We discussed comfort zones and optimal anxiety in last week’s knowledge, so this week we will take a deeper look into how you can put yourself into a state of optimal anxiety to give yourself a mindset for success.
Step out and perform
Your comfort zone is the place where you can perform without thinking, without it being a challenge, and most of all without any stress or anxiety. It’s where we do things without thinking, on autopilot and without any stress or worry.
When we step out of our comfort zone, this is where we grow as a person. Whether that be physically, mentally or perhaps both! But when we stretch our boundaries a little, we realise that we are capable of doing things that are more challenging, and surviving!! This in turn builds our confidence, and what once was a stretch becomes our comfort zone. Repeat this often enough and you will without doubt far exceed your own expectations!
You will undoubtedly have experience of stepping out of your comfort zone, throughout your life. Some will be experiences that have been put on you, some will be experiences you have chosen to stretch yourself with – whether that’s going for a promotion at work, sitting your driving test, or getting up to do some public speaking. Sitting exams means months, if not years of studying and revision. Delivering work projects to a deadline may mean working late, going in early and working to a higher intensity than usual. But that worry associated with failure, letting someone else or yourself down, or of people saying ‘I told you so’ is what gets you to the finish line.
Sitting on a ledge, 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.
Optimal anxiety ensures you never miss a training session, you are in work early getting on with things, or you might pull an all-nighter to revise or complete an assignment. And you can get into that zone again – but to do so you must first choose to step outside your comfort zone.
Rick’s state of optimal anxiety
So, what turned Rick Wilson from a 25+ stones man, who hadn’t exercised since 1988, into a multi marathon runner who is now 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, like most people do, that 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. But he would come to use this experience 13 years later, when he was placed into a state of optimal anxiety, by a promise he made to a lady called Pat Rogers.
He was at a meeting with Pat, a lady who he worked closely with, who had set up a charity called Every Action Has Consequences, following the tragic death of her son, Adam, from one punch, on a night out. Rick holds Pat in very high esteem, after working so closely with her, and seeing the amazing work she had done in Adam’s name to tackle the issues raised by his death. During the meeting, Pat asked if anybody could support the charity by wearing a charity t-shirt and running a 10k race for them – just to raise awareness. Rick volunteered, along with the other 10 or so fit, sporty police officers in the room. They all looked at him as if to say “..are you crazy? You can’t do that!” and Rick smiled. He knew this was just another false promise that 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 to come up with a plan to get this job done!
Reflecting on previous success
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 thing that struck him was that he knew a guy he worked with had downloaded a podcast from the NHS website called Couch to 5k. This guy 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 too 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, not because of his genes, or his metabolism – he faced the facts.
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.
And…. this time was different, he didn’t want to stop. 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 Moore’s 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.
Learning to challenge yourself
Rick now regularly places himself in that state of optimal anxiety – particularly with the marathon distance. Rick will openly admit marathons are the only thing that scares him. And they scare him just enough to commit to action, and see it through.
To get himself in the right frame of mind and body Rick sets challenging, hilly training routes to take him from 10k fitness to marathon distance over a period of 16 weeks, for every marathon that he undertakes. It puts him in such a state of anxiety he will not miss a run, no matter what the weather. He will eat on point, to make sure he is at his optimum weight come race day. He participates in cross training sessions, which he openly admits are not his cup of tea but they help to keep injuries at bay, and he has regular sports massage sessions to keep his muscles in tip top condition. It’s fair to say nothing scares Rick as much as a marathon.
Through doing regular marathons and challenging himself like this, it has prevented Rick from resting on his laurels, and settling back into his old ways of over consuming calories.
Don’t be beaten
I am exactly the same too. Unless I have a physical challenge to work towards, I don’t push myself – I just sit back, where there’s no stress in my comfort zone. Many of you will know my National Three Peaks story, in that it took 3 attempts for me to achieve a goal, that I was initially nowhere near fit enough to complete. The prospect of failing this challenge pushed me into optimal anxiety to make sure I was 100% fit enough to complete it. And each time I failed, I got back up again and trained harder and harder.
For four years, I trained and trained and trained, until eventually I was fit enough, strong enough and mentally prepared enough to complete the gruelling challenge to climb Britain’s three highest mountains, in Scotland, England and Wales, within 24 hours.
My training involved weekly climbs on Pendle Hill (which is almost a mountain!!), going up and down the steep end 3 times in one session, 3-4 runs a week up to half marathon distance, lunchtime gym sessions, spinning classes and HIIT sessions.
And even when the threat of failure struck again on the third attempt, we battled through terrible weather to complete the challenge, receiving my just reward of finally hitting that trig point on Snowdon and returning to sea level, within the 24 hour deadline.
Out of the team of 8 people that I undertook the first attempt with, I am the only one who has managed to complete it – something I am immensely proud of. I just couldn’t let it beat me – I had to become the person that was fit enough to complete it.
Ordinary people achieve extraordinary things
Be Strong has seen many ordinary people achieve incredibly 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. In 2018 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. It is all mind over matter. And, in 2019 we walked over 1800 miles for Milly’s Smiles around Witton Park and later that year over 100 people took on the Woodland Warrior, a gruelling trail race event, where teams complete 4 mile laps of mud and woodlands, with all participants far exceeding their own expectations! And one participant in particular has now gone on to completely change her life, lose 6 stone and now walks or runs daily.
Did these events change their lives or did something else play its part?
We think what happened is 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.
The next group challenge set for Be Strong is on Sunday 12th September 2021.
A day on Pendle hill, to support Paul Cottam in achieving as many trig taps as he can, as part of his 250 summits of Pendle for Milly’s Smiles. It’s fair to say Paul is in a state of optimal anxiety for this year-long challenge, as he won’t want to miss his goal, particularly as he is fundraising for such an amazing charity.
We want you all to come along and stretch yourselves – whether that’s 1 trig tap, 2, 5 or 10. Come along and step out of your comfort zone. Get yourself into a state of optimal anxiety by committing to how many you will do – and make sure it’s a little out of your reach, so that you will have to push yourself in training.
Whatever you choose, whether it’s the Pendle challenge, signing up for a 10k run, a marathon, climbing a mountain or being able to climb the 10 flights of stairs at work without stopping, make sure it’s something that scares you just a little bit – only then you will see that you are capable of anything you put your mind to.