Expand your comfort zone

Expand your comfort zone

Are you a creature of habit?

Let me introduce you to Habitual Harry. Harry goes to the gym heads straight to the mats where he does the same few stretches a physio showed him years ago. Then he moves to a handful of familiar machines for his usual 3 sets of 10 and then finishes with a sweat on his favorite piece of cardio equipment. Harry could go grocery shopping with a blindfold on, knowing exactly how many steps it takes to go from the milk to the eggs. Harry takes the same handful of supplements every morning, year round, like his life depends on it. Harry has been playing golf on Tuesday with the same group of guys for years.

Let me paint you the picture of Harry’s counterpoint. Meet Spunky Sally. Sally gets bored easily and always needs a new physical goal or adventure. She is intrigued by trendy diets and new research in exercise and fitness excite her. Sally likes to experiment on herself to guide her ‘health journey’. When her friends call and ask her to do a new obstacle course race Sally is in without question. Sally is a yes gal…after all, what’s the worst that could happen?

But let’s be honest the Habitual Harry in us is comfortable. So why mess with a good thing?

In my experience, when Harry meets Sally (pun intended)=fireworks go off and pursuing a healthy lifestyle becomes more interesting and impactful.

The key to being more like Sally and less like Harry is to expand your comfort zone. This can be slow and gradual, or in some cases cold turkey, but everyday you should aim to take your dose of discomfort.

Now before you stop reading this blog as just another generic fad ‘cliché’ article on self-improvement let me give you some specific examples of how introducing a daily dose of discomfort into my ‘routine’ has made a significant positive impact to my health.

  • Intermittent fasting. If you have followed our blog you know Pete and I have both been doing a 24 hour fast on Monday’s for awhile. In fact I am coming up on my 2 year anniversary in January 2018. I am convinced this is, by a wide margin, the best change I have made to my health and lifestyle in many years. Monday’s I feel sharp, lean and revitalized. Patient’s often say ‘I could never do that’, or don’t you get hungry (or haaangry…see snickers commercials). And of course at first there was a period of ‘uncertainty’; an internal battle of ‘can I really do this’?. I can’t say exactly when I started feeling the benefits outweigh the short term physiological signal of hunger, but it was weeks not months. I believe I now have the metabolic flexibility to have full control over when I decide to eat (not when I feel I need to eat). Think of all the garbage you could avoid by choosing not to eat crappy airport food or hot dog’s and cake at a kid’s birthday party.
  • High intensity interval’s. I play squash, but it’s more of an addiction than a hobby. One of my squash goals is better fitness on the court. Over the years I have experimented with various ways of improving my on court fitness, none have made a noticeable impact. Within the last year I started regularly experimenting with maximum effort short bursts on a bike at the end of my workout (5 cycles of 20-30 second). On the 4th or 5th cycle my legs feel like concrete. I loathe this feeling. But I also know that since I started voluntarily exposing myself to this feeling at the end of my workouts, I no longer experience this same feeling on the court.
  • Alternating long hot steams/long cold showers. Why would anyone voluntarily force themselves to endure unbearable heat or cold? The ‘iceman’ Wim Hof (https://www.wimhofmethod.com/) believes the commitment to progressive cold exposure (with conscious breathing) can increase energy, improve sleep, improve sports performance, heighten focus, reduce stress, speed recovery and enhance creativity. See also Tony Robbin’s morning routine (http://www.businessinsider.com/tony-robbins-morning-routine-2015-10/#-1). There is also research that links regular sauna exposure in a Finnish population to longevity (find citation to link). Despite these recent influences, my first exposure to this idea was from my grandpa back in the early 90’s. I had no idea how right he was. This routine of 15-20 minutes in a steam room and an ice cold shower leaves me energized and primed to ‘win the rest of my day’. 4 months into my ‘heat/cold training’ I regularly find myself comfortable in an environment where others are distressed and complaining about the temperature.

This doesn’t mean YOU need to be intermittent fasting, or high intensity interval training, but I submit that you should be open to trying. Stop making excuses (our conscious mind can be quite good at that), find your inner Spunky Sally and expand your comfort zone.

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