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“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

This quote is about defining what our comfort zone is and stretching beyond it. To give you a better idea of how to do this, I’ll use exercise as the metaphor. The metaphor of exercise is one of the easiest ways to measure your comfort zone.

Let’s say today you can run for 15 minutes at a steady pace without too much trouble. This would be your comfort zone. If you want to stretch beyond this, you would increase your time to 20 minutes. Simple, right?

If you go to the gym and stay within your comfort zone, you won’t improve. In fact, the body is so efficient that it will find ways to minimize the stress it goes through to attain the 15 minutes of running it has to do each day.

The comfort zone is where you are when you have automated something—converted it to a habit. This is when you know something so well, you can do it unconsciously. Most of the apps on your mobile device are this way. You do these things so many times and these things become automatic–habitual. Touch the icon, interact with the app, hit the home key. That’s it.

Establishing the habit is another thing. If there is something you believe would be beneficial you decide to make it a daily routine or habit. Again, we’ll use exercise to work through this together.

When you first begin exercising, you will notice you have to purposely do it. This is the phase where exercise is not yet a habit. You must get dressed, head to the gym or out the front door, and then begin. While you are going through this initial phase, you will experience some resistance. You may begin to feel time pressures (do I really have time for this today), you may have a friend that reaches out to see if you can do something (right around your exercise time), or you may get so busy doing your normal-day-to-day that you forget about it. These are all forms of resistance and they are normal.

How do you overcome them? Pick a time of day when there is absolutely no potential for something coming up to interrupt it. For me, this was always early in the morning. At 4:30 or 5:00 am there was no possibility of something else coming up. For you, it may be on the way home from work or during your lunch break or some other time when your world is not busy.

Get it on your calendar. Set up an exercise event in your calendar and set a reminder using all the “bells and whistles” your device allows. This will help you avoid “forgetting” it.

Have your gear ready. Have your tennis shoes, your workout outfit, your towel and anything else you need at the ready in a gym bag, the trunk of your car, or in plain view in your home or apartment. This will help build the habit by preparing for it.

Do the workout. If you’re sticking with cardio, set the time on the machine to the 20 minutes you will be on it. If it is, set the time. Do not get off the device until the time is up.

This is it. The only thing left is for you to continue going and going and going until it becomes a subconscious act. There are a lot of articles on the Internet that tell you it’s this number of days or that. Your number will be individual so do not think you can skimp on one of these steps when you hit 60 days or whatever number you come up with. Just keep going and going and going. You’ll know when it has become a habit—you’ll want to do it, you’ll expect to do it, you’ll not want to avoid it.

You can follow this practice with anything. Just ask yourself what am I doing now? This will help you identify your comfort zone. It may take you a bit of thinking because some things are hard to quantify. For reading, I use time or pages. For writing, I use word counts. For learning, it is the number of classes or sessions. Some things you elect to do may not be quantifiable. Let’s say you want to meet new people. In this case, you may want to meet one new person a month. You may attend a local Meetup, you may begin frequenting a coffee shop, or you may find some other venue where you can meet people. It’s up to you. Come up with the things you want or need to do to “stretch” and do them. Keep doing them until that “shy” part of yourself dissipates a bit.

Stretching beyond your comfort zone or potential is a liberating and confidence-building exercise. Do some self-analysis. Find out what you do today. Determine what you’d like to be doing or becoming and begin measuring what you are doing currently, then, stretch a little beyond it.

A good life of adventure, new things, and new people await you.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Until next time…