I recently went to gym with someone who has never done any weight training before. It was both amusing and eye opening to watch her set the machine at the lowest possible weight and proceed to do around 60 repetitions of a shoulder press before declaring, "Well that's not difficult at all. What's next?"
On the next machine I explained that the idea was to select a weight that was challenging but still achievable. After doing a single set of around 10, she decided that she preferred her way and that it was way too hard to push herself to lift a heavier weight.
"It's hard, and I know that I'll be sore later, so why bother?"
A feeling I know all too well.
I've been thinking a lot about this idea of, "Why bother when it's hard?" My husband firmly believes that one of the great "illnesses" of our modern age is that we strive to be comfortable at all times. Which may seem extreme, but when you look around at just some of the conveniences we've created in our resistance to anything painful, difficult, inconvenient or uncomfortable, you start to realize just how far we will go to make things easy for ourselves.
Having lived in the United States for some months now, I've been regularly stunned at the many ways in which I would be able to avoid doing anything that requires effort of discomfort. From drive though everything (including banks, pharmacies and coffee shops) to little carts at the supermarket that you can ride on so you don't have to walk. Or why bother with the supermarket at all, when there's online, delivered grocery shopping. And our culture too, the requirements for human interaction grow increasingly strong on the side of avoiding any and all discomfort. We don't like difficult discussions or rocking the boat, and why bother, when we can simply opt out of the tough stuff.
This reluctance to leave our comfort zone is also the reason that industries selling magic bullets (like the diet industry for example) are so unbelievably successful. The idea of getting the results you want without having to endure the discomfort of actually changing your diet? Winner! It preys on our instinctive desire to avoid pain.
But what do we gain from being bubble wrapped in an existence that seeks to make our lives as pain free as possible? Are we really better off? When did we become so scared of change, difficulty, a challenge?
Personally I like to think of comfort zones as "resting" zones, a pause to take breath in between periods of effort and growth. Which I think is important as development can be hard work and often emotionally very taxing. Sometimes it's nice to just relax and admire how far you've come. Like my friend discovered when we were lifting weights, it's easier and requires less effort to stay within the boundaries of what she could already do, but without raising her weights and facing her unease with feeling physical discomfort, that boundary will never ever move.
Taking a close and honest look at your beliefs or behaviors, admitting to self sabotage, changing your routines or making real progress towards your dreams is not easy. It can be very uncomfortable. These things are well beyond the safe little bubbles that we are taught to hide in from a young age. It's one of the reasons why despite the fact that my work and writings as a coach can literally change lives, my most widely read article ever is a review for mascara that I wrote as a freelancer some years ago. Because it's easier to make superficial tweaks, to distract ourselves with comfortable pleasures, than it is to truly challenge ourselves. To push ourselves straight out of the restrictive bubble and widen our life experiences.
Think about your life for a moment. Think about the things that you want to achieve? The experiences you wish to have. The things you avoid or put off doing.
Now ask yourself this... Who would you be if you let go of always being comfortable?