This article was originally published on FM Rowing.
Obviously there are multiple answers to this question, but most of you reading this will relate to it in a training capacity. Sessions we’re familiar with or find easier to complete are definitely in our ‘comfort zone’, whereas those we find physically or mentally demanding are clearly outside it. From my own perspective I’m learning a whole new answer to this question.
Before I started any form of rowing coaching I was your regular competitor. Although there’s plenty to dislike about racing in my opinion, it was effectively my comfort zone. I have often wondered why I do it to myself , but up until recently carried on regardless. Competing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s what I do. Putting myself in these positions has over the years not only become the norm, it’s also become what people expect. More recently as my coaching role has developed I have participated in events on more than one level, as a coach, a cox AND as a competitor aiming for the podium. All within the same event! This isn’t an impossible task but it does involve the need to divide attention and also gives a very different feel to race day. On these occasions, making my way home, I have often wondered whether I could have been any better at any, if not all of the roles I tried to fulfill during the day. I’m yet to reach a conclusion on that one.
Up until this point despite the task of multiple ‘hats’ being a large one, there’s always an element of comfort in knowing that I’d compete…the bit that I do…the bit that I know well. Last week however, I was able to try something new. To step outside my comfort zone, which is ironically the opposite to a lot of people’s! The British Rowing Indoor Championships (BRIC) took place at the Olympic Velodrome and I had initially planned to race when I entered well in advance of the date. A few months prior however I took the decision not to compete until after Christmas. It felt like time to change tack. Largely as a means to encourage growth and personal development. I was asked the question many times before, during and after the event as to why I wasn’t racing when there was essentially a medal for the taking. My answer – My focus is currently elsewhere in relation to rowing and as I always like to be totally prepared for an event I didn’t feel like this was the right time. That isn’t to say things will ever be perfect on the day, but I always aim to give myself the best chance. The real test for me was to show up and tolerate the discomfort of not doing what I usually do as a way of being able to maintain my focus on the other goals I have in relation to the sport. I recently chose not to compete at the Welsh Indoor Championships for similar reasons but wasn’t exposed in the same way as I wasn’t able to be there on the day. BRIC was my first opportunity to stay away from the race floor, focus on coaching and generally enjoy the day.
When I arrived I realised, unknowingly, that I had stepped firmly out of my comfort zone. No race environment and prep to fall back on, no nerves or apprehension, but still the lure of a medal. Thankfully my category was early in the schedule and my race came and went without temptation lingering for too long. Once I’d surfed that temporary urge from there on in I focussed on enjoying the races, seeing so many people take themselves outside of their own comfort zones, with many experiencing the unique race environment for the first time. The day was a great success and ended with a night out in London of the highest quality. The indoor rowing community really are a great bunch.
Was I glad I did it this way? Well I definitely didn’t miss the race build up! I’m proud I stuck to my plan and stayed true to the journey I have currently put myself on, but perhaps there’s a part of me that was left wondering what might have been (that ‘familiar’ part of me). Either way I have a deeper understanding of myself which is great from a personal development perspective. I’ve now experienced all three scenarios: competing, coaching and competing, and just coaching.
When I honestly reflect on my experiences, I don’t think I’d agree that progress (in performance terms) is purely to be found outside of comfort zones. From a personal development perspective however what seems to be the case, as far as I’m concerned anyway, is that once something becomes routine it’s probably time to look beyond. What I’ve also found after avoiding taking this step for quite some time is that often that place beyond isn’t nearly as daunting as you first think. One thing’s for sure if we want to change and make improvements in our life we need to find the courage to take that first. There’s a whole lot to experience out there.
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