Life begins at the end of your comfort zone – Neale Donald Walsch
- a situation where one feels safe or at ease.
- a settled method of working that requires little effort and yields only barely acceptable results.
Earlier this year I competed in the Coast to Coast — a 243 kilometre multi-sport race from Kumara Beach on the West of the South Island to New Brighton on the East Coast.
I’d agreed to do it about 10 months earlier, over a glass of wine with a friend. The next morning I wondered why.
About two weeks later we had signed up for our first kayaking course at Mangaweka. We’d both bought kayaks on TradeMe, and I had mine delivered to Mangaweka.
We arrived at the adventure centre in Mangaweka and the Rangitikei River was raging. I saw my wisp of a kayak sitting on the grass, and looked out at river, and again, I wondered why.
I tipped out of my kayak four or five times that day. It was mid-winter. It was freezing. I was shivering, jaw-chattering and miserable.
We went out again the next day.
And weekend after weekend, we went back.
We’d strap our boats onto the roof rack and leave Wellington about 6am on a Saturday to drive four hours to Mangaweka by mid-morning, kayak for a few hours, then drive home again. It was always cold. The river was always unpredictable. My kayaking was unpredictable!
I was constantly anxious – on the water, on the drive up, and almost every other waking moment.
But on our fourth or fifth day, I got down the river without tipping out. What joy!
And what joy when I managed to do it again, and then again.
I’ve come to realise there is no joy like going outside of your comfort zone, confronting your fears and anxiety, and getting the breakthrough.
One of my greatest moments of joy, ever, was crossing the finish line for the Coast to Coast. Nothing can compare with the exhilaration I felt.
I’d just gotten through two long, challenging days of cycling, mountain-running, and kayaking. My worst fear had been coming out of my boat during the race. It had happened.
I came out in rapids, I struggled to hold onto my boat and my paddle, I struggled to kick to the shore, and when I’d just about reached one side of the river I lost my footing and got swept to the other side, choking on water and slamming into a rock, before I finally found myself sitting on the river bank with my boat and my paddle next to me, my leg throbbing, and tears in my eyes.
I wondered what it would be like to give up. Then I told myself to get up, and I carried on.
That ordeal, and finding the strength and courage to carry on, were what made the finish line so exhilarating. For the rest of the race, I could feel my pride at overcoming ‘the worst’ rising inside me and driving me forward.
Can joy also be found in the creature comforts of a nice cup of tea and a good book? A safe job and safe vacations? Yes.
But to really experience life, I think we need to alternate between our creature comforts, and breaking through our discomforts.
I read today that once you start stepping out of your comfort zone, it gets easier over time. There’s a state of ‘optimal anxiety’ or ‘productive discomfort’ associated with being outside your comfort zone that becomes more normal to you. You become willing to push a bit further into it. Over time, what used to cause you anxiety, no longer does.
A few weeks ago, on the brink of signing a $75,000 contract to build a website from which to launch a new social enterprise, I looked back at my comfort zone. I considered how easy it was there. I thought how safe it would be to go back. And then I stepped forward, deeper into the anxiety.
The Coast to Coast has shown me I can manage the anxiety, even be driven by it, and that the exhilaration will be worth it in the end.
All going well, my social enterprise will launch in two months time. Every time I think about what we need to do to get there, I feel another bite of anxiety. So I keep visualising what it’s going to feel like on the finish line, and I keep pushing on.
I hold in my mind a diagram I once saw of two circles, a really small one, and a really big one. Inside the small circle it read: ’Your comfort zone’. Inside the big circle: ‘Where the good shit happens’.
I decided the first time I saw the diagram that wanted ‘the good shit’. I’m prepared to keep going outside my comfort zone to enjoy that.
What about you? Do you choose the big circle or the small one? Where could a step outside your comfort zone take you today?
We have to be honest about what we want and take risks rather than lie to ourselves and make excuses to stay in our comfort zone – Roy T Bennett.
- One thing I’ve learnt from being outside my comfort zone, is how important it is to have a great support crew. I was blessed to have an amazing crew for the Coast to Coast (big thanks to the Frews, Sue McCabe and Lisa Allen!) and I also feel hugely blessed by the support crew gathering around my social enterprise (there are so many but special mention this week to Tracey Bridges, Sue McCabe, Fran Drager, Tamsin Wilkins, Vic Bartram and Jenny Bridgen)
- For more on how and why to break out of your comfort zone, check out this great article on Lifehacker. They say that when you are willing to get outside of your comfort zone, you benefit from being more productive, more able to cope with change, bolder and more creative. That sounds worth it! And they give lots of tips for how you can start small. No need to start a business or do the Coast to Coast!
- As always, thank you for reading (especially if you’ve made it this far!). If you found this blog useful, please share it with others it could be helpful to too (you can use the social media icons below). And if it sparked anything for you, I’d love for you to leave a comment. Thank you 🙂