute your training program you must resist the temptation to always do the same thing, in effect resorting back to that which is “comfortable” for you. After all, it feels absolutely fantastic when we do finally step outside and as a result, experience some success! Remember what it was like when you were nervous about asking someone out for a date? For most of us, this was well outside our comfort zones, yet how great did it feel when they said, “Yes!” From a training standpoint, do you remember ever focusing your time and energy on developing a certain skill or technique? Do you remember how good it felt when you realized you were getting BETTER at that activity because you did things a bit differently? Far too often we train and perform activities the way we always have, staying with what is comfortable for us. Routinely doing things the same old way (training pace, intensity, route, focus, etc.) prevents us from growing and improving. We like to be comfortable! Resist it, reach out, expand your horizons, and take some risks! Improve!
WHY ARE COMFORT ZONES “COMFORTABLE”?
There are two major factors that stop most of us from stepping outside our comfort zones more often. The first is habit. Simply put, out of habit, we tend to migrate to that which we are familiar with or that gives us a sense of security and safety. The second and perhaps most significant factor is fear. Fear of failure. Let’s face it, at one time or another we are all afraid to fail. But we all know but rarely admit to ourselves, that the real consequences of “failure” are truly inconsequential and never last long.
As athletes, most of the fear we have when we step outside our comfort zone and try something new is all in our head. The fear is a figment of our imagination. It just never seems that way at the moment of truth! As an example, all of you triathletes out there, take open water swim starts (which tend to give many first time triathletes a fit). Be honest, you know you’re not going to drown! You know that nothing “down there” is going to swim up and get you! You know everyone in attendance wants you to succeed! All the other athletes have the same goal as you, to get to the finish line! Whatever fear you may experience is only in your thoughts, and you control your thoughts, no one else. Fear limits what we do and who we are, and ultimately, what we can achieve.
COMFORT” ZONE AND “GRAY” ZONE:
IS THERE A CORRELATION?
Applying these concepts to your training on a consistent basis can be a key to unlocking untapped potential. However, and this is important, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to always go harder and/or faster! As an example, getting outside of your comfort zone may mean running, riding, or swimming more slowly on certain training days, when your mind might be telling you that you “should” be going faster. Or, it may mean doing more drill or skill work in a training session when it might be more “comfortable” if you didn’t include skill/technique work. In fact, failure to get outside of your training comfort zones relates very much to smartly differentiating pace and intensity in training, something I routinely remind athletes about.
Gray zone training is addictive and easy to succumb to because going “sort of” hard can and often is “comfortable” for many of us. Think about that. When you’re training “sort of” hard but not REALLY hard (e.g. gray zone), you are in no man’s land. You are much better off either going easier than is “comfortable” for you (aerobic or even easier for recovery), or if your training program calls for it, going much HARDER than is comfortable. In fact, getting the maximum benefit from your training program means being way outside of your comfort zone during hard (quality) training sessions. It means going VERY hard and being VERY uncomfortable!
THE BOTTOM LINE?
Though it may not always be obvious on a daily basis, consistently getting outside of comfort zones even just a little bit can lead to unbelievable results in your training and racing. Starting today, have the courage and mental strength to “step out” regularly both physically and psychologically, and I guarantee you’ll get better and faster than ever! Make it a great day!