As much as I'd like to think of myself as superwoman (only kidding), the reality is that like everyone else, I have my comfort zones. In terms of training, it's the drills I know well and like, the number of pushups I know I can do, the positions in rolling which I'm better at. These are just examples.
I admit, I'm not the greatest self-motivator. When nobody is around, I work during my workouts, but I rarely push the boat out, or when I do, not long enough. I know it, I just seem to have trouble doing better. I will try some goal setting so I have something to work towards.
Now if I'm in class or at a grading, it's a different story altogether. I'm not sure if it's my competitive nature or if someone's expectations are motivation enough for me, but I sure push myself then. Suddenly, my comfort zone boundaries stretch substantially. I don't care how difficult or tiring it is, while there is any gas left in the tank, I keep pushing. Knowing that this works, I have used it. For example, stayed for sparring classes straight after full on Karate lessons, so that I would need to dig deep. And I don't think it's an ego thing, I just want to get used to fighting in a fatigued state, and have the opportunity to push myself.
During BJJ classes, I have come up against my limits quite often. I think I automatically step outside my comfort zone every time I step on the mat :-) But that's ok and in a way it's part of the overall challenge of BJJ. Especially when I first started, I'd inevitably end up on the bottom during a roll. Most of the guys are heavier than I, so I was squished and squashed and submitted every which way. There were times I couldn't breathe, couldn't move, was in pain and all those sorts of things which is why people love submission wrestling ;-) And there were many times when the gas tank was empty. Nothing more to give, arms like jelly, vision narrowing, breathing hard. But not once, even if at that instant some big guy sits on my chest, trying to rip my arm out, will I moan about how hard it is. Let me have a breather, a sip of water and let me at it again.
But there is no way that I would be able to replicate that kind of energy output while I'm working out solo.
Well, I'm not unique in this respect. I stumbled across a post on The Psychology of Success blog which talks about the same thing. It's called: To improve performance, you may want to get an audience or compete.
Also interesting are Roy Dean's comments regarding how to set a goal and then have a special occasion when you demonstrate to yourself and your teachers and peers that you have reached that goal. Have a look at Jimmy DaSilva: BJJ Brown Belt on Roy Dean's Blog. Awesome.