I love animation. I believe it is a medium where one can learn, connect, and be entertained all at the same time. Recently, I sat down to watch King Fu Panda 3. Early into the film, a conversation between Po (the panda) and Shi-fu (Po’s instructor) triggered a light bulb moment for me. Shi-fu had given Po teaching responsibilities, and after an awful first day experience, Po was prepared to give up. In response, Shi-fu said: ‘If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are now’. I literally had to pause the film, grab a notepad and pen, and jot the quote down. The true power of this message could easily be overlooked. To grow as martial artists and as people, we must pass our comfort zone, and often. This article explains how we can still be in our comfort zone without perhaps realising it, and offers some tips to surpass this.
The comfort zone: where the majority reside
The comfort zone is a place where knowingly, or unknowingly, most people reside for most of the time. It’s a place where we don’t really need to consciously think much about what we are doing. When we’re in our comfort zone, we tend to work on autopilot. It’s our natural default position.
You may think that someone who trains often is consistently pushing themselves to be out of their comfort zone. However, I would argue that unless they are actually pushing themselves beyond their current capabilities, they are still residing within their comfort zone.
Let me explain this a little more…
Take improving your flexibility as an example. After a warm up, you may attempt to do the splits. If you don’t feel the stretch, you are still in your comfort zone. If you stop within your usual range, you are still in your comfort zone. If you extend your legs beyond your usual range and feel your muscles burning, you have then stepped out of your comfort zone. So you see, someone could keep stretching consistently, but still be within their comfort zone. If we want new results we’ve got to go beyond doing only what we can do!
What other instances do practitioners train in their comfort zone?
Whilst the list is extensive, some common areas include:
- Relaxing their stance
- Avoiding a particular technique because they are either not good at it or fearful to try
- Not putting full effort to their technique
- Start reserving energy when feeling tired rather than pushing themselves to fight through it
The mindset challenge
Training beyond your comfort zone is as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. It’s also important to recognise that this can come in many different forms and is specific to you. As many martial arts tend to emphasise: there must be intention before action. In order words, the mind must be prepared before the body acts. This is as true for actual strikes and blocks in training, as it is for challenging yourself to go beyond your comfort zone and excel both mentally and physically – and even spiritually too if that is something you’re after.
The takeaway for your training
If this article leaves you with only one impression, I hope it will serve as inspiration to help you to reflect on your current training performance and identify where you can step outside your comfort zone to excel. I also hope it will be a useful reminder through times where you’d need that motivational push to go that one step further when you’re feeling tired and part of your mind is telling you to stop. It happens to all of us.
Want to explore this area more?
You may find it useful to read the article: Control the Excuse Artist within. It covers three main excuse categories practitioners could fall into during their martial arts journey, based on my experience over the years. The article also suggests how you could manage these to make the most of the opportunities presented to you in martial arts.