Last week, The Knowledge looked at stress, and it’s impact on our ability to lose weight. But, there is another side to stress. The side that actually improves our performance, gives us a little boost to go that bit further. This is when we stretch ourselves ever so slightly, to improve ourselves both physically and mentally.
One of our mantras is ‘If you don’t make changes, how can you expect things to be any different’. If anyone has an interest in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) it’s the same principle as ‘If you always ask the same question, you always get the same answer.’
The same could be said of your body… ‘If you always ask the same of your body, then your body will always give you the same answer.’
If you want to improve something, in this case your health and fitness, you have to push yourself out of that comfort zone to where it’s a little bit more difficult, and is a challenge for you to make any sort of improvements.
We know this is really hard, we really do! 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 ever look back! The feeling that you get when you achieve something that you have strived for, is simply the best. Giving you the confidence to try something even harder and keep on achieving goal after goal after goal.
All in the mind?
We know that improving our health and fitness is a mind game, and we know that we all have habits and idiosyncrasies that have formed over many, many years. We also know that our relationship with food is emotional and is quite often used as a comfort blanket. We are people that eat for comfort when we are stressed or unhappy – that’s why lots of us come to Be Strong!
However, we might eat when we are stressed, but its’ fair to say we also eat when we are happy, when we are sad, when we are celebrating, when we are fed up… we just eat!
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 to live in this space to function effectively on a day to day basis, it can also be a place where if we spend too long there, we become stifled or lazy.
Pushing out of your comfort zone can bring countless benefits. It takes you into a place of optimal anxiety, which is where your mental productivity and performance levels reach their peak.
It’s good to sweat buckets
We see examples of this all the time… particularly when doing physical activities with people. We often say to people its ok to be out of breath and feel slightly uncomfortable. When you get to that point where you feel like giving up, just go for a bit longer. Then ease off, but don’t give up or stop. Ease off, catch yourself and then up the intensity again.
Back in 2018, we had a group challenge set of climbing Scafell, the highest mountain in England. As part of this we had some organised training sessions on Pendle Hill. One of these sessions saw our group of Be Strongers tackle Pendle Steps, 2,3 and 4 times!!
On the last ascent of Pendle, Rick and I walked with one of our members. She admitted in the past when walking on her own she had made her way up Pendle, but in her own time. Stopping regularly for a rest and to get her breath back. On the third ascent we were coaching her to keep her going, reassuring her that its OK to push that little bit harder, that she would really benefit from that extra bit of exertion. She pushed out of her comfort zone, to be more out of breath, get a little bit more sweaty, but keep going.
When she got to the top she admitted that it was the fastest that she had ever got up there and with the least stops. Her confidence was through the roof because she knew now that even though it was hard, and she had put her body under stress, she had survived and she was OK.
Mid-week we got a message saying she had upped her training, was using the stepper at the gym, and using hills nearby to walk up fast, to push her boundaries that bit further.
She had pushed out of her comfort zone and had realised the benefits of it.
The couch to 5k program does the same thing. Week 5 – the 20 minute run!! – terrifies everyone, but for those of you who have completed it, you know the amazing feeling that follows when you have completed that session, and the confidence it gives you to go on and complete the program.
There are lots of famous people who achieved incredible things who will undoubtedly have pushed out of their comfort zone to get there. What some of these will have experienced is optimal anxiety.
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.
Mike Tyson, the youngest person ever to achieve ‘heavyweight champion’ in boxing knows all about optimal anxiety too, and used it to push up through the boxing ranks to achieve his phenomenal status. From being discovered on the streets of New York, he was always the underdog in the gym and the ring. This gave him the drive and determination to keep pushing, training hard, never missing a training session, until he worked his way through the ranks to become Heavyweight champion at just 20 years old! He remained this way for a number of fights, however, in a fight against a total underdog, James Buster Douglas, he started to get a little too confident and comfortable, took a step back and rested on his laurels. He was too busy holding press conferences, and show training in casinos, rather than getting up for 5am runs and working out in the gritty boxing gyms he had trained in all his life. The optimal anxiety had gone – he was unbeatable (or so he thought) so the effort levels dropped and he retreated into his comfort zone.
His opponent, James Buster Douglas, on the other hand was in the complete opposite state – he was fighting to win. His father had just passed away, and he made a promise to him on his death bed, that he would win for him, to make him proud. Needless to say he trained and trained and trained, just as Tyson had in the years previous, never missing a session, never missing a run, constantly training and learning about his opponent. In the fight Douglas beat Tyson by knockout, in the tenth round when the odds were at 42 to 1. Why? Because Douglas had optimal anxiety. He had made a promise to his father and he couldn’t fail. This made him perform to his absolute optimum.
If you want to get better at something, you have to stretch yourself. If you always take the same route, at the same pace, resting at the same points, you are never going to get there any quicker. If you move those rest points a little further on each time you do it and aim to get around slightly quicker each time, you are pushing your boundaries, and the result is you will get there faster. The ultimate result in this scenario is that you have improved.
There must be lots of examples that we all have where we are comfortable, but if we stood back and really looked at it critically, we know we are being lazy and not pushing ourselves, because it’s the easy option, because it’s not stressful, because it’s safe. But if that’s a part of your life you want to improve, the question you need to ask is how can I stretch myself here? How will I bring about an improvement? The answer is to make yourself feel a little bit uncomfortable, put yourself into that optimal anxiety zone where we will increase our productivity and performance.
This week we want you to think how you can do things in that optimal anxiety zone – each day, aim to do one thing that makes you slightly uncomfortable.
It doesn’t have to be in a physical sense – it might be resisting the urge to open the fridge door when you’re bored. That will be incredibly uncomfortable but the benefits for that are endless. Close the kitchen each week night at 8pm or it might be as simple as walking an extra flight of stairs without stopping for breath. Keep doing that, and you will soon be walking all the way up 8 flights of stairs without stopping!
What you try might not work (at first), but that in itself is a life lesson (you tried), but what if it did? What if it worked, and what if you did it again the next time and the next time, and before you know it, what is currently your workout, will soon be your warm up… and what was previously a bad habit could be a new routine that changes, or saves, your life.