Picture a stress-free environment, you’re happy and life is easy. Welcome to the Comfort Zone. Want a slightly more detailed definition? Here:
‘The comfort zone is a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.’
Sounds nice doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s also an athlete’s kryptonite. Eddie Hall (2017 world strongest man) didn’t become the strongest man by lifting easy weights, he pushed his body to its limits. Usain Bolt didn’t become the fastest man ever by running at a comfortable pace, he pushed his body to its limits. Nothing is ever achieved in the comfort zone. The best understand that progress only occurs outside the comfort zone, they know that pain, stress and frustration they feel in training is only making them better.
“Are you going to die?” A question my coach use to ask me each time I thought I was too tired to carry on. Whilst I often thought I might at the time, realistically the answer was always no. So, what’s the worst that can happen? Be sick? Possibly. Pass out? Maybe (but very unlikely). Improve? Definitely! The quote “No pain, no gain” is quite literal, getting fitter, faster and stronger is not easy. If it was, everyone would do it.
So, what keeps us in our comfort zone? What stops us from always working as hard as we can? This is what I spent my final year of university trying to understand. Luckily, Tim Noakes (celebrated sports scientist) came to my aid. His answer: our brains. Our brain regulates every bit of exercise we do. Why? Because its goal is to keep us alive. Our body, like a computer, has a shut down mode. It’s called ‘Catastrophe theory’, when our body is under such stress (extreme cold, extreme heat, extreme exercise) that our lives could be at risk, it shuts us down (passing out) in the attempt to save us. However, it doesn’t want us to even get close to that situation, so our brain tells us that we are more tired than we are to get us to stop exercising. Realistically it is almost impossible to exercise yourself even close to passing out. However, it is important to understand that when you think you’re too tired, you still have a lot left in the tank. This powerful urge to stop is what separates the good from the greats. Manage to get past this, congratulations, you’re outside the comfort zone!!! Enjoy.