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Climbing Out Of Your Comfort Zone
The Ultimate Secret to Lasting Change and High Achievement

By Tom Venuto - author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle

Take a moment and think about the sum total of everything you’re currently doing to improve your health, fitness, physique and athletic performance. Think of every detail you can - the workouts, the dieting, the level of effort, the sweat, the time - everything.

Now grab a pen or pencil and draw a small circle - about the size of a golf ball - in the center of a sheet of paper. Imagine that all the work you’re doing is contained in that small circle. Inside your circle, write the words, “Where I am now: My comfort zone.”

Next, take your pen and draw another circle outside the first one so you have two concentric circles. (If you didn’t draw the first one yet, go ahead and do it now so you have a visual).

The larger circle represents personal growth, increased performance and positive change. In the fitness arena, that might mean better health, higher levels of cardiovascular fitness, increased strength, larger muscles or decreased body fat. In sports it might mean performing a skill or event at a higher level of competency.

If you’re not seeing the changes you want – a frustration so many people are experiencing today - it means you’re staying completely inside that circle of comfort most of the time. In order to make a positive change in your life, you have to expand your boundaries by climbing outside your comfort zone.

If that’s all there is to it – if a little step outside your comfort zone is all it takes to grow and improve, then why don’t more people do it? What makes that little step so difficult?

The answer is simple: In the space between your two circles, write the word, "pain" a few times, all the way around the circumference.

You see, the second you leave your comfort zone, you experience pain, DIS-comfort and awkwardness. Since all positive changes take place outside the comfort zone, change is painful. The very instant most people feel the pain, they pull back inside the comfort zone. This is the reason why most people fail to improve themselves or create lasting changes in their lives: They are unwilling to put up with the pain of change.

The pain we’re talking about may be: (1) the physical pain of muscles aching and lungs burning, (2) it may be the emotional "pain" of feeling awkward and clumsy at doing something new (such as a complicated exercise or athletic maneuver), or (3) it may be the “pain” of discipline and sacrifice. (For example, saying no to dessert, getting up at 5:30 a.m. for cardio, or passing up on a night out at the bars with your friends). Most likely, it’s all three types of pain.

The statement “no pain, no gain,” has been misinterpreted, criticized and labeled a fallacy by many. However, the people doing the criticizing are almost always “comfort zoners” who haven’t achieved much with their lives. Don’t listen to them. Never follow the herd (unless you want to step in a lot of manure). Instead, follow the small percentage of people who step out and achieve great things.

Achievement expert Brian Tracy says, "90% to 95% of people will withdraw to the comfort zone when what they try doesn't work. Only that small percentage, 5 or 10 percent, will continually raise the bar on themselves; they will continually push themselves out into the zone of discomfort, and these are always the highest performers in every field."

Studies at the University of Chicago by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, concluded that the highest achievers are those who consistently push themselves out of their comfort zones. Instead of withdrawing to their comfort zones when they don't get immediate positive results, they force themselves to stay at this awkward, uncomfortable and painful (but higher and better) level of performance until the pain finally subsides and they become comfortable at the new higher level.

Here’s something important you need to know about pain: Tom Hopkins, a sales trainer and one of the world’s top motivational speakers, taught me this lesson many years ago and It's been burned into my brain ever since. He said, “The pain of every change is forgotten when the benefits of that change are realized.”

If you ask a champion in any field of endeavor, you will find that rather than avoid pain, they embrace it and accept it as part of the game they must play to win. Champions realize that pain equals growth and the benefits far outweigh the discomfort.

Seven-Time Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenneger said, "I realized that pain could become pleasure. We were benefiting from pain. We were breaking through the pain barrier and shocking the muscles. I looked at this pain as a positive thing, because I grew."

Cyclist Lance Armstrong put it this way: "Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit however, it lasts forever."

Muhammad Ali said it like this: "I hated every minute of the training. But I said to myself, bear the pain now and live the rest of your life as a champion."

Go back and look at your circles again. Do you realize that it may be entirely possible to continue expanding your circles to infinity? Draw a third one. And a fourth. Imagine yourself climbing up out of your comfort zone to these higher levels and look back at how small the space is that you used to occupy. You have far greater potential than you’ve ever imagined.

In William James’ essay, On Vital Reserves: Energies of Men, he wrote, "Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are dampened, our drafts are checked. We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources. The human individual thus lives usually far within his limits; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use. He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum."

It’s a widely accepted fact that we only use a tiny fraction of our physical potential and even less of our minds. However, no true expert in human potential today would ever dare set a definite limit on what we are ultimately capable of achieving because for all practical purposes, our potential is literally infinite.

Have we seen any slowdown in athletic, intellectual, spiritual and scientific advancement during our lifetimes? Quite the opposite; the curve of progress is accelerating thanks to the brave souls who had the courage to step out their comfort zones. Meanwhile, the mediocre masses are left further and further behind because they would rather pull back into the apparent comfort and stability of their small “circles” rather than step forward through pain and into growth.

Ironically, when someone says, “I’m happy just staying right where I am,” he or she is demonstrating their ignorance of a basic law of nature. It’s the natural law that all things in the universe are either growing or decaying. There is no standing still. “Comfortably maintaining” is an illusion. Truth is, you must grow. You must push yourself beyond what you’ve done in the past if you want to avoid falling behind.

You don’t necessarily have to aspire to become Mr. Olympia, Tour De France winner, or heavyweight champion of the world, but you must continue to grow, whatever that means to you. All you have to do is step outside your comfort zone and endure the “pain” of effort, discipline, sacrifice, frustration and hard work, and your reward of growth is as certain as the sun rising in the East tomorrow.

Soon the pain subsides, you enjoy the benefits of the change, and the pain is forgotten. You’ve reached a new, and higher plateau of achievement. Be on guard, though, for it’s not long before that higher level becomes your new comfort zone, and then it’s time to press on again.

Ultimately, you can’t avoid experiencing pain of one kind or another. Project yourself into the future for a moment; see yourself in your final days, reflecting on what you’ve achieved in your lifetime…and reflecting on what you wanted to achieve, but never attempted. As you visualize this scene, remember the words of Jim Rohn: "We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons."


Author Tom Venuto

Tom Venuto is a bodybuilder, gym owner, freelance writer, success coach and author of "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over 150 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom's inspiring and informative articles on bodybuilding, weight loss and motivation are featured regularly on dozens of websites worldwide. For information on Tom's "Burn The Fat" e-book, click here.

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