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Escape Your Comfort Zone (Even If It Gives You Freshers’ Flu)

Posted Mar 05 2013 2:12pm

I just had something of a revelation. After a week of feeling like death warmed up, I’ve realised… I’ve got Freshers’ Flu.

You’ve gotta laugh at times like this. Here I am, with my grown-up job, in my grown-up flatshare, with my grown-up clothes and attitude and a healthy living blog… And I’ve essentially been living like a student.

A proper student, I mean. The part-time PhD doesn’t count.

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Now, I haven’t been raving ’til 4am and heading for a drunken McDonalds in my pyjamas, and I haven’t been through any crazy hazing parties involving several bottles of White Lightning, something called the Jug of Death, and various incomprehensible drinking games. I also haven’t had to cope with freezing cold showers or spent any time hobbling across campus in daylight dressed as a crazy pirate hooker, but I also haven’t done any studying, so that seems a fair trade off.

But I have gained a couple of pounds, and contracted the worst cold known to man, as a result of many, many welcome drinks and “you should try this type of cuisine” dinners, combined with a very different-shaped day that means I’m snacking in place of breakfast and eating huge meals late in the day to compensate for my irregular eating patterns.

I’ve also been absolutely skint. London is hella expensive. My credit card is quite literally wearing out. I nearly didn’t get paid because I told my new workplace the wrong account number, because it had worn off my card. This is not good.

Essentially, I’ve been placed in exactly the same situation I was when I was a first-year student, with a very similar outcome thus far. I’ve found myself in a place where I don’t know anyone and I don’t know what I’m doing, wondering if I’d have been better off just staying at my parents’ house and following my dream of becoming a rock star… Or something like that. You get what I mean.

And after just a month, my skin looks like crap, my hair has developed enough static to create lightning for several weeks, my nails are thinner, and I’ve definitely gained about four pounds. Not quite the Freshman fifteen – but I get it. It’s the same deal.

Now, let’s be realistic. Four pounds, in the grand scheme of things, is nowt – especially as I hit the 140lbs lost mark during my first week here. It’s a net gain of three. I think I can afford that, and I’d kind of planned ahead for it.

After all, I’ve allowed myself this patch to get my bearings and figure out what’s what – even down to little things like working out who owns what equipment in the kitchen, when’s a good time to cook, where the hell I can buy my favourite foods at a price I can actually afford, and so on. And actually, if we’re totally honest here, it’s testament to the long-term changes thing that I can spend a month essentially bathing in saturated fats and alcohol and only gain as much as I’d usually fluctuate around my time of the month. Which it is. In that sense, I haven’t gained anything at all.

But you can see what I’m getting at. My Dad put it really well this weekend, when he said I’d essentially thrown everything in my life in the air and now I’m trying to work out where it’s all landed so I can pick it up again. Which is, to all intents and purposes, exactly what happens when you’re a student. What’s odd about this situation is that I’m actually kind of reassured by it. It means I’m still changing, and still learning.

I think feeling like you’ve got it all figured out is nice, up to a point – but the things that make you in this life are the ones that break you a little bit. And to add another horrible cliche, I’m kinda behind the idea that the stuff that’s hard is the stuff that’s really worth doing. I really, really hate that whole “comfort zone” thing, with the “where the magic happens” being outside of that. Like, really hate it. I see it, and a little bit of my soul aches. But unfortunately, it’s kind of true.

The thing about your comfort zone that the cliche doesn’t mention, though, is that it moves with you. This is both a good and a bad thing. For instance, I’d wager that you will almost always adapt faster than you expect to positive changes. You might spend a little time at first wondering what on earth you’re doing, and what kind of unholy stupid idea it was to change things from how they were. I think that for the first five minutes every time I get on a cross trainer. But after a little bit, you realise you’re relaxing a little. Soon enough, it’s all good. You’ve got it.

This is the good side.

However, it’s also easy to change a bit, adapt, and then stay put. That’s why we plateau, both in terms of weight loss and in a wider sense. You’ve got to stay focused on improving yourself and your life in a number of ways, both physically and – more importantly – mentally and emotionally.

But the path to success is never totally straightforward, nor is it smooth, easy, or without complications. So when change is the only constant, you have to keep adapting what you expect, but stay focused on what you want. It’s the whole reason I say repeatedly that it’s not, and never should be, just about weight loss. The scale is not the measure of you – and I say this as someone who’s lost almost half their body weight. Me and the scales are way too close as it is.

Instead, you should measure yourself by what you’ve achieved by staying on your toes, and constantly jumping out of your comfort zone. Whether that’s lifting a slightly heavier weight, walking to work, changing your job or throwing yourself headlong into a relationship; whether it’s trying sushi, quitting smoking, or simply learning to speak up – change is change.

And change is good, so long as you choose to see it that way. If, every time you decide to make a change thinking that long-term, it’ll improve you – no matter how much or how little – it’ll seem a lot easier to face. Even if it gives you freshers’ flu – which, incidentally, can be eased by Ryan Gosling and Swiss chocolate, in case you’re wondering.

I’ve always had an inkling of this, deep down, but the last few weeks have really brought it home to me. I’ve lived a lot more intensely over the last month, and I’ve felt every emotion from utter fear and despair to a sort of reckless what-the-hell-am-I-doing joy – but it’s a good thing. I’m living, it’s exciting – and now, as the dust settles and I know the big, scary things are under control, I can start to concentrate on picking up the stuff that really makes me happy and well.

In other words: pass the green tea, guys. I’m back.

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