Expand Your Comfort Zone by Controlling Your Flinch Mechanism

For my 26th birthday, Dia took me sky-diving. The car ride down was exciting. The sign-up process gave me the jitters. The moment I looked out the airplane door, my entire body froze.

In the Summer of 2019, two of my best friends got married. Both of them asked me to give a speech at their wedding. The first speech was in front of 500 people. For the second speech, I had less than a few days to prepare. The creative process of writing each speech was fun. Allowing others to read and critique it built my confidence. When the MC announced my name, I looked for the nearest exit door.

In these scenarios, and many others, the moment immediately before the undesirable task at hand is practically paralyzing. We’ll refer to this moment of pause as “The Flinch”. 

“The Flinch” is the feeling of resistance right before doing something you really don’t want to do. The task could be difficult, scary, or simply unpleasant. The voice inside your head screams “retreat!”. Your feet turn into cement blocks. It’s impossible to move forward.

Many people think you have to be fearless to do something brave like public speaking or sky-diving. I disagree. I think bravery is embodied by those who move forward even though they’re afraid.

The problem remains. Many can’t move forward. They back out. They get cold feet. They rationalize not doing something difficult by making an excuse: “It’s not safe”, “I can’t”, “I don’t want to”, etc.

I’m not advising you to jump out of airplanes or seek public speaking opportunities. I am, however, imploring you to get comfortable with your flinch. Identify it. Play with it. Analyze it. Defeat it. 

Over the years, I’ve trained my ability to recognize the flinch and move forward anyway. I’ve done that by implementing three unpleasant experiences to my routine. Here they are:

Daily: Cold Showers

Cold showers are unbearable. That’s why they are a perfect way to start building your resilience against “the flinch”. There’s a lot of “broscience” out there on the benefits of cold showers. Here are a few benefits that have been proven by legit scientific studies. 

  1. Increase antioxidant levels due to repetitive oxidative stress. 
  2. Jump start the sympathetic nervous system
  3. Improve your mood
  4. Increased dopamine

All of these benefits are fine and dandy. None of them are the reason I partake in subjecting myself to a cold shower. I do it because it sucks. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I can’t help but pause before rotating the nozzle to the cold side every. single. time. I recognize the flinch, take a deep breath, do it anyway. 

How I do cold showers: Every shower starts with regular hot water. After I apply and rinse away the shampoo and body wash, I apply the face wash and conditioner. As soon as those two things are on, I turn the water to its coldest setting while maintaining full pressure. I take a minute to rinse off the conditioner and face wash with my entire head submerged in the cold water. 

Weekly: Thursday Fast

Resisting the urge to eat when you’re hungry is next level Jedi training. That’s why I do one 20 hour fast per week. Fasting is a pretty common practice for Indian people. Both of my parents fasted one day per week for 30+ years. My dad recently stopped, so I picked up the habit where he left off. Not because I’m a good Indian, but because I’m crazy and semi-addicted to taking the path of most resistance. I’m trying to build habits that expand my comfort zone.

Here are some benefits of fasting: 

  1. Immune system regeneration
  2. Healthier aging

Fasting is Reverse Flinch Training. In this scenario, I’m holding myself back from something I actually want: food. I have to remind myself to flinch (pause) when I reach for food before 5PM on a Thursday. By doing so, I’m learning to live in the flinch. I’m getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. How many people do you know let their mood go awry if they’re hungry? It’s so common they came up with a word for it: Hangry.

How I do fasting: My fast occurs every Wednesday night into Thursday afternoon. I’ll be done eating around 8PM Wednesday night, and I won’t have my first meal until 5PM Thursday. Water or zero-calorie beverages only (black coffee / seltzer / diet coke FTW).

3-4x / Week: Wake Up Early to do CrossFit

This is the oldest habit of the three. I wake up at 445am to hit the gym every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and sometimes Tuesday. This one is a buy one get one special as far as Flinch Training goes. 

The first challenge is waking up and staying awake. There’s a split second between turning my alarm clock off and the critical next step. I can move into my morning routine, or I can hop back into bed. 

The second challenge is trying hard at the gym. Once the clock starts for a workout, it doesn’t take long to want to quit. Sweat starts to burn your eyes, your heart rate spikes, lungs are panicking: it’s not a pretty picture. However, I believe fighting the desire to retreat from a workout at the gym translates well to other challenges in life.

How I wake up early: I’ve introduced so many tactics to decrease the likelihood of crawling back into bed after turning off my alarm clock. First, my alarm clock is far away from my bed in another room. Next to the alarm clock is a full glass of water ready to be chugged. Next to the glass of water is my gym clothes. All of this was set up the night before, while my intention to hit the gym is really high. Once in a blue moon, I may be too sore or too tired to hit the gym so I allow myself to jump back into bed. This probably happens 12 times per year.

How I try hard at the gym: First of all, I don’t try hard. I consider getting to the gym a win. Anything I do at the gym is bonus. Once I shifted to 530am class in 2017, showing up was 90% of the battle. My mindset hasn’t really changed since then. I frequently “sandbag” the workout and still feel great about myself. 

Here’s the second of all: it’s a quick story that’s been life changing for me. Back in 2014 one of my friends gave me this advice right before a workout in competition: “It’s going to get super uncomfortable. Just accept that now before you even start. Hold on anyway.” That simple advice was a huge catalyst for how I mentally framed a workout. Since then, I basically “look forward” to the moment a workout becomes really difficult. That’s when my expectations have been met. Thanks, Kuya Kyle

Summary

As humans, we’re wired to seek the path of least resistance. We prioritize convenience. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’re all pursuing our own versions of an easy, happy life. However, don’t let yourself shrink in the face of adversity. If you tend to back away from a challenge, I strongly encourage you to start thinking about how you can expand your comfort zone. 

To some, it may seem silly to take cold showers, wake up before the sun comes out, or fast for 20 hours. But these strategies are effective for me. I whole-heartedly believe I can do anything. I think that sense of confidence comes from voluntarily “punching myself in the face” every so often. So start punching yourself in the face too. It’s fun.

One last story: The summer before heading off to college, a group of us went white water rafting. Halfway down the river, there was an area for cliff diving. It took me a legit 20 minutes to build up the courage to jump off a 20 foot cliff. Everyone was so angry at me for taking so long. No one even congratulated me when I finally jumped. Salt on the wound: they made a Facebook Group called, "Sunny Shakhawala is a Big Fat P****Y." I had to explain that to all of my new college friends the following Fall. Today, I would be the first one to go and take no more than 2 seconds to make that same jump. Bet.

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If you’re still reading. Here’s a Fun Fact: Tandem skydiving has a safety rate of 0.002 fatalities per 1,000 jumps on average over the past 10 years. Statistically, you're more likely to die being struck by lightning or stung by a bee. Have you ever sky-dived? If not, would you? 

Sunny Shakhawala

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