In Defense of the Comfort Zone

In Defense of the Comfort Zone

I have a confession to make.

Today, I didn’t take a cold shower. Yesterday, I didn’t either. And while this is in direct violation of my #FrozenFeb challenge, I don’t feel any remorse whatsoever.

See, stepping outside of your comfort zone — whether that is as small as taking an ice cold shower, or as large as finally getting the courage to ask for a raise — drains your energy. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to push through mental resistance. And, chances are, your mind is doing everything it can to rationalize your way out of that action.

Almost every time, you should ignore this voice in your head. In theory, you know what you are about to do is the best possible action for yourself and should continue forward with it. For instance, let’s assume you’re at a buffet and on a diet. You should most certainly ignore the inner voice that is telling you to eat all of the General Tso’s chicken and ice cream.

But resisting this voice is not easy. To add to the complexity, willpower is a finite resource that is replenished only by relaxation and sleep. This means, each day, you only have the willpower to make X amount of good decisions. Hence why some of the worst decisions are made at 2 am, but I digress…

You can train your willpower daily, like a muscle. Through exercises such as cold showers, meditation, and overall resistance of instant gratification, you can increase the baseline amount of willpower you have each day.

However, just like your biceps get bigger each week you curl, you also get fatigued. In the gym, you become sore and need rest. In the realm of willpower, you begin to lack the energy necessary to make good decisions. If you attempt to do too much, too soon, you leave yourself vulnerable to exhaustion and you can start dropping positive habits one by one.

This is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way. Every time I am ready to make big changes in my life, I list a plethora of goals I want to accomplish and habits I want to adopt. I start strong and for the first couple of weeks, I make progress.

I am on track until external stress — travel, work issues, a couple cold beers — is applied. By pushing myself to the limit already, I’ll have no room to absorb the additional demands these new activities place upon me.

Slowly but surely, I will be left too drained of willpower to quiet the voice tempting me to skip the gym and watch Netflix, or to eat Taco Bell instead of cooking a healthy meal. All of my progress will be undone within a matter of days.

This is obviously unsustainable. And for the last couple of days, this is the course that I felt myself drifting on to. Thus, I adopted a new strategy.

Instead of falling victim to the vicious cycle, I put one foot back into my comfort zone and took a warm shower. I voluntarily (and temporarily) ignored my short term goal in order to preserve my long term goals.

I let myself partially re-enter my comfort zone to recharge, thus building more stamina to face the bigger challenges. Today, I realized my willpower was low and started to feel the dread of a cold shower weighing heavily. So, instead of suffering through this horrible task, I sacrificed it for the greater good of the rest of my day.

In doing so, I was able to have the momentum to stick to my diet, workout, and have a productive day at the office. A feat that I doubt would be possible if I would have started off the day low on willpower.

In the past, I used to be very hard on myself for straying from my goals and not challenging myself every single day. But now I realize, that for the same reasons you can’t workout 8 hours a day seven days a week, you need to give yourself time to rest and recover. Your comfort zone is the perfect place to do this.