It can be easy during the dark days of winter to excuse ourselves from participating in activity in favor of staying warm and dry. Now that summer has finally arrived, it’s time to throw out the excuses and embrace what the season can offer. Although the coming of summer means freedom from the long, cold winter months and more time outside, the warm season possesses another, somewhat hidden, value. Summer provides the perfect opportunity to set and pursue new personal fitness challenges. Now is the time to shake things up -- move beyond a plateau, overcome the monotony of a tired routine and achieve a new personal best by moving beyond the comfort zone.
The comfort zone is a term used to describe a place, situation or level where people feel most confident or comfortable. By nature, humans are hard-wired to seek comfort. That ultimately makes it difficult to find the motivation to move beyond the safe borders of the comfort zone. While working or living within a comfort zone is not inherently negative, it can limit personal achievement and growth. Remaining in a certain zone for an indefinite period of time places rigid boundaries around what an individual is able to accomplish. Taking a few steps beyond the comfort zone allows people to explore new dimensions of personal strength, skill and ability. This summer challenge yourself to do just that -- break down the barriers and move beyond your personal comfort zone.
Here are some tips to help start the process.
Ready, set, goal
Think about what it is you wish to accomplish. Keep in mind any goal you set needs not be lofty or large to be meaningful or valuable. Evaluate likes and dislikes and frame your personal goal (or goals) around what interests you the most. For example, if you enjoy running, perhaps training for a 5K or 10K (or other identified distance) is a goal. Or, maybe you enjoy water sports and paddle boarding is something you want to try. Whatever the activity or event, set a goal, write it down and commit to achieving it.
The existence of social support is one of the biggest predictors of success when it comes to achieving a goal or overcoming a new challenge. Before working toward the intended goal, consider who can be part of your support network and share your goal with them. By involving others, you increase the chances of achieving the goal by being accountable to not only yourself, but to those in your social support system.
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For many, having a partner to pursue a challenge with provides motivation as well as a little friendly competition. Much like pacers on a long-distance run, a partner can push you when you feel your stamina or fortitude declining.
Make a plan
Once the goal is set and the challenge is identified, a training plan or schedule should be developed and implemented. If you do not know where to start, research existing training regimens from reputable and professional sources. Check out local training opportunities as well. Whatever plan you find or develop, make it fluid and flexible so you can adapt your training schedule and manage life’s unexpected events.
Journaling or documenting the progress you make is an excellent self-reflection exercise. Journal entries need not be long to be effective. Keep track of the pertinent details of the training session (day, time, location, details of the activity, etc.). Once you have the details recorded, take five minutes to reflect on how the session went, how you felt during and after and what you plan to do to improve or enhance the next session.
Reward, reward, reward
Finding small ways to reward yourself is just as important as the challenge. Much like the natural and intrinsic desire to stay “comfortable," humans are programmed to respond to positive reinforcement. Create a wish list of reward ideas before starting the challenge. Reflect on that list throughout the pursuit of the goal and use it as motivation to keep going. Rewards can be simple and affordable -- a massage, a new pair of running shoes, movie tickets, a day off from work, etc.
Moving beyond the comfort zone can be scary because it means facing uncertainty, self-doubt and the perceived possibility of falling short of the goal. However, the barriers to moving beyond the comfort zone do not outweigh the benefits. Once outside, a new level of comfort can be discovered -- one in which we develop greater creativity, increase self-efficacy and unveil a previously hidden inner strength to face and overcome significant challenges.
Erin Nitschke is director of health and human performance at Sheridan College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog for the Wellness Council of Sheridan County.