If you want to improve something, in this case your health and fitness, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone to where it’s difficult, and a challenge, for you to make any sort of improvements. We know this is really hard – we sat in our comfort zones with our health for years – but when you start pushing and start to see the fruits of your labour, we promise you, you won’t look back!
So, what is your comfort zone? – it’s the place where you can perform without thinking, without it being a challenge, and most of all without any stress or anxiety. And whilst we all need this to some degree in all our lives, it can also be a place where we are stifled or become lazy. Pushing out of your comfort zone can bring countless benefits.
There are lots of famous people who achieved incredible things, who will undoubtedly have pushed out of their comfort zone to get there. Richard Branson is a good example. Richard Branson re-mortgaged his family’s home to fund virgin records. The night before the bank was about to take his home off him, Tubular Bells hit the top of the charts, a record produced by Virgin, and raised enough funds to rescue Branson’s home and set the course for the rest of Branson’s life. It’s fair to say, that would have been a very, very uncomfortable time for Richard Branson, but the rewards for pushing into that place of discomfort have been endless for him.
Step out and perform
Lots of you will have reached out of your comfort zone for other reasons. You will have been in a situation where the pressure has been on you. Sitting an important exam means months, if not years of revision. Delivering some work to a deadline may mean working late, going in early and working to a higher intensity than usual.
When you’re in that situation the last thing you need is to worry about it too; but a touch of anxiety can be really positive for you.
Sitting on a ledge, just slightly outside of your comfort zone, in “optimal anxiety” is where we perform at our highest level and our motivation for success is unrivalled. It’s a place where your mental productivity and performance levels reach their peak.
Imagine a boxer, he’s lined up to be fighting the current heavyweight world champion, things are running through his mind; the opponent, can he beat him? Is he good enough to make this final step up? Do you think he’s anxious? Of course he will be, he will want to be.
It’s this state of optimal anxiety that will see him never miss an early morning training run, choose the toughest partners to spar with, push on through training when his whole body is screaming at him to stop. It will ensure he gets early nights, doesn’t over eat or drink – it will make sure that his nutrition is absolutely perfect. When the time comes for the bell to ring, that state of optimal anxiety will have been an absolutely essential and crucial component of his preparation.
Optimal anxiety can help you too. But to experience it you must first choose to step outside your comfort zone.
So, what turned Rick Wilson from a 25+ stones man, who had not exercised since 1988, into a multi marathon runner who is now nearly 12 stones lighter? Many attribute his success to running, new eating habits or a combination of both.
Rick would disagree. He say’s he always knew he had to move more and eat better, what he struggled with was applying himself to do either.
A massive milestone for Rick came around the year 2000. He had made a decision to park his car around a mile away from work and walk the rest of the way in – he would do this for a 3 week period. At the end of the working day he would walk from work and retrieve his car for the journey home. He did this for a full 3 weeks and amazed himself. However, at the end of the three weeks his mini challenge was over and he didn’t have any plans to build on it. In fact, he did nothing for many years.
It was a state of ‘optimal anxiety’ that changed his whole life. In 2013 he volunteered to run a 10k race for the Every Action Has Consequences charity. He was massively overweight and he still hadn’t undertake any form of exercise. He was at a meeting with the charity and Pat Rogers, a lady Rick holds in such high esteem, asked if anybody could support the charity by wearing a charity t-shirt and running a 10k race for them – just to raise awareness? Pat’s son Adam had been killed by a single punch and the charity has made a massive difference in completely turning around many young people’s lives. Rick volunteered, along with everybody else in the room. They all looked at him as if to say “..are you crazy? You can’t do that!” and Rick smiled as it was just another false promise he’d made to people for years. He would just let Pat down gently in a few days time.
However, the realisation soon hit him that this was one lady he simply couldn’t let down and for the first time in his life he was going to have to step up to the plate. It frightened him and took him into a place of optimal anxiety, which provided his motivation. He sat down with a pen and paper to write a simple plan.
