Following Abram Outside of Our Comfort Zones

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There is an expression in the fitness world that is often found on motivational posters:  “If It Doesn’t Challenge You, It Won’t Change You.”  In other words, if we are doing exercises that don’t really push us beyond our comfort zone, we won’t see results; using the same weights and the same number of reps over and over is not only a recipe for boredom, but also for disappointment.  As a trainer, I continually work on progression, moving my clients from one level of challenge to the next.
This philosophy is true not just with regard to fitness, but in other areas of our lives as well.  At work, if we stick to the tasks we know well and never challenge ourselves to learn new skills or new parts of the organization, we will stagnate.  In school, if we only take subjects that interest us or are only on one topic, we will never expand our horizons and perhaps even our points of view.  In our relationships, if we merely ever stick to the tried and true, there is a danger of allowing love or friendship to slowly die.  We must always challenge ourselves.
I am reminded of this especially on this Shabbat when we read Parashat Lech Lecha.  The Lord spoke to Abram and told him to go forth from everything with which he was familiar to a new land where God would make him into a great and mighty nation.  Talk about getting outside of one’s comfort zone!  This was the ultimate challenge and not only did it change Abram (to Abraham!), but it altered the history of humanity.
Change is scary; it is tough to leave behind that with which we are comfortable.  One truth in life, however, is that change is inevitable.  We can be objects and have things happen to us, or we can be like Abram and be the subjects of our lives by challenging ourselves to be more tomorrow than we are today.

If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you

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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.