Most of us can accept that exercise is something that we should strive to incorporate into our daily lives. Invest some time and energy into a daily kettlebell, yoga or interval training session and you can proudly show off your toned abs and dominate that next fitness competition.
Take a month planted on the couch to play video games or watch your favourite reruns (no matter how good they are), and good luck pumping out the same feats of strength next time you hit the gym. Our level of fitness is not a static entity, and is either increasing or decreasing depending on what we are doing (or are not doing) to exercise our bodies.
Whether or not you make fitness a priority on a regular basis, you are probably aware of its importance. But have you ever stopped to think that your physical body is not the only thing that you should be working and challenging on a routine basis?
Your comfort zone is defined as: “A state in which you are operating while feeling at ease and without risk, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance”.
While this may not seem like a terrible way to live (at least for some), there is a problem. The problem is that like fitness, your comfort zone is not static. If you don’t challenge it on a regular basis it constricts.
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You will end up with an increasingly narrowed set of behaviours and circumstances that do not cause you to feel risk or discomfort. Your energy becomes taught and confined, and you develop angst towards what many people perceive as normal parts of everyday life. You cringe at the idea of trying a new restaurant, putting yourself out there to meet someone special or taking up a novel sport or hobby.
That timidity and foreboding creeps deeper into your life, causing you to stay in a job that you are dissatisfied with and cling on to relationships that don’t make you happy. Eventually there are very few activities that you take part in where you do not feel anxious or uneasy.
“Do one thing everyday that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
If you don’t push your comfort zone, it is inevitably like living your life on replay. You wake up and do the same thing every day; colouring between the lines and trying to keep uncertainty safely beyond the boundaries of your magic circle.
Our bodies are programmed to launch a stress response when we perceive a risk to our safety or wellbeing. You may start to sweat, experience a racing heart, sense “butterflies in your stomach” and get a bit shaky. While uncomfortable, it is important to realize is that these reactions are natural.
Imagine yourself living back in the Stone Age. You’re out picking berries when you notice a sabre-tooth tiger creeping behind you in stealth mode, stalking you as his next meal. Your body releases a surge of stress hormones to get you sprinting away or fighting for your life at your maximum capacity. These life or death scenarios occur less frequently in our modern day life, and we are more likely to experience these evolutionary symptoms when doing a presentation for our coworkers or going out on a date. Your body cannot distinguish a life-threatening scenario from modern-day stressors and it still triggers the same adrenaline pumping reaction.
One of the most effective tools to deal with this anxiety is to recognize it as a purely physical reaction. Feel your heart race, notice the uncomfortable feeling in your stomach and note the sweating of your palms. Separate yourself from the physical manifestations of your anxiety instead of letting yourself become too entwined in the experience. If you can notice these sensations as an observer it is much easier to maintain control and rationale instead of becoming caught up in the physical sensations and spiraling out of control.
I want you to envision something that you have had a desire to do, but haven’t done because fear has stood in your way. Visualize yourself doing this activity, and notice any sensations or feelings that arise. Practice the mindful technique of detachment and observation. You will learn to become more comfortable with these sensations, and will eventually recognize them as a product of your physiology and nothing else.
“Buy the ticket, take the ride” -Hunter S. Thompson
Every night before you go to bed, make a goal to do one thing the next day to stretch your comfort zone. Maybe you will try a new food, strike up a conversation with a stranger or do a challenging exercise class at the gym. Decide on a goal, and spend 5 minutes visualizing the entire process in your mind in full detail. Focus on visualizing the positive outcomes that you desire, and the feelings you experience when everything goes well. The next day, follow through on your visualization and stretch that comfort zone! Make this a daily occurrence and you will become an empowered individual that is no longer bound by fear.
What does fear hold you back from doing? What works for you to push through the fear and self-doubt? Where do you struggle? Please share in my comments section below!
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