That milestone again
One comfort at taking on such a monumental challenge was that he knew he could commit to something if he really put his mind to it. He kept remembering the three weeks of walking to and from his car, some 13 years earlier. The other was a guy he worked with had downloaded a podcast from the NHS website called Couch to 5k, followed it for 9 weeks and actually ran for 5k at the end of it. That distance seemed like a million miles to Rick but this guy wasn’t to dissimilar to him so he had evidence it was possible.
He left himself with 13 weeks to prepare, stopped drinking alcohol, stopped smoking and finally acknowledged he was big because he was consuming around 6,000 calories per day. The plan was to eat/drink 1,900 calories each day and follow his running plan which was 9 weeks of Couch to 5K followed by a short period where he extended the distance. In total he jogged 3 x per week and started to do other things like walk places, take the stairs instead of lifts, always keeping to the plan and keeping it simple.
In June 2013 he ran every single step of that 10k race and had lost a significant amount of weight in the process.
This time was different, he continued to slowly build on the success of the charity run to create his new forever lifestyle. In such a short space of time he went from being an extremely overweight inactive person to the leader of the largest Couch to 5k group in the World.
This eventually led to him being invited to the Houses of Parliament to receive a British Citizen Award for ‘Services to Healthcare’. He found himself at the centre of NHS campaigns to promote active lifestyles and works closely with Liverpool John Moores University around exercise psychology. His Couch to 5k group also won an England Athletics Mass Participation Award, ahead of their own multi million pound Run England programme.
He established Be Strong with Rachel and went from the couch to multi marathon runner with a reputation for preparing challenging solo marathon training plans which take in all the local hills that East Lancashire has to offer.
Be Strong has seen ordinary people achieve extraordinary things! 60 people took on the Yorkshire 3 Peaks, 40 challenged themselves with Tough Mudder, 70 started the Couch to Marathon challenge (37 completed a half marathon!) and 12 went all the way to complete it. The group scaled Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain – one of those people used to lack confidence, suffer from anxiety and previously used sticks to enable her to walk.
Did these events change their lives or did something else play its part?
- 2000 – Parked car a mile from work and walked from and to it each day for 3 weeks
- 2000 to 2013 – Totally inactive
- 2013 – Did Couch to 5k on his ipod
- 2013 – Ran the Pennine 10k for Every Action Has Consequences (1:18:12)
- 2013 – Setup 5kGroupRun at Witton Park, a free activity to teach people to run for 5km over a 9 week period
- 2014 – 5kGroupRun becomes the largest Couch to 5k group in the world with up to 800 people attending each session
- 2014 – Rick is presented with a British Citizens Award at the Houses of Parliament for services to healthcare
- 2014 – Social running and 5k to 10k progression groups are added to the 5kGroupRun offer
- 2014 – 5kGroupRun wins the England Athletics North West Regional Award for Mass Participation
- Jan 2015 – East Lancs Hospice 10k (56:17)
- Jun 2015 – Liverpool Rock and Roll Half Marathon (2:14:33 – cramps)
- July 2015 – Morecambe Half Marathon (2:07:57)
- Oct 2015 – Chester Marathon (5:15:52 – cramps)
- Oct 2015 – Leicester Marathon (5:05:45)
- Jan 2016 – Be Strong established with Rachel Wilcock
- Apr 2016 – London Marathon (4:51:19)
- May 2016 – Be Strong Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge
- July 2016 – Olympic Park 10k (52:57)
- Oct 2016 – Dublin Marathon (5:12:28 – cramps)
- Dec 2016 – Lancaster 10k (50:23)
- Jul 2017 – Be Strong Tough Mudder Challenge
- Oct 2017 – Chester Marathon (4:36:43)
- Dec 2017 – Ribble Valley 10k (49:45)
- April 2018 – Be Strong Couch to Marathon Challenge
- June 2018 – Crazy Cow 10k (49:16 PB)
- July 2018 – Be Strong Scafell Pike Challenge
- Aug 2018 – Riverside Half Marathon (1:58:33 PB)
- Oct 2018 – Frankfurt Marathon (4:25:08 PB)
So, Couch to 5k changed Rick’s life then?
