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The importance of stepping out of your comfort zone


How often do you really push yourself, or take on a challenge that would not normally sit within your comfort zone?

It is not uncommon to do this in our personal lives, many of us decide at some point that it is time to get back into some form of fitness, some may go back to study after the children are off their hands, the list is endless, from learning to playing a musical instrument at the age of 60 to running a marathon.

But here is the big question. In your day to day working life, how many times do you go into work and think to yourself, I am going to do my tasks better than I did them yesterday. I bet for 99.9% of you the answer is never.

I was fortunate to be a full-time athlete for 12 years. I would train 2-3times a day, 6 days a week 11 months of the year. Every time I stepped on the track I tried to do it better than I had before, I was always looking for that slight improvement. That wasn’t purely about running faster each time, there were many aspects to training that we had to get right as well as our speed. Pace judgement in the longer sessions was often a failure of mine, I would regularly take out the first run too fast and suffer at the tail end of the session. No matter what the emphasise on the session was, we always tried to improve, and once completed we would instantly look back in our training diary to see how it compared to the last time we did that session. There was no better feeling than seeing an improvement.

Now I am not going to say that I was always successful, but even when I had not improved, by analysing my performance there was always a lesson to be learnt, even if I learnt it the hard way, which in athletics terms usually resulted in me being sick.

When I retired from athletics in July 2009 that aspect of my life was missing, although I had not realised it yet. Post retirement I set myself many challenges. I have run two London marathons, which for a half-miler is a big ask. I rode a bike 1000miles from John O’Groats to Lands End, and many other challenges along the way. For work I am a professional motivational speaker and have over 17 yrs. experience of presenting from stage, not everyone’s Idea of an enjoyable profession, but I love the feeling you get before you are about to take the stage, and I treat my speaking like I did my sport. Every time I take to the stage I try to deliver better than I have before. But it wasn’t until I got the call from celebrity MasterChef and they asked if I could cook and would I be interested in appearing on the show, and of course I answered yes without even thinking, I started to get that feeling back, this was way out of my comfort zone.

So, what did I do, did I panic and phone back and say not interested, or did I work as hard as possible to get myself as ready as I could be.

Firstly I panicked a bit/a lot, then I set about becoming the best chef I could be in the short time I had to prepare. I started observing in a professional kitchen and cooking with my Aunt who is an exceptional cook and once owned her own bistro.

Of course, somethings in life you cannot prepare for, like stepping into the MasterChef Kitchen for the first time, or on the start line for a major international final. But it is only by preparing well and putting ourselves in theses situations that we find out what we are capable off. Am I ever going to be a professional chef, No. But I held my own against the other contestants and managed well when I cooked in the professional kitchens. And yes, I know what you are thinking, did he get an apron? I am from Essex, of course I got an apron.

Going back to 2011, I was offered the opportunity to ride a bike from John O’Groats to Lands’ end. 1000 miles in 9 days. At that stage I had never ridden further than 70miles in a day, and didn’t even own a road bike. To complete this task, I would need to ride 130miles a day for 9 days keeping an average speed of around 15miles an hr, a tough ask for someone with two arms, let alone me and my one. In the January of 2011 I started training with my neighbour Chris who had agreed to attempt the ride. All didn’t start well, I still remember my first ride out on my brand new shiny road bike, less than 2 miles in and I had already fallen off. But never one to be deterred by setbacks and the odd bruise I persevered and In the June of 2011 I completed the ride, and have to say it is one of the most amazing experiences of my life, to think I rode a bike from the top of Scotland to the bottom of England.

Would I have achieved any of these experiences in my life if I hadn’t made the decision to step outside of my comfort zone, NO. Did I surprise myself with what I could achieve, YES.

So, I urge you, go into work with the thought process, how can I improve on yesterday and take on those opportunities to test yourself, will you always succeed, no. But you will surprise yourself on what you can achieve.

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