Smash Your Comfort Zone

Written by
Michael Wells

Smash Your Comfort Zone

How to Engineer Epic Growth

Written by
Michael Wells

Smash Your Comfort Zone

How to Engineer Epic Growth

Written by
Michael Wells
Self-Development
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QUESTION

I have discovered the ultimate life hack.

I haven't cooked, or done the dishes in over a week... not a single one. There are no takeaway boxes and I've not been to a single restaurant.

Total food costs for the past week... $0.00.

How is this possible, you ask? What is this miracle madness? What incredible kitchen gadget have I discovered?

Actually, it was so simple.

I've been fasting.

As I write this, I've been fasting for 10 days, eating no food, and drinking only water and black coffee.

What!? Why?

I’ve never wanted to fast. I’ve tried intermittent fasting in the past, and I didn’t find it very consistent or effective- and “water fasting” ( no food, only water ) seemed way too intense for me.

I simply believed that I could not do it- not even close.

But, 10 days ago, I came across a fascinating video, and it triggered one of my strongest core values.

Curiosity.

The video vanquished some of my primary concerns, like my fear of significant muscle loss and massive nutritional deficiency. With those gone, I simply had no reason not to explore fasting- and the some of the purported benefits intrigued me.

I wanted to know three things;

  1. What was it like, and how did it feel?
  2. Could I do it? Did I have the willpower to do it, and for how long?
  3. How would it affect me psychologically, and physically?

Armed with these questions, I decided to give it a go- and like most intensive challenges I’ve put myself through, it's been an epic journey of self discovery.

At some point, I’ll share those discoveries, but that’s not the point of this article.

This article is about how to engineer your own personal growth.

Pursuing Epic Growth

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” - Leo Tolstoy

For as long as I remember, I've wanted to be the best that I'm capable of.

I want to feel free to pursue and enjoy my life the way that I want to. Chase new dreams fearlessly, discover new things, experience whatever I want. I want to purse "perfection" as far as I can take it

But there were always barriers in my mind.

My Personal Challenges

Here are a few...

  • I wanted to meet a great woman, but often if I met that amazing, gorgeous creature, I felt absolutely tongue-tied and paralyzed.
  • I wanted to feel confident in any public situation, but I felt a lot of social anxiety, judgement, fear of rejection- and the idea of going on stage sounded worse than death.
  • I wanted to see the world, but I imagined all sorts of uncontrollable situations. Awkward social misunderstandings, crime, language problems, financial or legal issues, cultural conflicts, and more.
  • I desperately tied my happiness to my need for a romantic relationship- believing I could never be happy without a partner.
  • I dreamed of starting my own business, but I didn't know how to do the business side of things- how to market, sell, and do the finances for my business. How to manage employees, clients, and suppliers. How to deal with competition, lawsuits, government and market challenges.

Every one of these "barriers" felt like a real, physical barrier. Something insurmountable- about me, or my world. Each seemed impossible to overcome.

But at some point... those barriers began to piss me off.

I couldn't stand the idea that I had all of these walls, between me and my dreams, and that I would only "live my life halfway" unless I could break through them.

And so I grabbed a sledgehammer, and learned how to swing it.

Changing My Mind. Literally.

So far, these are some of the most significant barriers I've smashed in my own mind.

  • Social anxiety. I learned to enjoy talking to strangers, meeting new people, asking girls out, and expressing attraction. 
  • Stage fright. I learned to present, speak, teach large groups, and even to perform with performing-arts groups on stage. I love being on stage now. Those experiences are among my favorite life memories.
  • Moving and tossing myself into new places, people, and cultures. I lived in Germany for 3 months, and Moscow, Russia for 6 months. I now moved to New Zealand.
  • I've learned to love myself, and appreciate my freedom. I've chosen to be single, until I feel special enough about a unique woman to invest time and energy in building a relationship with her.
  • I've worked for myself since university, after doing a short employment stint with Sony, I decided I had to know if I could "go it alone." It turned out to be one of the best decisions ever.

