In my time as an outdoor adventure guide, you have NO IDEA how many times I uttered the sentence "You just gotta take that step outside of your comfort zone!". This was either met with great courage and a battle cry... or tears and wailing sobs.
Ever since becoming deeply involved in the outdoor industry, I've been fascinated by watching people react when faced with the certain adversity that exists within adventure sports. Everyone meets hardship in their life differently and I think it's a great way to feel out what people are capable of and where they have the most potential for growth. Adventure sports bring a certain element of unpredictability that amplifies the power of these moments. Life starts coming at you pretty fast once you realize your whitewater raft is pointed at an 8-foot waterfall and you have nowhere else to go. The comfort zone isn't a place that everyone seeks to leave, yet by taking a few steps into the unknown, you can uncover how powerful you really are.
Only a few years ago, I learned about the several stages of moving from your comfort zone to a stage of growth and joy. They are as follows: Comfort, Panic, Learning, and Growth. Each stage represents the unique challenges and achievements throughout your adventure. While many of my experiences relate to outdoor recreation, these principles are almost universal in your life. Seeking comfort and challenging yourself to go beyond can be found in your relationships, in your work, and certainly in your pursuit to have an impact. Let's break it down.
The Comfort Zone: This is the easiest stage to stay in, as I believe the human species naturally gravitates towards comfort. Given the choice, what bed are you going to sleep in at the hotel? The small twin bed with one pillow that looks like a cardboard pizza box or a king-size bed with more pillows than you even know what to do with? It's natural to seek comfort and once you have it, it feels unnatural to leave it. THIS IS THE DANGER OF COMFORT! Comfort, if over-indulged, can become the greatest enemy of ambition. You might even slip into a place where life is good, you're fairly stress-free, and all of a sudden 30 years have passed by and you're wondering where the hell all the time went! I'm not saying that's always a bad thing, but pay attention to what our oldest members of society typically say when asked about their long lives. It's almost always along the lines of time moving too fast and wishing they did more that brought them joy! This seems like a wake-up call to make sure we start pushing ourselves while we have the chance! So... how do we do this?
Take the first step...
The Panic Zone: While this is a necessary rung in the ladder, it's not a spot we want to spend too much time. The panic zone is where butterflies start to churn in your belly and adrenaline begins to take over your mind. I've started referring to this moment in the outdoor industry as the "adventure blackout"! This feeling is the greatest threat to you leaving your comfort zone! You've just begun to wander my friend, break through!
*My sweet mother has joined me on so many of my outdoor pursuits. I know that many of them have made her EXTREMELY uncomfortable and I'm always so proud of her when she goes!*
In order to properly handle the effects of the panic zone, we have to be able to mitigate our own fight or flight reactions. To do this, focus on calculated risk-taking. This concept is entirely based on making sure that the steps out of the comfort zone are all within reason of a few things: your skill/competency in the area of challenge, evaluation of environment, and the risk/reward pay-off.
As an example, let's imagine taking on a zip-line course. In my experience guiding aerial adventures, I was often confronted with people who were absolutely terrified about the experience but were dragged into it by the others in their group. Some of these people were so paralyzed by fear that they froze and erupted into sobs and frustration. This is where our process of calculated risk-taking comes into play. Imagine you're a first-timer for this event and you really have no idea what to expect. In this scenario, you have none of the skills or competencies needed to do the trip alone. While evaluating your environment though, you find that your guides are extremely skilled and safety-oriented. All that leaves next is the risk/reward factor and this is entirely up to you. Be aware that it's easy to convince yourself that you can miss out and not regret it. Calmly weigh out your pros and cons and make the decision best for you.
“IN THE END… We only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have,and the decisions we waited too long to make.” - Lewis Carroll
Remember that it doesn't have to be an exciting outdoor pursuit that keeps you in the panic zone. Anything from learning a new skill, speaking in front of people, or even asking out the cute girl/boy across the room can bring you out of your comfort zone. Evaluate and make your move!
The Learning Zone: This is where we go once we take that step into the unknown. By preparing yourself to enter this step with an open and prepared mindset, you'll begin to really enjoy yourself! Things that were once happening quickly will start to slow down. Your goal while in the learning zone is to acquire new skills and to deal with the challenge ahead of you. By doing this, you'll also be growing your comfort zone! This area of learning is just a glimpse of our next step...
The Growth Zone: In the realm of stepping out of your comfort zone, finding growth is the crown jewel! Growth, excitement, and purpose are common reasons for one to take the initial step and both are found here in the last part of our journey. The growth zone is characterized by finding joy, experiencing a sense of purpose, setting new goals, and finding what really makes you feel alive. This isn't always going to be spurred on by a whitewater rafting trip or climbing a rock wall. You can find this kind of satisfaction in any pursuit you choose to take on. Imagine starting a new company, not knowing if it's going to fail or succeed. You take on all the challenges thrown at you and now you're in a spot of growth, where your impact can be felt most by those you set out to serve. That's a beautiful thing, right?
It's easy to overlook this final stage. The learning zone will feel good and you'll start to experience some comfort in that space. If you choose to stay there though, you'll never reach the payoff that is growth! The best way to leave the learning zone and to reap the benefits of the growth zone is to evaluate yourself and then set a new goal. This sounds a little extreme, but it can be as simple as sitting down to journal about your newest success. By evaluating our steps that lead to growth, we can refine this process and eventually become more practiced in taking these calculated risks towards what makes us comfortable.
I hope that you are encouraged to do something that makes you uncomfortable! The first few times you try it, it might seem awkward and you could even second-guess your decision. Trust me, nothing feels better than pushing into the unknown and discovering bits of you that you didn't realize existed. I know that if you decide to pursue your purpose with this kind of approach, you'll be happily rewarded as you go.
I love you, people! Thank you for taking the time to read through my thoughts. I'd love for you to share this with anyone you think it could impact. I write these because I enjoy it, but also in the hopes that I'll inspire someone else to find what lights them up. We could use more people who wake up with a burning desire in their hearts every morning. Thank you! And remember...
Adventure comes to those who GO!