Way back in 2009, I wrote about the Trap of Competence. How it’s easy to pigeonhole yourself into being “the one who’s good at …..” and staying there. Defending that turf. “But I’M the one who fixes the copier when it’s jammed!” “But I’M the bench press guy around here!”
Change – improvement – demands that you operate in the margins: in those areas where you’re not comfortable. By definition, exposure to the unfamiliar means stumbling, failing, and dropping the bar from awkward positions. It means imperfect form for awhile. It’s not fun to step out of your zone of competence and become a beginner all over again.
Interestingly, frequent exposure to change has its own training effect. Changing regularly means you become more adept at handling change. You become comfortable being uncomfortable.
In 1996, I lucked into an Internship two years early. I was a sophomore; the employer wanted a graduating Senior. Somehow, I talked my way into the job. Day One: Karaoke. I, the Intern, was taken to a watering hole, and sent up on stage, solo. No alcohol allowed. I was terrified: I hadn’t done any public speaking since it was forced on me in elementary school.
But I did it, because I wasn’t going to lose my job and drive all the way home again.
Friends who see my posts on Facebook in 2023, showing me onstage in front of hundreds of people, shake their heads and say “I could NEVER do that!!!” And I couldn’t either…until I did it. I wasn’t born comfortable onstage. What made the onstage stuff possible was singing Randy Travis songs somewhere in the middle of the Illinois Cornbelt thirty years ago. That was the start. Now I’m comfortable being uncomfortable up there. And in 2023, you can’t shut me up in public.
You’re not BORN into confidence. You’re not BORN into fitness. Health, mostly, isn’t about luck. Improving yourself means identifying where you’re uncomfortable, and then fixing the problem. And that path always starts by accepting discomfort.
I was lucky to have parents who allowed me to take major jumps – first into the bush for half a year, then to Illinois, then Wisconsin – on little more than a whim, often on less than a week’s notice, when I was still a teenager. That led to opening businesses, taking risks, and fighting through business challenges. But I’m not a ‘born entrepreneur’ – there’s no such thing.
Next time a hard workout rolls around, it would be easy to skip. Few people ever list “double-unders” as their favorite exercise, even people who do it for a living. Double-unders are hard. They’re awkward. And you step on the rope a LOT. But after practicing double-unders, dealing with failure, and eventually succeeding at double-unders, will it be easier to confront your boss about a bad decision? Yes. Will it be easier to tell your husband to put his damn dishes away? Absolutely.
If you want to change your life, you can’t shy away from the margins.
The gym exists as a training ground for change, for self-improvement, and for dealing with setbacks. It’s not just that place you go on your lunch hour to sweat.
When you work out, your whole life works out.