The Importance of Pushing Yourself

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“Feel the fear and do it anyway.” That wasn’t a phrase I used to have much affinity with. Afterall, why would we want to feel fearful? Surely scary situations should be avoided at all costs?

Last week, I wrote about what happens to us when we’re chronically stressed. One of the most interesting things I’ve learned about stress is that we need some of it in order to take on new challenges and drive us forward. So, we really do need to feel that fear and do it anyway. We need to push ourselves. We’ll be glad we did.

“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear” – George Addair

As someone who struggles with anxiety and is certainly more introvert than extrovert, I have often shied away from big challenges. I remember politely declining a violin solo at the school Christmas concert aged 12. I was scared of failing or embarrassing myself. It’s been that fear or failure or humiliation that’s prevented me from pushing myself in the past. Of course, there were the odd occasions that I did try things out of my comfort zone (taking my driving test and trekking 26 miles for charity for example). On the whole though, until the last few years, I spent most of my life choosing the safe option. I also spent a lot of time feeling bored and underwhelmed – I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

The turning point

My fear of failing reached its pique about two years ago. I was commuting for three hours a day to a job that didn’t inspire me and living back in the family home. I was scared to change jobs because while my current one wasn’t satisfying, it was comfortable. I constantly talked myself out of moving into my own place, because while it was potentially exciting, it also carried risk. Again, I stuck with what I knew; I suppose you could say I had a comfort complex. I felt constantly bored and frustrated. I turned down interviews and job offers because I was worried it wouldn’t work out. I missed out on great flats because I thought I couldn’t handle living alone. Ultimately, I didn’t achieve anything in that time.

Eventually, I snapped. I handed in my notice with nothing to go to. Some people thought I was reckless, some said I was brave. Maybe I was both! I had no idea what I wanted to do, there was no plan. I wish I could tell you that everything magically fell into place, but unfortunately life is never that simple. Being faced with uncertainty but a future I had complete control over suddenly made me realise something. I’d spent my life waiting for things to happen. I thought a different job or relationship would fix my problems and be the answer to all my worries. I was making other people responsible for my happiness. So, I decided to take accountability for my own – I started pushing myself.

Baby steps

I started small. I tried new exercise classes at the gym, something that can be pretty daunting when you go alone. That led me to signing up with a personal trainer. I was anxious about being out of work but seeing myself getting fitter and stronger helped to build my confidence and allowed me to feel positive about my opportunities.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m more than a little bit mad about yoga! None of my friends were, however. I’d spent months looking into yoga retreats but always talked myself out of it – my reasoning being you can’t possibly go on holiday alone, right? Wrong. Before I could dwell on it for too long (and talk myself out of it again!) one day, I picked up the phone and booked onto the retreat I’d been admiring for weeks. I went for a long weekend so it wasn’t too overwhelming. Still, I was so nervous when I boarded the plane – what if it was a disaster?

I couldn’t have been more wrong. It genuinely was the best thing I’ve ever done. I spent my days in the Spanish sunshine, doing yoga, meditating, hiking and chatting to people from all over the world. I left with an invitation to Switzerland to visit some of the friends I’d made there. I well and truly caught the yoga retreat bug. And I surprised myself: I loved travelling alone. I liked being able to choose my own activities and have quiet time when I needed it. It’s now my preferred way to travel!

That retreat was eighteen months ago. Since then, I’ve continued to push myself. I took a risk on a new job and finally moved into my own place (it was definitely worth the risk!).

My biggest challenge to date has been signing up to a yoga teacher training course. I’ve always been more academic than practical; my comfort zone would have been to read books on yoga theory and write essays on it. Of course, there’s been none of that! I’ve had to stand up in front of the group and teach a sequence multiple times and last weekend, I had to lead a 15 minute (assessed!) workshop. It’s everything I dread: public speaking, the fear of failure, potential humiliation. Everything I would’ve avoided just a few years ago. While I found it more than slightly nerve-wracking, I’ve learnt so much more about myself and my confidence has grown in a way that it wouldn’t have had I just stuck to what I was comfortable with. I’ll qualify in just two weeks time and I’m already on the lookout for my next big challenge… any suggestions?

Tips for pushing yourself

  • Think about what you enjoy… If you like music, learn an instrument. If you love to travel, sign up to a foreign language course. My decisions stemmed from my hobbies and interests; I think that’s what kept me committed.
  • Start small… You want to push yourself just outside of your comfort zone. Don’t push too far. For example, if you’ve never been on a plane, it’s probably not a great idea to book a flight to Australia! Build yourself up with mini-challenges.
  • Let go of negativity… Since I started challenging myself, one thing that’s amazed me is how quick we are to put our own anxieties onto others. I’ve got friends who still say “why do you want to do that, it could go wrong?” It’s easy to get frustrated by comments like these or take on their fears, but I try to remember that their thoughts are about them, not me. Focus on your goals, do what feels right for you and let any negativity bounce off you. Just keep on pushing forward!

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