Happiness Beyond the Comfort Zone

In fifty-one days my husband Reece and I will be running, biking, and swimming the Marin Triathlon. There! I have set a specific, measurable, and actionable goal. Now that it is public, I am committed.

So here’s a cool thing I have noticed: three weeks into my training, I already feel major benefits from having set a goal and begun to work for it. The first positive effect is that I enjoy sharing a goal with Reece. Although we are unable to train together, we give each other support and additional accountability, and we spur each other on. It is also fun to direct our shared energy toward something other than our kids and household, as if our lives didn’t revolve around our kids’ lessons and social calendar ….. at least, not exclusively.

A second benefit is a phenomenon I have noticed before, whereby I begin to believe that I look better as soon as I start a new exercise regime. Thus, at the end of my second training session (well before the scale showed any weight loss) I felt that my stomach was flatter, my thighs leaner and more muscular. Maybe the endorphins are causing me to hallucinate. But I’m inclined to think that the positive self-regard that I get from being active supports a  better body-image. Whatever the reason, I get a boost simply because I think I look hotter, regardless of the truth (and Reece knows not to contradict me!)

The third and most striking positive effect is that tackling this challenge makes me happy. For years I had been working out at the same gym doing the same old stuff. It was a comfortable routine, and I was reasonably fit, but I had definitely plateaued. Now, my new goal has taken me out of my comfort zone and made me stretch and push myself.  Rising to this challenge brings me a great sense of satisfaction. The happiness I feel illustrates Daniel Pink’s assertion that we humans are wired to seek challenge and pursue mastery. Watch kids practicing the monkey bars until their hands are thick with callouses and their eyes glow with pride and you will see this fundamental drive in action. And since mastery is always elusive (after all, even the best athletes and artists continue to work at their craft) , it should not surprise us that we feel positive effects well before reaching the  goal. The joy is in the pursuit, not the attainment. So tomorrow morning I’ll be swimming, biking, and running — and I’ll be happy.

What about you? What kind of challenges to you seek? And what benefits do you receive?

p.s. As I finish this blog I realize that not once have I mentioned getting more fit. But of course, that is happening, too.

2 Comments

  1. This guy says you’re better off NOT announcing your goals/aspirations to the world: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_keep_your_goals_to_yourself.html

    I wonder which is better… I like talking about swimming and putting races/events on the calendar to keep me motivated, but is it always better to keep it to yourself?

  2. Thanks for your comment and for the TED clip, Jonathan! I remember reading somewhere in a book about writing that you should never tell people your idea for a story or novel, because telling the idea relieves the pressure to write it. And I can definitely see how, if you get lots of good feeling simply from announcing a goal, you might lose some of your need to do it and become less likely to do it. Besides, who am I to argue with decades of research? And yet, for me at least sometimes telling people and talking about my goal — certainly sharing the goal with Reece — actually fuels my training. But just to be safe, next time I announce it I’ll say, “I’m training for this triathlon, it’s gonna be a lot of work between now and then, and please kick my a__ if I don’t do it.”

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