Our past experiences do a good job of creating a comfort zone. In this comfort zone, we know what to expect. There are no risks to take, no challenges to face, and no mistakes to make.
Eventually, we might find ourselves in a situation that makes us want to leave that comfortable place. We read something or hear about a new race or event that sounds challenging. We start to wonder what it would be like to take on a new challenge outside of the comfort zone. The intrigue grows, and we begin to take small steps away from safe and familiar.
Several months ago, I found myself in a situation that was definitely outside of safe and familiar. Colorado got a late Spring snowstorm, and my husband and I both had a pair of snowshoes that needed some trail time. Paul chose Quandary Peak, a 14er near Breckenridge, as our goal. Neither of us had ever snowshoed before, but we had been on this same trail in the past without snow. In my mind, it seemed manageable. Safe. Familiar.
What started as a fun snowshoeing adventure hit a pivot point at about 13,000 feet. This is where I took a big step outside of my comfort zone. The winds were blowing hard enough to rip my poles out of my hands. The beautiful, powdery snow challenged my legs to make forward progress. The tip of the iceberg (so to speak) was at about 14,000 feet when the snow and wind came together beneath my sunglasses, and I could no longer see where I was going. At that point, I had stretched myself far enough into the land of discomfort. I was ready to pull up on the reins and get the heck off that mountain.
Even though I was cold, scared, and imagining the worst case scenario, I was still feeling all right about the experience as a whole. And as we descended, the fear and discomfort were already beginning to fade into memories and ammunition for the next adventure.
1. To know your limits, test your limits.
To go outside of your comfort zone, you have to know where your boundaries are. Otherwise, you can’t get beyond them.
The boundary of your comfort zone may not be something you figure out until you’re actively walking the lines of those boundaries. Then all of a sudden, you know. Yep, I’ve crossed over. And I’ve set new limits for the next time.
2. Recruit the right support.
The right kind of support is someone who will push you that little extra bit when your comfort zone is actively trying to reel you back in. The right type of support needs to understand you well enough, so they know when to push you and when to back off.
Someone who pushes you to do something when you’re not ready and will result in physical harm? Not the right kind of support. Someone who pushes you to do something and knows that you are prepared and figures out how to inspire you to take a step outside of what you think you’re capable of? The right kind of support.
Last weekend, Paul was the right kind of support. Even though I had a few mini-breakdowns (my tears froze onto my face) as we were climbing, he got me to the peak. And when we reached the summit, and I could no longer see in front of my face, he pulled the plug with me.
3. Bring the proper gear.
The attempt to try something new and uncomfortable can be (and has been) thwarted by improper gear. Giving up on an adventure because my hands get cold or I forget my trekking poles at home slams the door on the opportunity to grow.
Getting uncomfortable with physical and mental challenges is tough enough. I don’t need to throw in a bonus challenge of cold hands. Not to mention, it always feels worse later on knowing that I could’ve kept going, but my stupid hands were the problem that could have easily been prevented.
4. Draw on past experiences.
Remember that last time you did something crazy, and it was tough, but you made it through and grew because you pressed ahead?
Even if it’s a seemingly unrelated experience, there is probably some connection you can make between say, being uncomfortable making a speech in front of 500 strangers and climbing a mountain while being pummeled with snow, wind, and more wind. Remind yourself that you can do the tough stuff. It helps. And if it doesn’t, refer to #2 on this list. They’ll remind you.
5. Get out regularly.
The less opportunity I give myself to be uncomfortable, the harder it is next time I try to make it happen. Those past experiences begin to fade. And when they’ve disappeared, and I need them the most (like at 14,000 feet), I find myself conjuring up “safe images.” Places I should be instead of on the side of the mountain. Like on my couch. With my dogs. Watching Netflix.
Retreating to the everyday ho-hum happenings does not push us to grow. We need to get ourselves on the side of that mountain regularly so that we can practice for the next time.
And the next.
Once we were safely back at the truck and heading toward gigantic breakfast burritos, we replayed bits and pieces of what had happened on the mountain. And what we would do the next time. Because yes, there will be a next time.