Breaking Barriers

We are all born as free individuals, with no preconceived ideas of how we should be and how we should live.  But as we grow and develop as human beings, we inherit and develop views and beliefs about the world and ourselves; because of our parental influences, our education and what we see, hear and experience throughout our lives.  Then all of a sudden we are a grown up with a set of internal rules about how we should live, what we believe about ourselves, where our place is in life, and what we think we are capable of.

The things we experience in life most definitely affect how we see the world, how we see ourselves in the world, where we fit and what we are meant to be while we are here.  But we can change this, with a bit of work.

Comfort Zones

Someone may have passed a comment about you in the past, or you might have tried to do something that didn’t quite work out as you expected, and this upset and failure makes us want not want to try something new or push ourselves. These past experiences can make it hard to take a risk, because that risk is we upset ourselves, we might fail or we might show ourselves up.  It’s therefore easier to stay within our comfort zones – that warm, familiar place, where we know how everything works, we aren’t going to get hurt, and we aren’t going to fail. There is a wall around us in our comfort zone, keeping us safe, keeping us away from harm.

But, and there’s always a but! Nothing changes in a comfort zone -it remains the same, day after day after day. And you know the phrase, ‘If you don’t change anything, nothing will change.’  So whilst your comfort zone might feel safe, it might also be the place where deep down you know that you really aren’t the person you want to be.

If you want to change, or you want something in your life to change, you have to do something differently, and that will mean stepping out of your comfort zone.

You need to knock a little hole in that wall that keeps you safe and peep your head out, see what it looks and feels like on the other side. If that feels ok, then you can make the hole a little bigger, push your shoulders through, then so and so on, until your whole body is through the hole, and your comfort zone has expanded.  And you have realised, that because you did it gradually, it wasn’t that bad after all.

We have all experienced this, for example learning a new skill – we start off not having a clue what we are doing, but we learn the theory, we have a go, and we keep practising until it becomes second nature to us.  Remember what your first driving lesson felt like, compared with what it feels like to jumping in your car and just setting off now without really thinking about it?

Optimal Anxiety

There are times when we don’t just need to knock a little hole in that wall, what we really need is a JCB with a wrecking ball attached, to just smash that wall down. And this is a place called ‘optimal anxiety’.

Putting ourselves into a state of optimal anxiety is the place where we grow the most. It’s the place where we achieve our goals, it’s the place where our confidence grows, the place where we really start to believe in ourselves.  Optimal anxiety is the place where we change.

We will have all been in this state, I am sure at some point through our lives. Tricky situations at work, terrible personal circumstances, nerve wracking job interviews, and whilst that time was hard, when we come out the other side we think, ‘Wow, I just did that, and I smashed it!’  It’s usually a situation that is thrust upon us, that we don’t necessarily choose, but we deal with it and we come out the other side a changed person.


To win at this game, I think we need to employ both these methods of expanding our comfort zone. We need to do a bit of the gentle stretching of our boundaries, and there are also times when we also need to get into that state of optimum anxiety, to just go for it, and give it everything. When we are in the state of optimal anxiety, and being successful, it can also feel exciting, your adrenaline is coursing through your bloodstream, and you feel like you can take on the world – your confidence soars.

I can liken this to a period of time in 2018, where I was pushing myself physically to hit under 50 minutes for 10k runs, and I had said that I wanted to do it by the end of the year. I raced all year, trying to get under the 50 minute mark, but I wasn’t pushing hard enough. I was just peeping my head through that imaginary wall that is my comfort zone, and then maybe my shoulders, trying hard, but not hard enough.  Finally, in December 2019, I got to the point where it was the last race of the year, I had no choice but to just go for it.  Beforehand I honestly did not know if I was capable of it – at all. I didn’t have a clue how fast I could run and for how long. It was the hardest race that I have ever run. I was so far out of my comfort zone it was unreal. The effort that I put in to get to the finish line before the clock said 50:00 meant that my legs gave in as I crossed the line and I had to crawl out of the finishing barriers and be hoisted up to sit on a wall to recover.  But, I did it! I crossed the line at 49:26. For that entire 49 minutes and 26 seconds, I was in a state of optimal anxiety, not knowing if I could achieve what I set out too, but pushing and pushing and pushing, giving it absolutely my all.

Another example of can be seen in the boxing world in 2019.  In the summer, we saw Anthony Joshua lose his belts to an unknown fighter, Andy Ruiz Jr from Mexico. A shorter, less athletic looking guy, who AJ probably took one look at and thought he wasn’t a threat. But he lost the fight and he lost all four of his belts while he was at it.  Immediately there were calls for a rematch and AJ knew what he had to do. He was now in that state of optimal anxiety. He couldn’t go in that ring again and lose again! Not to this guy! He had to push himself physically and mentally to ensure he was the fittest and strongest he could be.  He had to be as light and as lean as possible.  He had to ensure he knew everything about his opponent and the way he fought, so that he could outwit him and ultimately outbox him in the ring.  He had to do everything in his power to make sure he came back with those belts. And 6 months later, in the rematch, Anthony Joshua outboxed Andy Ruiz Jr, in a completely different kind of fight than the first one, and he was rewarded with the belts. Anthony Joshua was without doubt in a state of optimal anxiety throughout his training – his fear of losing again, meant he gave it his heart and soul.

This is not your lot!

If you are in a situation that you aren’t happy with, whether that’s your job, a relationship, the way you eat, how healthy you feel, you don’t have to accept it. This is not your lot. You can change your world if you really want to.  But to do so, we have to break down those barriers that we put up around ourselves. We have two choices in how we do it.  We can do it step by step, nice and gently making slight changes and improvements that eventually lead us to be the person we want to be, but sometimes we need to do something that really scares us. Something that puts us in that state of optimal anxiety.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.Eleanor Roosevelt

For you, this might be being brave enough to let yourself be hungry for an hour or so, and actually finding out that you won’t pass out.  It could be just quitting a bad habit rather than weaning ourselves off something.  It could be deciding that you are going to take part in a really difficult physical challenge which means you have to stick to a proper training program, and lose some weight in the process to make it easier on your body.  It might be that you want to take part in a particular event but you have always used your weight or the way you feel about yourself as an excuse not to do it, just book the event – what’s the worst that can happen?

This week!

Sometimes we might think we are trying, but we need to ask ourselves are we really trying hard enough? Are we stretching that comfort zone enough to get the results that we want.  If we aren’t maybe it’s time to set a challenge that really scares us, to give rise to that fear that will make us just got for it with all our heart and soul – because that is when we really grow and become the person we want to be.

This week, have a think about whether you are trying hard enough or if you need to get yourself into that state of optimal anxiety to give you the push you need to get the job done.

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