As I pushed against the pedals of my bike during a recent bike (spin) class at the gym, I observed my own discomfort rise as the intensity of the class increased. Confronted with both physical and emotional discomfort, I became consciously aware that I had two primary choices in response to my pain. Each of these responses would impact differently on my outcome and results. So what result could I expect to achieve by stepping out of my comfort zone? Placed under pressure, my physical body responded by ‘heating up’ – my breathing became shallower and faster, my legs began to ache, and beads of sweat erupted over my body, slowing dripping off my face in steady drops onto the floor below. As I reached for a towel to wipe my face and momentarily recover, I realized that I was now experiencing emotional discomfort as well. As my physical discomfort intensified, so did my emotional discomfort. I experienced feelings of doubt as to whether I could continue with the level of intensity, and feelings of wanting to disconnect and/or quit from the physical discomfort I was experiencing. In response to being pushed outside of my comfort zone, my two choices or responses to this situation became immediately apparent. One choice was to ‘back off’ or slow down, and thereby reduce and/or minimize my discomfort.
If I took this choice, I knew I could experience returning to a place of physical comfort, where my body ‘cooled’ down and relaxed, and also to a place where my emotions would return to a calmer state. The other choice I faced was to notice and accept my discomfort, but to decide that I would continue regardless. In this decision I understood I could continue to experience discomfort (for a temporary period), and perhaps even face the possibility that the intensity of discomfort would increase. To determine my choice, I asked the question: “What is my intent in taking this class? What are the results I’m looking to achieve?” Is it to experience exercising comfortably – knowing that by not extending or pushing my limits, there was a good possibility that my level of fitness and physical shape would remain unchanged (or be very minimal)? OR Is my intention to experience change and growth in terms of my physical fitness and shape, knowing that in order to achieve this I would likely need to push my current physical comfort boundaries? Relative to my short and long-term goals for the class, (which in this instance was to increase my fitness), making the choice to ‘push’ through my discomfort and persist with that temporarily, was more likely to produce the result I was after. I decided the ‘uncomfortable’ choice was more in alignment with my intention, so I chose this in preference to remaining ‘comfortable’ throughout the class. In my opinion, there was no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer faced with the above choices. Rather, simply an awareness of whether the choice made was in alignment with the end result I wished to experience. So why would you want to step out of your own comfort zone? When you’re next exercising – be it walking the dog, exercising at home or at the gym – why not ask yourself this question to provide you with the answer. ‘What is my intention by participating in this particular exercise?’ If your own intention is purely for pleasure or recreation, then you may be quite willing to create the experience where your exercise is comfortable and painless. If however you are looking to produce change at a physical or fitness level, consider the possibility that experiencing some discomfort may be necessary in order for you to achieve these results. Choosing a state of ‘discomfort’ or ‘comfort’ is not a judgment exercise, simply a choice you make relative to creating an outcome more in alignment with your desired result.