Beyond The Comfort Zone

I love my comfort zone. For me, I crave a spot on my couch with my dog on my lap and my family nearby. It’s cozy and safe and I’d stay there for weeks at a time if I didn’t have to drive my children to activities. I looked at the grandparents in Willy Wonka, the ones who spent entire years in bed, and said out loud, “That seems pretty awesome.” Knowing this about myself, I have to actively resist the pull of the sofa. 

While I love my time turning into an actual vegetable, I am far happier when I leave the house and try something new. For some, like my husband, trying a new sport or adventuring to a new place seems… normal. Exploring and challenging himself in new situations is a thrill he craves. But for me, leaving my comfort zone is, in fact, really, really uncomfortable. 

My rational brain knows that it’s good and even necessary to try new things. This year I’ve made it a point to find things that challenge my brain and body.

Try Something Big

I’ve tried very small steps: I’ve said “YES!” for most social invites this year. (For an introvert, this is huge!) We’ve made it a point to try new restaurants in different parts of town. I’ve taken new trails instead of the paths I have memorized on my runs. I even set a goal to try something really big. 

I read The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort To Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self in January and author Michael Easter explores the benefits of getting uncomfortable and pushing our own limits. He writes, “In newness we are forced into presence and focus. Newness can even slow down our sense of time. This explains why time seemed slower when we were kids.”

Penn and I made a pact to try something big, new and scary at least once a year until our bodies no longer let us.

This year: Kiteboarding.

The 3 Lessons I Learned

We’ve seen kiteboarders around beaches and in videos for the past several years. Using what looks like a wakeboard you’re powered by a kite instead of a boat. If it seems hard, it’s because it is. We signed up for a “zero to hero camp” in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This area is famous for kiteboarding because of the shallow waters and consistent winds. Though I had been so bold and even bragged about our summer excursion – I was incredibly nervous as we walked up to the classroom the first day. 

My brain was in overdrive – What was I thinking? I can’t do this! Those kites are huge and I’m not a large person! I’m going to fly away and never see my children again. But Penn, being the voice of reason countered with, “We’ve already paid in full. We have to do it now.” Here’s what I learned by pushing myself to do the scary thing: 

#1 Doing hard things is actually hard.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m a perfectionist. I hate sucking at things and I was guaranteed to suck at this new skill. That perfectionism can keep me from trying something new. If I don’t push through that anxious feeling, I wouldn’t leave the couch. Michael Easter wrote in his book, “Fear is apparently a mindset often felt prior to experience.” I don’t know if this is something everyone experiences, but before I try just about anything, I’m a little afraid. Learning how to push through, in a safe way, was huge for me. 

On the first day we learned how to just hold the kite while standing in the waist-deep waters of the Pamlico Sound. It’s a huge kite and I’m not a large person. We were a safe distance from other people but I was really scared it would hit the water and hurt someone. I had to find confidence in my own strength. 

#2 Doing hard physical things is mentally exhausting.

Penn and I both brought our computers in hopes of knocking out some work projects in the breaks and in the evening. We were both so physically and mentally zapped we could do nothing more than stare at a TV screen. We didn’t even have energy to have a conversation. At first, I felt the familiar tug of shame for not being “productive” at the end of the week. I had to give myself some grace that the mental and physical things I was doing – were very productive. 

On the second day we did something called, “body dragging”. It sounds like you’re committing a crime and getting rid of the evidence, right? It’s less fun (I kid) but a way to master how to control the kite to have it pull you in a certain direction. Before you introduce a board into the equation, we needed to learn how to steer the kite. 

#3 The reward is worth it. 

As we age, we aren’t getting that A on the report card or even the participation trophy at the end of a game. Unlike elementary school when there’s always something new to learn. Now, we have to put in on the schedule months in advance, secure childcare, pay good money to take on a big new skill. It’s no wonder we don’t do it often!

But when I (finally) stood up on the board … It felt amazing. Sometimes it’s scary to go out of your comfort zone. But all the fear, the exhaustion, and (let’s face it) aches and pains are all worth it.

I’m still sore from the experience, but I’m excited to get more practice. Listen to our discussion about the experience and all we learned in this week’s podcast: