For some reason, as I sit down to write this blog, I find it hard to start. There are so many things that come to mind about the topic of ‘comfort zone’ and how important it is to extreme transformation. You cannot become something different than what you are right now without committing to change, and you cannot commit to change unless you learn how to push beyond your current comfort zone. As someone who has lost a great amount of weight, I can honestly say that the degree of change I went through astounds me even today. As you shed the pounds, you change along the way. It’s inevitable. As you transform, things that were hard become easier, and then easy. Eventually, doors that were once shut tight are now open. But walking through those doors means you will probably have to expand your comfort zone.
Let’s examine three scenarios: Eating. Doing. Thinking.
Since I’m writing about extreme weight loss, you knew eating would worm its way into this blog. For people who want to lose weight, eating is at the center of their comfort zone; when to eat, what to eat, how to eat all must be re-examined.
For example, when was the last time you thought: what’ll I have for breakfast? Ah yes, chicken breast, rice, and spinach is just the thing. But why not? If you’re visiting friends, and all they have in the house to eat by way of a ‘traditional’ breakfast is Coco-Puffs, cinnamon buns, and waffles, it seems to me anyone on a mission to lose weight would opt for the chicken breast.
Funny thing is, that unless you learn to embrace pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone, when you look into the fridge, you probably won’t even see the other options. More than likely, you’ll give in, eat the junk, and tell yourself there was nothing else to eat. Just in case you were wondering, the ability to look into a fridge packed with food and not find anything healthy to eat is your comfort zone holding you hostage.
I help large people lose weight. And while I firmly believe that 80% of weight loss happens in the kitchen, the 20% that takes place in the gym cannot be ignored. Almost everyoneI try to help say they don’t want to go to the gym because everyone is going to stare at them. Truth be told, I felt exactly the same way. I understand better than most in the fitness world what they’re talking about and how they feel. Talk about one’s comfort zone asserting control! Sometimes, one must push those feelings away and do what has to be done! It is hard. It is uncomfortable. And it is an important skill to learn how to do. Move out of your comfort zone and say, I’ll give them something to look at: they can see what it looks like to be awesome! And believe it or not, they will. One of the best feelings in the world is to have a stranger come up to you and tell you ‘good job’ because they noticed.
Heavy people are often the center of attention. When a 475LBS man walks into the lobby of a building or into a meeting, all eyes turn to him (not in a good way). And he knows it. As a result, we make many decisions based on wanting to avoid attracting attention to ourselves. For people who are successful in extreme transformations, that is a very hard thing to stop – even when we get the ‘normal’ range of things. After I had lost about 150 LBS, my sister took me shopping for some clothes for my father’s 85th birthday. I picked what I wanted and as we were checking out, she looked at it and said, with a look of mild disgust on her face (she’s a fashionista) and asked, “why did you pick that?”
I was a bit confused and told her it’s exactly what she give me a few years ago for Christmas (but 10 sizes smaller). Her response: “Yes, but you’re not fat anymore.” What an eye opener. Despite the fact that I lost so much weight, and had changed my life so drastically, I was buying clothes for the old me. The idea of showing off the new me never even occurred to me. I was still living by fat-guy-rule #1: don’t attract attention. I was still thinking of myself as fat and acting accordingly. The thought that I could attract attention in a good way did not enter my mind. What a wakeup call and another example of my comfort zone at work.
Moving beyond your comfort zone also means knowing where its boundaries are. Sometimes, you have no idea until you walk right into one. When you feel reluctant to do something, and can find no ‘real’ or rational reason for it, you’ve just bumped into it. When that happens, recognize it for what it is, a false and meaningless barrier, put there by none other than you! Since you put it there, you can take it away.
Let’s do a little experiment. Recently, a friend of mine told me that he decided to live a more ‘disconnected’ lifestyle and started leaving his phone at home. My first reaction was to consider that an act of bravery! I grew up in the time of pay phones, and despite having lived most of my life not being tethered to an electronic device, I admit I feel naked when I go anywhere without one today. I know I am not alone in this regard. So, the test: let’s see how far we can push our comfort zones by leaving the phone at home too. Start small, go for a walk or perhaps grocery shopping. See how long and far you can go before panic sets in. It’s a harmless way to practice expanding that stubborn comfort zone.
We all have experiences in our lives that we can draw from to help us recognize when our comfort zone is too narrow. One that comes to mind that is likely common to all of us is when we first learned to drive. I grew up in the New York City area and whatever you’ve heard about NYC drivers is almost certainly understated. When we first get on the road it’s a definitely a harrowing experience. Our comfort zone is so small and narrow at that point that we try to do everything right: follow the speed limit, keep proper distance, signal, etc. As our comfort with driving increases, it doesn’t take long for us to become one of those cursing, speeding, tail-gating, lane-changing fools.
If the only thing this blog did was make you aware when you’re bumping up against your comfort zone, then good. Awareness is the first step.