If you’re a regular listener of my podcast, you’ll know I’m a big believer in getting out of your comfort zone in order to learn, grow and achieve things you never thought possible.
I continue to challenge myself – I have done stand up comedy, I jumped out of a plane, I performed on the streets with my ukulele. And sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking: “I’ve got this dealing with fear thing sorted.”
But then I have an experience that makes me crumble, and I remember that the learning NEVER stops. Here’s the story:
I recently got back from a 10 day holiday in New Zealand.
Unfortunately, NZ has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, and I want to offer my condolences to those affected by the awful attack.
Fortunately, I had a much more positive experience when I was there. New Zealand is known for many things, one of them being extreme sports. If you’re an adrenaline junkie and love the outdoors, it is the place for you.
When we were there, Aaron and I went to a place called “Rock n Ropes”, a high wire ropes course. Each obstacle required you to climb a 12 metre (40 ft) high utility pole.
They put you in a rock climbing harness, to which a rope was attached and then strung over the hire wires. Your guide had the other end and they would belay you safely down once you completed the challenge, or if you fell.
Our guide, Phil, a lovely Irish man, gave us a quick briefing and got us strapped in to our harnesses. “Ok” he said. “Christina, you’re doing the trapeze swing. You’re going to climb up that pole, stand on top, reach out and jump to that trapeze in front of you. Easy.”
From the ground looking up, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I think I can do this. I’ve been skydiving. This should be easy in comparison!’
I shimmied up the pole using the wire hand holds. It was like climbing a circular ladder. I was full of confidence.
But at the top, it was a completely different matter. All of a sudden, the ground seemed very very far away. And not only did I have to stand on top of the pole without holding on to anything, there was a slight breeze, making the tiny platform quite wobbly.
My primal instincts quickly kicked in. My hands were clammy and my stomach was churning. Everything I could feel in my brain and body was telling me this was terribly unsafe, and that I should back down, get the hell out of the there and find somewhere warm to curl up with a warm blanket with a cup of hot milk. Oh, how I wished I could be anywhere but here!
I stood there for a long time. The thoughts in my head were very loud and very clear:
The trapeze is too far away.
I won’t make it.
How do I know this rope will hold?
What if the harness breaks?
Am I really properly strapped in?
What if Phil doesn’t catch me?
I am going to die!!
I vocalised some of these concerns to Phil, standing 12 metres below me. “The only way down is to jump, Christina!” he responded. “Don’t worry, the trapeze looks much further away than it actually is!”
I finally managed to pull it together, took a deep breath and leapt from the pole. I felt the trapeze bar under my hands as I gripped it for dear life and let out a squeal of relief.
“Ok, brilliant!” yelled Phil. “Now, bring your legs up, hook them over the bar and hang upside down!”
(Never trust these extreme sport people. Once you think you’re done, there’s always more.)
I managed to draw upon my gymnastic skills from my school days and hooked my knees over the bar. After letting go my hands, it was time to let go of my knees. Phil decided to let me free fall a few metres (cheeky bugger) before slowing me down and landing me softly back on the ground.
My knees were still shaking but I felt a huge rush of excitement as I realised what I had accomplished. Forget Lord of the Rings, I was Lord of the Ropes!
What I learned about fear
1. Be aware of the thoughts that try to keep you safe
The primal brain’s job is to keep you safe. When you’re in an extreme position like I was, the thoughts from my brain were VERY clear: don’t jump, go back, climb down. In day to day life, however, they can be more subtle:
Your idea is stupid, don’t speak up.
What if they don’t like me?
I need to present perfectly.
No-one will read my book.
I’m not ready for that promotion.
You may not be fully aware of these thoughts or how they hold you back. Or perhaps you’ve had these thoughts for so long, they feel like a part of you and your identity. So my challenge to you is to be more aware of the thoughts that hold you back from achieving your goals, and notice them for what they are – just thoughts, not reality.
2. Find YOUR edge
Everyone’s comfort zone is different. Don’t compare yourself to others – just because your colleague can get up and present to a group of 100 people doesn’t mean that’s where you have to be.
At the ropes course, my partner Aaron took one look at the trapeze and said “There is no way I’m doing that.” He is terrified of height…so he did the flying fox instead.
Phil told us that many skydivers who come to the ropes course are also terrified of some of the obstacles there, which seemed odd to me – surely if you can skydive, you can do anything! But, we can’t assume a certain level of comfort. Remember, everyone is different, and it’s ok to find YOUR edge and run your own race.
3. Trust in the process, and in yourself
One of my biggest fears was that the rope wasn’t going to hold. I had to fully trust that Phil knew what he was doing, that he had checked the ropes, and that I was clipped in properly.
More importantly, I had to trust that I COULD do it, and even if I couldn’t, that I was going to be ok.
So often we hold ourselves back because we don’t believe we can do it. Or, we don’t believe we can handle things if they don’t go to plan. But trust in ourselves is one of the most important things we can develop. Back yourself, and magic will happen 🙂
What have you learned about your own comfort zone? I encourage you to reflect on where your edge is, and to set yourself a comfort challenge to test it. I can tell you from experience it is incredibly liberating!