Step into your discomfort zone


“Becoming a creature of discomfort can unlock hidden potential in many different types of learning. Summoning the nerve to face discomfort is a character skill. An especially important form of determination. It takes 3 kinds of courage: To abandon your tried and true methods, to put yourself in the ring before you’re ready, and to make more mistakes than others make attempts.” 

When I read this paragraph in Adam Grant’s new book, Hidden Potential, it resonated deeply with me. Over and over again, I find myself in situations where I ask: “Why the hell do I keep doing this to myself?!” This question comes up on the river, in my business, and in my volunteer work with non-profit organizations.

The truth is that I thrive in discomfort. I don’t always like the feeling, but I know that when I have the courage to face discomfort I achieve great things, and increase my ability to make a difference for others.

Although my brain keeps asking why I do this to myself, my spirit knows that it’s because I seek out my discomfort zone.

Learning to face discomfort

It wasn’t always this way for me. When I was young I was very dramatic when it came to stepping outside of my comfort zone. The first time my Dad tried to teach me how to ride a 10 speed bike (yes it was the 80s) I cried and told him I wouldn’t be able to do it. He didn’t let me give up, and not only did  I learn that I could ride the bike, I learned that I LOVED it!

When my Dad registered me for the alpine ski racing program I cried again (the drama was real), terrified that the other kids wouldn’t like me and that I wouldn’t be good enough. Again, just like riding the bike, after the first day I was totally hooked. In fact, ski racing became an obsession, and still to this day, I get a ton of joy out of alpine skiing. My Dad and I still enjoy skiing together at the ages of 79 and 49!

I didn’t know it at the time (nor did he), but my Dad helped me start to develop the character skill of facing discomfort through sports.

Confidence is gained by putting yourself in your discomfort zone and realizing that joy/passion/fun is on the other side.

Some folks are able to learn this on their own, my journey has been that I’ve needed a coach and support to give me a little push, especially in the beginning.

“Abandon your tried and true methods”

In order to become a creature of discomfort, you’ve got to be willing to try new things and new strategies. Unfortunately, change is hard for humans, and we can become resigned into thinking that what we do doesn’t matter.

It’s understandable to have doubts and wonder if something different will in fact make a difference, but you never know until you try.

Earlier this year a tree fell into and blocked the eddy that I always catch above Zwicks on the Green. Catching that eddy was part of my ritual and my comfort zone on the river. I was afraid to run the rapid direct, but when the eddy was blocked I had no choice. And guess what, I still had great lines and a lot of fun. I had to try something new, and it worked.

A similar thing happened when the right line at Boof or Consequence got shut down due to changes and trees. I was ‘forced’ into running the middle entrance that scared me. Trying something different helped build my confidence.

‘Put yourself in the ring before your ready’

When people tell me that they’re waiting to take instruction with me until they have a roll or until they can run Class III or some other qualifier it drives me nuts. On the one hand I understand wanting to set and achieve goals. On the other hand, I feel like the drive to ‘be ready’ ends up holding people back.

When you jump in before you’re ready you give yourself the opportunity to get experience, coaching and feedback early, which means you have the opportunity to progress faster.

Practicing hard moves on easy water before jumping on harder water is important, AND I also advocate for pushing your limits a little earlier than you think you’re ready for, especially when you’ve got coaching and the right support.

Make more mistakes than other people make attempts

This one is key. It’s another way of saying give up your perfectionism. Making mistakes is part of learning. The wet exit and the roll are recovery strategies. Stop treating them as failures. They are opportunities to gain experience and learn. This is where hard moves in easy water can come in really handy. Go out and make mistakes in a forgiving environment so that your skills and confidence grow.

Always be testing. Instead of thinking about your growth and performance as finite experiences that define you, treat them for what they are – experiments on your journey.

If you want to learn and grow, I definitely recommend the book Hidden Potential, and if you’re ready to step into your discomfort zone I invite you to join  my live 8 week course, Mental Agility Mastery, starting January 15, 2024!