This whole year has felt like a continuous cycle of repetition. Wake up, brush your teeth, put on a clean shirt, and start the day. It’s gotten so monotonous that most of the time you don’t really have to think about what you’re doing, just do it. You are on total autopilot. And before you know it, peel a low-fat muffin or skip your workout altogether because your next Zoom call is about to begin – even though you aimed to make this the week you got up early to work out or Make time for a solid, high-protein breakfast before work.
If you get stuck on the autopilot, you are unaware of your decisions. As adults, we make an average of 35,000 decisions a day. And research shows that 96% of people admit most of them without even thinking. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard my clients say that they had no idea how they managed to clean an entire bottle of wine in one sitting, or that they ate a whole bag of chips while watching TV. And don’t get me started on how many times I hear how hard it is not to hit the snooze button anymore.
Why you feel stuck
I admit it is difficult to change. But it’s even harder when you run the show on cruise control. As I already mentioned, The brain is always trying to protect you – it wants to keep you safe and comfortable. In this case, it develops an unconscious decision-making system to do routine tasks. This is great unless you want to change your routine.
The operation of the autopilot is as follows:
- Hit snooze without knowing it
- Eat leftovers from your children’s plates
- Buy the same groceries in the store
- To realize that you have “forgotten” about the training
- Check your phone while waiting in line
Blame your comfort zone
Once you know the easiest way to do something (that can feed yourself, deal with stress, or ignore your growing waistline), your brain’s learning centers will go into repetition mode and essentially shut down. Your mind seeks to tread the path of least resistance to conserve resources. It also longs for routine. Because in general, not knowing what’s going to happen next is stressful.
When you don’t have to think about how to do your chores, it is a much simpler requirement on your body and brain. You do the same thing over and over, staying neatly hidden in your comfort zone and not having to put in any extra effort or feel the effects of additional stress or insecurity.
That’s why your comfort zone could be to blame if you’ve been constantly fighting over why you can’t seem to lose weight or get in shape. There is too much uncertainty! And really, I would argue that 2020 has already given us more than our fair share of that feeling.
But uncertainty has its advantages.
According to research by Yale, it signals the brain to develop new learning skills. In this study, monkeys were taught to push different goals – each with its own reward system. They had a choice between a red goal, which rewarded them 80% of the time, and a green goal, which rewarded them 20% of the time.
Once they found the red target was more profitable and pushed it further, the researchers added to the uncertainty by making the green target more profitable instead. They noticed that the monkeys’ brain activity was dramatically reduced when they had certainty (i.e., they knew which button to press). As uncertainty became a factor, their learning centers lit up.
This just proves that stability, while comfortable, affects your ability to learn and grow. Again, that’s fine when making your morning cup of coffee, letting the dog out, or driving to the store. It’s a whole different thing when you are trying to move the needle on your health.
How to exit autopilot mode
To make progress on your goals, you must first step out of your current comfort zone. Because if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always had. Here are 6 strategies I use with my own clients to help them feel more comfortable with a little bit of uncertainty.
Change your routine easily
I’m not saying you need to get up 3 hours early or revise your processed diet overnight, but by making a small change to your day you are activating your frontal cortex, which moves your behavior from the subconscious to the conscious. So, take an alternate route to get groceries, style your hair differently, choose that coffee mug you never use, or end your hot shower with a dash of cold water.
Leave expectations behind
While clear expectations work for some people, it can be intimidating for others. That’s why I love to use the “I just want to see …” method with my customers. Instead of focusing on the result, try this on for size: “Just want to see if I can lose 30 pounds.” Or, “I just want to see if I can get up at 5 a.m. every day to meditate.” Or: “I just want to see if I can sit down to eat instead of eating straight from the fridge.” When you break free from expectations, allow yourself to be curious enough to find out what is possible.
Think about your winnings
Take advantage of familiarity and comfort by reviewing some of your great accomplishments. What have you done before that took courage or learned something new? Often times, people decrease (or forget about) their profits. However, realizing what you have bravely done in the past can help build your confidence and create the conditions for future success.
Find a role model
If you take a look at your circle of friends personally or professionally, is there anyone who pushes themselves regularly? Someone who is never satisfied with the average and keeps doing things that you wish you could do such things too? Think of this person as a role model and use the nuances of how they behave, what they do, and how they relate to themselves. Before you know it, their influence will start to affect your behavior.
Register for a class
I know we all have time now, but consider signing up for a course or an online course. It could even be a free 45-minute webinar. The point is to commit to an activity that will get your brain working. This is how you activate your frontal cortex, which will temporarily shut down your autopilot mode and prepare you to make changes that could benefit your health and happiness.
Call BS on your excuses
When you say to yourself, “I don’t have time to exercise today,” or “I’ll start eating healthy on Monday,” you will become aware of what the truth is and what an excuse is. Practice some self-compassion and understanding, and you may find that deep down you are scared of exercise because you don’t want to look silly or aren’t sure what healthy eating means! Use this time to increase your awareness of the messages you are sending and the emotions that are at the center.
6 tips for getting out of your comfort zone
There is no doubt that this year we ran for comfort and familiarity. But if you get stuck on cruise control – especially if you don’t even know you are there – you won’t get any closer to your goals. Use these strategies to get out of your comfort zone and see what happens.
- Change your routine easily
- Leave expectations behind
- Think about your winnings
- Find a role model
- Register for a class
- Call BS about your excuses
Now tell me what you think! Is your comfort zone getting in the way?
About the author
Erin Power is the coaching and curriculum director of the Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients reestablish loving and trusting relationships with their bodies – while restoring their metabolic health so they can lose fat and gain energy – through her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.
If you are passionate about health and wellness and you want to help people like Erin for their clients every day, you should consider becoming a self-certified health coach. In this special information event hosted by PHCI Co-Founder Mark Sisson, you will learn the three simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in a maximum of 6 months.
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