No, not at all. Rick replaced all his old negative mental habits with positive ones. He stopped feeling sorry for himself, making excuses, denying he had a problem and blaming his genes. Instead he started to become grateful that he had a chance to try, viewing failure as a learning opportunity, became accountable only to himself and accepted responsibility. This new mindset changed Rick’s life!
Rick believes that these are the positive mental habits he now has and some others don’t. You need to consistently push yourself to grow and improve. Pushing yourself beyond your usual limits is a matter of the mind. But, you don’t have to put yourself through hell to develop mental toughness.
Instead, focus on making small decisions every day that push you outside your comfort zone.
Have a Purpose: Rick does it to prove how far he has come and to see how far he can go. It’s much better to have an inner purpose. So, Rick’s purpose is always to stretch himself and he does that for periods of varying lengths throughout the year. At other times he simply maintains his new lifestyle, not the old one.
Self Belief: Start and continue to believe in yourself. You may need to look at the evidence around you, isolate that evidence and cling on to it. Rick knew the big guy at work completed Couch to 5k, that made Rick believe that he could too, especially when the going got tough. It’s what made him stick in there.
Maintain Focus in the Face of Distraction: You will need to be able to stay focused on your goals, even when life throws disruptions in the way. You aren’t always going to have the perfect setting and support for pursuing your goals. Other things are going to compete for your attention.
Mentally tough people are able to maintain their sense of direction and keep working toward their goals in the face of these distractions. When you feel yourself losing focus, look for ways to recharge and bring yourself back on track.
Rick has lost count of the times he has been called ‘boring’ because he chooses not to drink alcohol on a night out, chooses healthy options on menus or goes for a run instead of going to a social event. Those same people that call him boring are incredibly proud of his achievements, often stating ‘they don’t know how he does it’. Actually they do.
Get up Fast: When you fall down, there is only one option. Just execute that option fast, waiting around won’t help matters. Keep working through the problem and newer opportunities will arise. Don’t wait around until your motivation levels return to try again. This is what a lot of people do and that’s why they don’t progress. Don’t be like them.
Be Persistent: Persistence is simply the quality of always continuing to move forward. To continue regardless of setbacks. To endure until the end. This is a quality that Rick has developed in himself, every single thing that now get’s in his way is analysed and a solution is put in place.
At the time of writing this article Rick ran the Frankfurt marathon 4 weeks ago. During the last 4 weeks he has also left his job to concentrate on Be Strong full time and has been through a highly competitive selection process for a volunteering role he is pursuing. This has led him to become completely out of normal routine, he has only ran once since the marathon and spare time is not something he has a lot of at the moment. To resolve the issue he will get up early to run for 3 miles, each morning in December. This will increase his fitness, lead to a sense of achievement and success, help manage his weight and bring back a disciplined routine. In January this will be reviewed and revised.
A great example that illustrates true persistence comes from the boxing film Rocky II. In one truly memorable scene, Duke, the trainer of Rocky’s opponent Apollo Creed, tells Apollo why they shouldn’t fight Rocky again:
“He’s all wrong for us, baby. I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before, and the man kept coming after you. Now we don’t need that kinda man in our life.”
In terms of persistence, that’s exactly the kind of man/woman you want to be. Just keep pursuing your objective no matter what life throws at you and remember to ‘get up fast’!
Earlier we asked if certain events changed the lives of those people at Be Strong. I don’t think they did. They found a purpose, lots of self belief and remained focused in the face of distraction. They got up fast each time they were knocked down and they were persistent. That’s what changed their lives and it can do the same for you. Just apply it to whatever it is you’re pursuing.