In many situations, feeling safe and feeling comfortable are vital for our overall wellbeing. But there are times in our life where we need to step outside our comfort zone, to build our confidence, reach new levels and challenge our minds and bodies.
Fitness is definitely one of these.
I’ve talked before about focus, determination and goal setting and how effective being physically fit and motivated is for improving our mental health and mindset. I know not everyone is ‘geared’ this way, and it’s one of the reasons I love teaching group fitness and encourage those who find self-motivation difficult with their fitness, to get on board.
I teach in a studio where, to someone new, the equipment might look like more suited to a medieval torture chamber than a fitness studio! But pushing yourself to try new challenges is about confidence, not perfection. I have had people shake their head at me when I’ve asked them to try something outside their comfort zone (btw… something I know is completely safe and completely available to them to try) and my goal is to always be encouraging enough to give them a small stepping stone to giving it a go. Every time they do – the look of elation, self-pride and achievement on their face and the change in their body language is awesome! They leave that day with a whole new vision of what they can achieve and who they are. That’s mindfulness at its best!
That comfort zone is different for all of us. It’s only important to challenge your own.
I truly learnt about comfort zones after my brain surgery. Losing my balance, losing the ability to write and speak properly, serious short term memory loss and light sensitive epilepsy were some of the ‘fun’ new things I had to confront and manage.
“Deficit issues” as they call them, post neuro surgery, have a huge impact on your quality of life and confidence. I was extremely lucky, mine were minimal compared to most – but to those of you reading this who have never (and I hope never have) had brain surgery or a neurological trauma, they will seem enormous.
These issues really did stop me in my tracks at times. They made me feel isolated, sad, introverted, incompetent and alone. But I had done a great deal of reading about the brain and how we do and don’t use it. I knew that ‘a part’ of my brain had been tampered with and there was a chance that the section that had, may not fully recover, as trauma to the brain does not ‘repair’ like other parts of the body. However, I also knew that there are many parts of the brain we don’t use and we can re-train them, ignite them and make it work a little harder for us. We need to constantly challenge the brain and ‘fire it up’.
I made myself do crosswords and puzzles (so not my thing 😏) , I took up yoga (being still was not a comfortable place for me), I went back to work quickly and ensured I had someone check my work – secretly (and words are my thing, so this hurt). I became very honest about my short term memory loss ( me being me… I just took the p*ss out of myself!) with people, so I could highlight the fact I would need several reminders. I put a plan in place to drive my (new) mind and body and provide myself with an environment I could challenge both in.
Asking people for help or assistance is WAY out of my comfort zone. Its always been the other way around in my life. I was always the carer, not the cared for. But now, I realised I had to learn to ask for help and accept it when it was offered, as otherwise, I was going to retreat into a shell and lose my self-confidence to a point where it would seriously impact my quality of life.
Physical challenges when your balance is poor are abundant! I also developed vertigo which came with so many issues – standing on tube and train platforms, crossing roads and walking down stairs were just a few simple daily rituals that felt like mountains.
There were definitely days were I just felt I couldn’t achieve something as simple as crossing the road – without wanting to cry. But I really did push myself. In the first 6 months, this meant trying to hold on to someone when I did, or only using very main sets of crossing lights where I knew I would be safe. Pedestrian crossings and running across roads in a hurry were not an option!
But stepping outside my comfort zone every day really did re-train my brain. My vertigo still remains, but my balance has improved so much its incredible. I have trouble with remembering numbers and sequences (especially when I am tired) but I put myself into situations where I have to do both to get my brain to fire on new cylinders! It sounds crazy, but inside I am often freaking out when someone tells me something I need to ‘remember’. Something simple they take for granted will stay embedded in their memory, but for me it’s like a mammoth project or deadline. Part of me (especially if I am tired) wants to say – I can’t – but most of the time, I will push myself out of that comfort zone and find a way, a method, to achieve what I need to.
Physically, I am stronger than I have ever been in my life. The reason for this is pure mind over matter. My determination to make my body strong is for my mind. I’m not necessarily as cardiovascularly fit as I used to be – endurance is harder for me now as I have to be extremely careful of fatigue after what my body and brain have been subjected to. Thats not a comfort zone that would be safe for me to challenge. That’s a limitation I need to accept. I would not subject my body to a half or full marathon any more and I loved running. But I know the fatigue may hamper my brains ability to function the way I need it to.
I am one of life’s extremely lucky people. I got to not only survive, but to continue an incredibly high quality of life. But I have taken myself out of my comfort zone, many times, to achieve this.
It’s funny though – to so many people – they might equate a high quality of life as houses, cars, holidays, fine dining, bank balances and personal asset wealth. This is not ‘quality of life’ to most who have suffered a critical illness and certainly not to me.
Quality of life, to me, is the ability to be happy, share experiences with others, have adventures and make memories…. the chance to love, to laugh and to feel.
Bring it on!!!