My husband is into podcasts and videos which emphasize self improvement. He loves thinking outside the box, so we really get to share the intricacies of how the mind works as an athlete and in everyday life. He was watching a video about cold showers and how they can be just the beginning of helping you get out of your comfort zone. It inspired me to write about comfort zones and why it has made a difference in my sport and life!
What is a comfort zone and why it is important for sport and life?
From my experiences a comfort zone is where you feel most at ease, and without stress. It's about creating consistency in our lives, which helps minimize risk. Sometimes, we start recognizing that staying comfortable is creating more harm than it is helping. Or we recognize that we are creating a comfort zone in order to shy away from the fear of failure, so we start holding ourselves back. It can be in your daily routine, your work/school/athlete life, even with friends and family.
We are naturally drawn to routine and security. That concept has been ingrained in us since... cave man days! Thus creating a survival routine equals safety. It takes no time to fall into this type of routine, and a lot of work to make a shift in our habits. Despite this hardwiring, we can shy away from discomfort and create change and improvement in our lives. Without the storm, you wouldn't understand the calm afterwards. And the same is true with our lives, we often don't begin changing until we go through a challenging or painful experience.
Stepping out of a comfort zone is universal to our personal growth. Once we push past our comfort zone, it becomes easier and easier to do. Those personal challenges become like little badges of honor that we carry with us to our next experience. We start seeing that the possible failures that come along with risk taking, outweigh the positive benefits from the learning experience. Or even from the great successes that follow!
As a professional athlete, my career has been about recognizing when I am becoming comfortable and stagnant, and creating change. In the sport of wrestling we live in discomfort for years or seasons on end. Your future is entirely unknown, as an injury, family emergency, or life change could put your goals on hold. Despite these obstacles, your focus continues to go toward building the possibility of success through calculated risk taking and sacrifices.
My past injuries and surgeries have certainly caused me to really push out of my comfort zones. When as an athlete your livelihood depends on your ability to perform and that is no longer an option, you must decide to either rise to the occasion or allow it to swallow you. When I had foot surgery and was confined to a knee scooter (I named him Scoot Scoot! He and I really bonded, even after I threw him on the ground due to frustration), I knew that I could stay home and watch a TON of Netflix, or I could figure out how to hop out of the house each day and push the rehab limits of my injury.
This was one year out from Olympic Trials. ONE YEAR. I got creative with my lifts, I learned that I could do a lot of workouts in a chair, and I got real real uncomfortable with mindfulness. That whisper in my ear said, “just wait to do these once you’re healed. You need rest and you can’t really do anything anyways” or “how will you ever be ready for Olympic Trials?” was consistently present. It was a risk to make myself vulnerable and still be hopeful for an Olympic spot, but it seemed like a bigger risk to let the opportunity pass. Sometimes, it’s really your own mind that’s trying to hold you back. If I hadn’t pushed past what I thought I could handle, the stress, the anxieties of the future, I would not be here feeling like I can share these experiences with all of you.
I have been extremely fortunate to have traveled the path of a professional athlete. As we age, we become more aware of the challenges that are involved in taking risks, so we take them less often. Through years of training I have learned to practice the skill of risk taking, which has continued to keep me to be open to new experiences (like this blog, which has been a deep endeavor into a new level of discomfort for me!)
You can practice getting out of your comfort zone
We have all heard "fail, and fail often" before, and there's a reason for that. It means that no matter what situation you are in, you can always creatively challenge your comfort zone and seek improvement. Even if you fail, you learn to be open to the experience, and in turn change your habits of fearing the unknown.
For athletes and challenge seekers alike, we become really obsessed with pushing the envelope. However, we can just as easily fall victim to our comfort zones. It could be that winning streak you got use to, until a big loss made you realize you hadn't been pushing yourself in the same way. Maybe a once risky goal that is now easily obtained becomes too easy to accomplish and simple mistakes begin to appear. It becomes important to see the difference between comfortable consistency, and consistently challenging yourself.
Recognize what makes you uncomfortable. What do you shy away from? It could be socially, physically, or mentally. We all have places where we'd rather hide than confront what feels hard and complicated. When we start fearing vulnerability, we start seeing risk taking as negative. When did you last perceive someone else's risk taking as a terrible decision? Could that be your own fears judging their openness to experience?
Set a realistic goal for yourself that helps you confront a comfort zone you want to explore or push past. Seeking others' support and help is a great way to start learning about the steps you can take towards a different path for yourself. Often enough, there is someone out there who has the answer to your questions about seeking a new endeavor or self-improvement.
Be open to opportunities that may seem silly or off topic for what you hope to achieve. I strongly believe that once you start putting your energies towards self improvement, opportunities show up in the oddest of places. Remember that movie, "Yes Man"? Despite the hilarious and unrealistic things he said yes to (i.e. a mail order bride), he said yes to experiences that helped him break free from his comfort zone and find friendships and opportunities in unexpected places. I can’t even count on two hands the number of times I went to an event expecting very little and coming out with amazing connections that have helped in my journey’s success! So... what risks are you taking today?