And with the recent fasting experiment...

  • I've learned to detach from psychologically "needing" food. My 10 day fast taught me that hunger is totally manageable, and if I'm not hungry... don't eat. I won't starve, and I won't lose my gym gains. I feel so much more flexible and healthy with this option, and less stressed about counting calories.

Freedom... more, every day.

How it Works

"One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again." - Abraham Maslow

The process is incredibly simple.

  1. Intentionally pick an area of your life that you feel limited in.
  2. Assume that limitations don't exist, and that your beliefs are wrong, and immerse yourself fully in that experience on a daily basis. Yes, you are good at meeting new people. No, running will not kill you.
  3. Create a "gym" for training yourself in that areas. A place to test your social skills, to challenge your stage fright, or to push your physical limits. Train at your gym every single day. If you're lazy about that rule, you won't see change.
  4. Study and learn about your beliefs and limits from other people who have overcome them. You'll learn how to improve your gym, and your training.
  5. Be consistent in your training. Every. Single. Day.
  6. Continue, until you see change. It will happen faster than you think.

Yes, it's uncomfortable. All growth is. But it's probably not nearly as difficult as you imagine.

Choosing your Challenges

When you look, you’ll find a ton of challenges to work on, and every one of them will benefit you.

These are my favorite approaches.

Chain-breaking

Chain-breaking is simply my word for overcoming core fears and limiting beliefs that you have. Those fears and beliefs limit you, waste energy, underlie avoidant behaviors, and reduce your options in life.

Start with the question “what scares me?” and you’ll find some good places to start.

"What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I want to note that chain-breaking is a process, because those fears are a spectrum. I doubt the fears I've conquered are 100% gone. But, at 99% eliminated, they no longer hold me back in my life in any way I can identify - and that's the point.

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs

Limiting beliefs are often harder to identify. They don’t attach as directly to emotions, and they’re often deeply held beliefs that originated from your upbringing, culture, or religion.

They may even be part of your identity.

Here are some prompts to help you find yours, and examples of some limiting beliefs.

“I can’t... X.”

  • I can’t be single, or I’ll be miserable and worthless.
  • I can’t skip a meal, or a day of meals, or a few days of meals, because I’ll feel cranky, too hungry, distracted etc  MUST eat x number of calories per day, or I’ll lose muscle / become unhappy. 
  • I can’t quit my job, and work for myself.
  • I can’t change careers.
  • I can’t... dance, fight, swim, paint, play music, perform on stage, sing, socialize with strangers, ... ( add your own ).

“I need... Y.”

  • Alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, meds, and/or recreational drugs.
  • Fast food.
  • The attention and validation of others.
  • To avoid “failure.”

“I can’t handle... Z”

  • Being too cold, or too hot.
  • Running, or cardio exercise. 
  • Heavy lifting, regular weight training, or hard exercise.
  • Being alone for a long period of time ( for an extrovert )
  • Being around people for too long ( for an introvert )

Directly Challenge Your Comfort Zone

“Whatever makes you uncomfortable is your biggest opportunity for growth.” - Bryant H McGill

Actively seek discomfort, until it becomes comfortable.

I’m not suggesting you dive straight into the realm of David Goggins, Wim Hof, or Budimir Šobat- these guys are at another level entirely.

But, like them- you'll discover that intentionally and consistently putting yourself in uncomfortable situations becomes comfortable, and opens the doors to possibilities that you've never imagined.

As a result of this practice, all three are world record holders... multiple times.

The Magic of Hardening

Hardening describes any intentional practice that creates intense physical or emotional discomfort, for short periods of time. You choose how often, and how long to challenge yourself, and in doing so you develop a strong tolerance for two things-

  1. That uncomfortable thing itself.
  2. Your own intense emotional and sensory responses, in general.

As you develop tolerance for #1, doors open in that specific area. Run faster, swim farther, lift heavier weights, and so on. You push back your limits.

