By Joshua McKinney
The idea of being “uncomfortable” is not exactly a pleasant thought. It seems most of us strive our entire existence trying to earn a sense of comfort. After all, everyone wants a comfortable life, right? IBM CEO Ginny Rometty would encourage you to change your ideology. “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.” Recent research has proved her statement accurate.
A study published in Psychological Science in 2013 by lead researcher Denise Park warns that it is not enough to merely “get out and do something,” but more important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar mentally as well as physically challenging. Park’s study focused more on the mental benefits of getting outside your comfort zone, but past studies would prove that there are physical benefits of becoming a little uncomfortable in your exercise routine.
In 1907, researchers Yerkes and Dodson discovered that while getting outside your comfort zone can magnify performance, you do not want to stay there for extended amounts of time. They warn that staying in the “Zone of Destructive Anxiety” can lead to burnout and have adverse effects to your health and performance. Yerkes reported, “Anxiety improves performance until a certain optimum level of arousal has been reached. Beyond that point, performance deteriorates as higher levels of anxiety are attained.”
Somewhere between your comfort zone and the Zone of Destructive Anxiety lies your Zone of Proximal Development, a term coined by Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky. This is the optimal zone you can achieve by setting challenging but attainable goals while combining that with having a strong support system and guidance. This zone is where most learning takes place.
Your body is an amazing adaptive machine, which is a good thing in many cases, but not such a good thing when you are looking to improve your physical performance. The same old workout routine or exercises will cause the body to go into “auto-pilot” mode where not as many positive changes can be expected. Your body literally adapts to the movements and types of exercise you do on a regular basis, so changing up your routine frequently to keep the body guessing can be a great way to blast through your current fitness plateaus.
If you are a person who enjoys nearly dying in high intensity circuit training six times a week, maybe try throwing in a yoga class now and then. If you like working out at night, maybe try an early morning workout once a week. If the furthest you have ever run is a 5K, but you think you want to try a little longer, sign up for a 10K to give yourself a deadline for proper training. These are just a few ways to get your body outside its zone of comfort without having detrimental effects on it.
Stepping outside your comfort zone is ultimately a choice. It must be a deliberate, challenging decision that you make. I promise, once you choose to reach outside your comfortable boundaries, your performance will magnify, and you will accomplish feats you never though you could. Please talk to your Impulse staff if you have any more questions about this important topic!