As much as we would like to believe there is a silver-bullet solution to everything we want to achieve in life, there rarely is. Trust me, I wish there was an easier way to get smarter, more successful, or in better physical condition — but there just isn’t. Being great at anything doesn’t come easy. In fact, it usually requires a substantial amount of pain; however, that pain can come in many forms. Depending on what you are trying to improve, the pain may be physical, intellectual, or emotional.
The pain I’m talking about essentially comes from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. At least this is the way I explain it to my kids. Consider the way muscles grow. Very simply, when you put enough stress on your muscles they will literally break down and tear. With rest and proper diet, the damaged muscle fibers will rebuild themselves a little thicker and stronger. Do this a few hundred times and you will start to see a physical transformation. However, absent using illegal drugs, your muscles won’t get bigger unless you push them past their comfort zone. The same principle also applies to our skills and intellect. You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone if you want them to get better.
We aren’t born with a comfort zone, it’s something that is acquired as we get older. Babies don’t get embarrassed when they fall or mispronounce a word, they just power forward and push themselves until they get it right. As we get older, we become more self-aware and our comfort zones get smaller and more rigid. This is why the older we get the less we tend to improve at things. Some people think it’s because our brains and bodies start to wear down, but it is really more about our unwillingness to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones. As parents this becomes even more of a problem. Think about it, the thought of embarrassing ourselves in front of our kids is too much for most of us to bear (this is why I will never be a good dancer).
Speaking of my kids, last week I sent my two youngest kids a list of examples of being out of your comfort zone. Aaron is heading to Colorado College next month, where he will play college basketball and be challenged in every way possible, and Marisa, who recently graduated college, is entering the workforce and dealing with the difficult and sometimes humiliating process of job hunting. I thought it would be helpful if they understood the fact that the discomfort they will undoubtedly be experiencing is actually a good thing and what, in fact, makes them better. Here is the exact list I sent them via text message.
Being out of your comfort zone can be any of the following:
- Doing something you have never done before
- Doing something that is extremely painful — physically
- Doing something that embarrassed the crap out of you
- Trying your hardest, and failing badly at something
- Doing something that you absolutely hated doing
- Doing something that nobody else does or has ever thought of doing
Each week, I intend to ask them what they did to push themselves out of their comfort zone. We’ll see how it works.