This morning in spin class as we were pedaling through a particularly difficult “hill,” the instructor said “if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” I think this was a nice way of telling us that if we did not have enough resistance on our bikes, we would not get the full benefit of the workout.
Of course, this has applications beyond spinning. As a personal trainer, it is up to me to work with my clients to safely push themselves beyond their comfort zones. Many people come to the gym “knowing” exactly what their capabilities are, i.e., “I can only do 30 pounds on the leg curl,” or “the most can walk around the track is one mile.” In truth, none of us knows what are true capabilities are. How many people do we know who, when faced with adversity, have who shown extraordinary grace and courage? How many times have we surprised ourselves by doing something we never thought possible? How many of us have crossed a finish line in a race marveling that we reached this goal?
Staying in our comforts zones does not allow us to grow or change. If we never look at issues from a different angle, try something new, or connect with people with whom we believe we have little in common, we will find it difficult to move beyond where we are and who we are in this moment.
Staying in our comforts zones is also not a Jewish value. Our tradition places little emphasis on being “comfortable.” The laws in the Torah, the words of the prophets and the teachings of the Sages were all meant to push us to be more than we think possible–as individuals and as a people. We were not meant to stay in Egypt; we were destined to head out into a wilderness, not really knowing what the future would hold. Even the names “Yisrael,” which means to struggle with God, is a hint that we should never feel like we know all the answers, that we have “arrived,” and have no need to change. Our tradition is filled with challenges and this makes us who we are as a people.
The next time we walk into the gym, or into the same drama with family members, or the same dead-end conversations with partners and spouses, we would be wise to remember that if it doesn’t challenge us, it won’t changes us.
Don’t run from the challenge. Embrace it. Change.