When you work your muscles hard, your muscles will end up with tiny tears, called “micro tears.” This isn’t serious damage, nothing that we would identify as a torn muscle. But your body, which is pretty amazing, will repair those micro tears, resulting in stronger muscles.
If you don’t push your muscles hard, but just maintain a steady, comfortable level of activity, your muscles won’t get stronger. They don’t need to. They’re already strong enough to do what you’re asking them to do.
This is a simple physical process. But we can also see this in our mental processes. If we stay in our comfort zone — the regular routines and habits which cause us the least stress and present the fewest challenges — we feel comfortable. And we don’t get stronger, because we don’t need to.
If we push ourselves too hard physically, we can do damage to our muscles. We don’t have to push ourselves too far outside our emotional comfort zone, either. Just far enough.
Here are some tips to move yourself just far enough outside your comfort zone:
- Plan to push. Choose some small new experiences, such as a meal from a cuisine you haven’t tried before or a workshop on something you’re interested in but don’t know much about. An Ethiopian meal or a class on the Impressionists won’t be too stressful, but it may be enough to stretch your mind. Put a few of these experiences on your calendar next month.
- Build in some recovery time. Your muscles get stronger not because of the micro tears, but because of the healing of those tears. So once you have your mental challenges planned, give yourself time back in your comfort zone to recover. If you’re trying volunteer work on Saturday, let yourself spend Sunday curled up in an armchair reading a favorite book.
- Keep it up and step it up. You don’t have to go bungee jumping to move outside your comfort zone. But if you tried new foods or attended a social event that created a little stress, you’ll need to schedule another push of the envelope to keep growing. Just as you might lift weights a couple of times a week, give yourself a little mental discomfort a couple of times a week. And just as you lift heavier weights as you get physically stronger, give yourself greater challenges as you get emotionally stronger.
You know how far outside your comfort zone will be far enough to give you some mental micro tears that can lead to growth. Start now and you may be surprised to see how much your comfort zone can grow.
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