I am a person who believes that coming out of your comfort zone will allow you to achieve more. Every time I feel comfy, I tend to think that I am not moving forward. Lately when I started training for cycle races I noticed something interesting which altered my opinion.
Before explaining why my cycling training convinced me that staying in comfort zone also helps to progress, I have to talk some science. Let me tell you about heart rate zones. They are nothing but a range of upper and lower limits that define workout training intensities.
If you take a look at the chart, zone 2, the one in green is a comfort zone when you are cycling. Your heart won't be pounding that much and your lungs will take in normal amount of oxygen, almost no tiredness.
The next heart rate zone is zone 3 in the orange is the one which riders are almost out of their comfort zone. The red zone , zone 4 is totally out of comfort zone and trained athletes can sustain 1 hour in this zone. The zone 5 in purple means fully gone, one can sustain only up to 10 minutes in that zone.
When I started training, most of the training schedule given by my coach involved in riding in my comfortable zone (zone 2), then occasionally pushing myself out of comfort zone in intervals. Most of the time I use to think, why am I cycling in a normal pace where my goal is to increase my speed. I've asked my coach many times and every time he use to tell me to improve my base zone first.
While I am actively training, I did not realize how important it is to train in my comfort zone. Only after pushing myself in challenging race pace rides, I myself discovered that my speed and recovery heart rate improved a lot after a given time.
So, this is how it works. One of the goal of the training is to make me to ride fast in my comfort zone itself. Say I've been riding 25kmph in my sweet spot zone. When I come out of my comfort zone, I can push myself to 35kmph.
Now after training repeatedly in my comfort zone, I expanded my comfort zone to ride at 30kmph. When I come out of my comfort zone, I can push to 40kmph or even 45kmph. You should've probably got what I am trying to imply. I have expanded my comfort zone to do more.
Okay, I know, too much cycling and science. I will come back to speaking English. From the training experience I had, it is clear that if you want to push yourself and improve your performance, it doesn't mean that you always have to come out of your comfort zone.
Why we love our comfort zones?
Comfort zone is a safe place where things are normal, predictable and you wouldn't think about any sudden changes. No emotional or mental stress happens to you on this zone. This also acts as a retreat for us to recharge our mind and body after being out of the comfort zone.
So comfort zone is like our childhood doll. We always carry it with us where ever we go, we will feel safe and secure when it's around.
Balloon in a box
When I was researching about cycling and comfort zones in the internet, I came across a very interesting analogy "The balloon in a box".
Imagine you are given a balloon and a box. You have to blow the balloon as big as you can inside the box. You start blowing the balloon. When it hits the boundary of the box, you cannot blow it anymore. But you realize that the balloon is capable of expanding more.
When you are asked to blow it bigger, you are blowing it irrespective of the boundaries of the box. What happens now?. The balloon feels the pressure and it is under stress as it is bounded by the box.
Two things can happen now:
- The balloon will burst after sometime, unable to handle the pressure.
- You decide to lower the pressure of the balloon by going easy on it.
Now, you are given a bigger box. Will the balloon feel the same pressure?. Yes it will, once it hits the boundary. But now it can hold more air as the box got bigger. Imagine, how easy it will be for you to blow the balloon if the box gets bigger as the size of the balloon increases.
This is what happens when you expand your comfort zone. Here the balloon is you and the box is your comfort zone. You are bounded by your safe, secure and risk-free comfort zone. When you come out of it, of course you can perform but at one point you won't be able to handle the pressure.
At that time, either you will break or retreat back to comfort zone to recharge yourself. What if you are able to expand your comfort zone like that box?
How to expand your comfort zone?
First thing to keep in mind is, expanding your comfort zone takes a lot of time and patience. It might take few days, few weeks or even years depending on your target activity.
For example it took me 3 years to start writing blog posts consistently. Every year, I will buy a fancy domain, write two or three blog posts and let that domain expire. But this year recently I decided(again) to make blogging as my habit and I already feel comfortable doing it.
On contrary, it took me only few hours to get comfortable with Netflix. I haven't watched any TV shows till early 2017. Given that, I completed 20 TV shows in last 7 months 🙄
To expand your comfort zone, first you should identify whether doing a task makes you uncomfortable. If so, then evaluate the task and find out why it is necessary to bring it into your comfort zone. Next, take necessary actions to bring it inside your comfort zone. Finally, go into maintenance mode.
I will take public speaking as an example. Let's say as a tech person, you want to get started with speaking at conferences. First you will realize that public speaking is not your thing and you are not comfortable doing it.
Now you need to evaluate why you want to speak at conferences. Public speaking is an essential skill that everyone needs. At any given time you will be put into a position to speak in front of people. It can either be meetings at office or discussions in front of friends and strangers. And as a techie talking in conferences improves your career and creates a personal brand for you in the community.
Now you have a motivation factor. You know why you have to do something which you are not comfortable doing. It's time for some action.
You should keep your reasons as the leverage and ask yourself why I want to do this?. You should imagine the positive outcome of it. There will be back and forth between your comfort zone. You will be repeating this again and again, asking right questions and imagining the positive moments, coming out of comfort zone, doing what you want to do.
At one time, you will realize that you are not uncomfortable anymore. You will feel that you have expanded your comfort zone territory. Since you became comfortable doing the task, it becomes a habit for you and you will go into maintenance mode.
Now, whenever you see a meetup or conference, writing proposal and submitting a talk will be come yet another voluntary action for you.
Don't come out of your comfort zone just to do stuffs. Instead, learn to pull those stuffs into your comfort zone.
Pulling the uncomfortable tasks into your comfort zone helps you to accomplish many things under less pressure and by using less energy. This year, I've pulled a bunch uncomfortable tasks into my comfort zone like, eating right food, hosting this blog and improving performance in cycling.
Well, it is never too late I tell you. What tasks are you going to pull into your comfort zone?