We have a “comfort zone”, a “discomfort zone”, and an “oh shit zone” (thanks Tony Blauer). If we spend too much time in the “oh shit zone” we’re going to die sooner rather than later.
As intelligent and self-educated as many of us are, how often do we complacently stay in our comfort zone? More astutely, how many of us are afraid to risk leaving it?
The cliche is that if you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got. If you’re happy with those outcomes, then by all means, keep doing it! The question of the hour is, do you want something better? Even (or maybe especially) for highly motivated and resilient people it’s easy to get trapped into thinking that your 4-am-Jocko-grind is getting you somewhere different. Yet, if you like it, is it really your discomfort zone?
In jiu jitsu, for example, I have to constantly remind myself to try new things, to risk failure (even seek it) for the sake of improvement — learning that is. I could work the same techniques against the same opponents every week and get exactly where I’m at. I can beat some people, other’s I can’t (yet). But, is this where I want to stay? Or do I want to lengthen the former list and shorten the later?
Some people will never try a new diet or training plan because they’ve wed themselves to a certain belief system (more on this later). Others chronically jump from plan to plan. We see this in New Year’s resolutioners who inevitably fail, but we also see this in dedicated athletes. I am no exception and have been guilty as well. You see a new, exciting training article online, it’s endorsed by a source or celebrity athlete you “trust”, and you immediately dive into it believing it is the magic gateway to your training godhood. Two weeks later you repeat the process with a new “plan.”
I’d argue, then, that rather than trying too many things, you actually haven’t tried anything. That brings me back to those pesky belief structures. If we want something to to fail (e.g. a runner believing they need carbs, a vegetarian experimenting with reintegrating animal products), sure enough, we’ll prove ourselves right and find a reason for the experiment ( and ourselves!) to fail — and learn nothing.
In politics, nutrition, science, etc… people are often looking for evidence to confirm or deny an already held belief — you can find evidence for or against anything on the internet. Rather thank this top-down approach, we should be wanting the process to succeed, especially when it comes to our health and performance! Even if there is “only a placebo effect”, gains are gains! If you feel better, lost the weight, or perform better because you believed a certain protocol was successful, you still win.
So, I propose three simple questions to this stubborn problem:
- What are you afraid will happen by doing X?
- What’s the worst that could happen if I do X for 30 days?
- What is your performance / health worth to you? Specifically, is it worth the two answers above?
Question 3 is really the only one that matters. Number 1, your non-negotiables, are the things that are holding you back (thanks Steve Bechtel). If you can’t admit that insecurity (we all have them), then you’re going to create a narrative that supports your answer to Question 2.
So, would you rather complacently believe what you’re told or be your own detective? There is more information, more easily available than ever before. Collecting information and accumulating facts are the easy part. The hard part is testing, putting yourself out there, and risking failure.
We grow, learn, and improve when we spend time in that discomfort zone. It’s not supposed to feel good. It’s supposed to suck and test you; that’s why it’s called testing! Nothing worthwhile ever happened by accepting the status quo. Will you settle for a better you, or do you want the best you? One is obviously going to require something different than the other.