As your tolerance grows for #2, doors open everywhere.

You simply become more immune to discomfort in every area of your life.

This is a magical experience. Your emotional sensations and your physical sensations use the same part of your mind. As you increase your tolerance for physical discomfort, your tolerance for emotional discomfort increases as well.

Fear, anxiety, anger, frustration,  those pain signals just... weaken.

Hardening Approaches

Here are some easy, safe, accessible approaches for hardening.

  • Cold showers, and cryotherapy
  • Hard exercise, gym, running, crossfit, even 100 press-ups a day. Or scale it up- a marathon, powerlifting, or a bodybuilding competition 
  • NoPMO- cut all porn and self-lovin’ from your world. Yes it can be done. You won’t die or spontaneously combust. But for many, it is one of the hardest challenges ever. Pun intended.
  • Fasting. Intermittent fasting, or full-on water-only fasting.
  • Cut alcohol, tobacco, or sugar. Something that would challenge you personally. 

Tips

Set small goals, and extend them

When you’re entering an unknown space, it’s difficult to set hard goals when you don’t know what you’ll encounter or experience. 

When I decided to attempt fasting, my initial approach was to try 24 hours and see how I felt. I was ok, so I extended it to 3 days. At 3 I was feeling great, and decided to shoot for 7 days. At 7, I decided on 10 days...

I considered 12 days, and I’m certain I could have done it- but I felt as though I would be pushing myself too far. My goal here is health, and learning about my mind and my body- not self-abuse... so I decided that 10 days was enough.

Remember that your first objective here is to learn, experience something different, and see what new things you discover. Explore freely, and aggressively- but know when to stop.

Consider the impact of (and on) others

If you have a partner, flatmates, friends, or family members around, they may add some challenge to your goals.

For me, fasting meant I needed to pull back from most social activities for a bit, because when I’m social I like to go out and eat with friends. It’s a thing for me. Fasting would make that difficult, and I imagined that I’d feel intense pressure and thoughts about eating, when I was hanging out with friends.

I might now... but for my first experiment with fasting, I didn’t want that added stress.

My flatmates cooked and ate, and somehow that didn’t bother me at all. 

Remember that they are free to live their lives, and they shouldn’t be restricted by the fact that you are challenging yourself. If your challenge is to quit alcohol for a month, and your friends are drinking.. bring something non-alcoholic that you enjoy. Or, go do something else, without them for that month.

Let the people around you know what you’re up to, but never ask them to change for you.

"You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” - Marcus Aurelius

Be mindful of your own expectations

Often I see people set into a challenge with the goal of a big win... and often that goal is further away than they thought. 

When that happens, they come away disheartened.

There’s no point in that.

I find it best to expect nothing except new experiences and new understanding. You might get other incredible benefits along the way. 

Overcome barriers to your practice

Don't let anything interfere with your practice. Not your situation, or finances, or other people, or COVID, none of it can stop you, if you're determined and open-minded.

For example, let's say you're fasting, or you've cut out meat for a month. But you don't want to give up your social time with friends. Adjust. Tell them what you're up to, and what you need. Cook at home, and invite them over- or meal prep for your times out with friends. BYO food.

Challenging yourself socially, in a COVID lockdown? Do what you can. Talk to one new person a day. Anywhere. If you're limited to online, say hi to a Facebook friend you’ve never actually talked to. Chat with them. Invite them to coffee with you over a video call. Challenge yourself, and bring some adventure to the lives of others.

Creativity is your friend here.

Consistency, and patience are crucial

Once again- consistency, consistency, consistency. It matters more than you know.

"Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still." - Chinese Proverb

Afterword

The thinking and approaches I've shared here has given more more joy in life than I can put into words.

I can't wait to see what do with it.

Unleash yourself on the world, again, and again, as a new and better version of yourself. Along the way- drop me a message and let me know what you've discovered.

“To improve is to change; to [pursue perfection] is to change often.” - Winston Churchill
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First published on 
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March 5, 2022

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