I have been writing a lot about vulnerability and shame as of late. Feeling vulnerable is all about getting out of your comfort zones. And as you may see, this is one way to improve performance.

“Getting out of our comfort zones” I’ve been seeing this graphic a lot lately. Photos of people jumping off cliffs, or bubble graphics showing where you are now and where you want to be and the only way to get there is to get out of your COMFORT ZONE.

COMFORT ZONES are a moving target or at least it should be. As you move yourself out of your COMFORT ZONE to become or realize your goals, you will start to get comfortable again. This requires the mentally strong person to continually push themselves into a new level of discomfort. Complacency leads athletes to mediocrity. This is especially true in training camp. You have survived the first few weeks. If you didn’t force yourself out of your COMFORT ZONES certainly your coaches did. Now that you have gotten used to the ebb and flow of practice things are easier and for many this is a time to relax a bit and focus on what you are good at doing. But great athletes never allow themselves to get sucked into the malaise of the COMFORT ZONE. Great athletes are vigilant in their pursuit to continually push themselves out of the COMFORT ZONE to find THE ZONE. THE ZONE is where an athlete plays their best. It is often called PEAK PERFORMANCE and should be every athlete’s ultimate destination. Notice I said destination and not goal. THE ZONE is not something you can set goals for directly, it is the path you travel that gets you there and to get to THE ZONE, you have to pass through your COMFORT ZONES.

Now it is easy for people (sometimes coaches) to tell players this is an easy thing to do. It is for some of course, but certainly not for everyone. Having worked with thousands of athletes over the last 30+ years at some very high levels I can tell you at some point the COMFORT ZONES suck most everyone in. You can get out of the COMFORT ZONE in many ways. One exercise I like to use with athletes is using an imagery technique. It is a switch technique. Imagine you are practicing or playing in the COMFORT ZONE. Things are going well for you, but others are working just a little harder. They may be even making a few mistakes, but you are playing safely in the COMFORT ZONE. This seems OK, but you are starting to lose ground.  As you imagine this scenario, notice where you see it. Out in front, to the side, below eye level or above. It doesn’t matter.  Let’s put that aside for a moment. Now imagine a different scene. In this one you are pushing yourself out of your COMFORT ZONE. You are tired, you are trying new things, you are learning and getting better. Now notice where that image is located. Put them up on a huge flat screen TV in their respective places. Turn the COMFORT ZONE image black and white and make it smaller. Now take the out of the COMFORT ZONE image. Make it brighter and bigger. Count to three and switch their relative space on the TV. Fade the COMFORT ZONE completely into oblivion and say to yourself this is where I want to travel. Practice this and make what you see a reality by committing to this image and feeling every time you step out to practice and play. This is a great first step in helping yourself when you have trouble getting out of your COMFORT ZONE. The more we try to learn about ourselves, the more we can move down the path towards peak performance and finding THE ZONE.