Growing Outside Your Comfort Zone

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Let’s be honest for a minute, here.  Being comfortable is great.  I love soaking in a hot bath, or curling up in front of a fireplace, or eating my dad’s homemade macaroni and cheese.  Being comfortable is usually what we all strive for, in fact.  At the end of the day, we all want a warm, comfy bed to lie in.

Your comfort zone, however, can’t be the only place you ever stay.

“The further you get away from yourself, the more challenging it is. Not to be in your comfort zone is great fun.”

-Benedict Cumberbatch

Think about it for a minute.  Think about every major “good” experience you’ve had in your life.  I’m not talking about waking up to a fresh pot of coffee, I’m talking about asking out (or being asked out by) that person you’ve been crushing on.  I’m talking about your first ride on a roller coaster.  I’m talking about the first time you met some significant person in your life, or went somewhere completely new (like another country,) or started to learn a new skill.

In every single one of those situations, you probably went at least a little bit outside of your comfort zone.  Every new adventure we have in our lives is an adventure because it’s outside of our comfort zone.  Without question, the biggest growth you will ever experience as a human being will ALWAYS be outside of your comfort zone.  Heck, look at Lianna, from last week’s guest post!  Do you think making the changes she did in her life was comfortable?

She was smart, and broke them down into navpoints, but even still, every single step she took to bettering herself took her a little bit further outside of her comfort zone.  Worked out pretty well for her, didn’t it?

We grow in character, in skill, and in personality by intentionally stretching ourselves outside of where we’re comfortable, and forcing ourselves to take in new information, learn new perspectives, and acquire new abilities.  This is awesome, because it’s the embodiment of one of our greatest strengths as a species: Our adaptability.

“Comfort breeds weakness!”

-Rengar, League of Legends

Going outside your comfort zone has applications in fitness, as well.  There’s a reason I started this post with a picture of Goku training at 100 times normal gravity!  Now, of course, you don’t have to try to do something insane like that, but the principle holds true.

We get stronger by putting regular, calculated strain on our bodies.  When we exercise, we are intentionally damaging the fibers in our muscle tissue!  Now, endorphins and all kinds of happy brain chemicals help us to actually enjoy the process, but that doesn’t stop the fact that we are actually doing small, measured amounts of damage to our muscles!

These muscle fibers, much like our personalities and character, can handle these small amounts of discomfort.  They reach out, grab amino acids from the bloodstream, and rebuild themselves, stronger than before (yes, this is an oversimplification, but you get the idea.)  This is incredible, and it only doesn’t seem so because we’ve spent our whole lives kind of knowing it, intrinsically.  However, if you think about it, we’re all little mini versions of Wolverine.

Similarly, losing weight is the act of intentionally going a small distance outside of your comfort zone.  You give your body less fuel than it needs, and in different balances, and suddenly your body needs to compensate.  In many ways, this is harder than exercising, because instead of releasing happy chemicals, our brains REBEL and sound the alarm bells!  Your cells shout, “We’re starving, it’s time to panic, FEED US FOOD!”  But the remarkable thing about humans as a species is we can consciously acknowledge the message our body is sending us and reply, “No, you’re fine, you’ve got plenty of extra stored up.”

Pretty soon our metabolic functions grumble and start unloading the extra energy stored up in your fat cells, and distributing it.  This means we can literally reshape our bodies at will!  However, it only happens if we are willing to go outside of our comfort zone, and stay there for a while!

Adventure should be 80 percent ‘I think this is manageable,’ but it’s good to have that last 20 percent where you’re right outside your comfort zone. Still safe, but outside your comfort zone.

-Bear Grylls

Now, I’m not saying you need to live your life outside of where you’re comfortable all the time.  Don’t wake up tomorrow, hop in an ice shower, run fifteen miles to work, eat only celery for lunch, and then blame me when you’re miserable.  (I mean, actually, if you do that, please film it, throw it up on YouTube, and send it to me.  It actually sounds pretty badass.)  But in reality, living COMPLETELY outside of your comfort zone ALL the time can be pretty damn unpleasant.  I wouldn’t advise anyone to do that for any extended period of time.

The important thing about the examples I made above is that they are all calculated, measured steps outside of your comfort zone.  Lianna took a page out of Shepard’s book and made up bite-sized navpoints.  When on a workout program, you add five pounds to your lifts every week or two, or an extra rep or three to your bodyweight routine.  When you’re cutting weight, you calculate the calories you need to stay within the range of losing 1-2% of your bodyweight every week.

Going overboard can have a couple unpleasant side effects:

  1. It’s dangerous.  You can injure yourself, make yourself sick, or leave yourself unhappy with who you’ve become as a person.
  2. It’s hard to maintain.  Going outside your comfort zone with any kind of long-term growth goal is only good if you can stick with it.
  3. It’s not measurable.  If your only goal is “make myself as uncomfortable as possible,” you’ve got no real way of ever knowing if you’re really making progress.

Instead, I’d say set up a few basic plans on things you want to work on that are outside your comfort zone, and build a system where you take a tiny step every day.  Turn it into a habit of slowly stretching outside your bubble, rather than smashing through it at every single opportunity.

Now, that’s not to say that smashing out of your bubble every once in a while is a bad thing.  If it were, I would not have gotten married, or gone skydiving, or earned my black belt.  Sometimes, you need that big push, or that fearless leap.  For the most part, however, you should strive to step a little outside your comfort zone in one area or another, every single day.

You’d be surprised how much you can grow, doing just that.

I’d certainly call it living boldly, and being awesome.  You could very well end up changing the world, as well.

Dan “DaRatmastah” Wallace

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