I’m only 10 meters beneath the surface but it might as well be 1000. The water feels claustrophobic. I try to stay calm. As slowly go down further, I can feel the pressure on my mask and ears. I need to equalise. All I see around me is deep blue. The other divers are impossibly far away.
Did I mention I’m scared? All I wanted to do was get up to the surface again as quickly as I could.
I was scuba diving in Thailand, specifically, getting my open water certification. My ticket to independent diving. While my girlfriend Lanna was relaxed and happy, I was squirming to equalise my ears, and did not feel comfortable with the depth or the fact I had to breath through a mouthpiece.
I have long felt uneasy around deep water. All those shark attack movies, combined with a hyperactive imagination, made me fear deep water most of all out of any environment. It went so far that I even was scared of just wading through creeks while hiking. Going up to my knees in the water, I felt a sense of dread.
So why would I learn to scuba dive when it was blatantly terrifying for me?
My comfort zone. Getting out of it, that is.
Can't we just float on the surface?
WHAT IS YOUR COMFORT ZONE?
Put simply, your comfort zone is a natural state of balance where your activities and behaviours fit a routine that minimises stress and risk. Happy days and low stress.
The idea of the comfort zone is nothing new. In 1908 psychologists had already found that a state of relative comfort brought a steady level of performance.
So why would we ever need to leave our comfort zone then?
In the same research, they found that by with a small increase of anxiety, performance increased. This ‘Optimal anxiety’ was an area that could produce excellent results, all with a ‘little push’, so to speak.
And further to that, there are also other benefits that come along with going outdoors and getting a little push every now and then.
◘ Dealing with changes in life, even day to day things, can be greatly improved with regular challenges. A good outlook increases. The adaptability you gain from all those new experiences often makes new changes a little less scary. You’ll find yourself taking them on with more confidence.
◘ Productivity increases. With an active mind from challenges, the ability to increase productivity also goes up.
◘ The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction leads to happiness and positive self esteem. When you conquer a fear or obstacle, you are usually pretty stoked to have done it. From skydiving, hiking, climbing to public speaking or travel, all these things invoke a little bit of fear and anxiety initially, but the rewards afterwards are amazing.
◘ Getting out of your comfort zone outdoors has the added effect of connecting you with the environment again, leading to a host of great things. I’m a big fan of this, as it’s really adding even more great benefits on top of the others described above.
◘ New perspectives. While challenging yourself, you'll find you can see things from new perspectives. This happens because we can compare experiences with old ones, broadening our horizons, so to speak.
And these aren’t just short term gains. The overall self improvement is there to stay, every experience gained and lesson learned is an addition to your experience resume.
The key is to keep a balance. You can’t have high stress everyday. That’s why stress ‘usually’ normalises when we repeat and activity over and over. When I climb, I am not scared of heights in the same way I was when I first started. I have adapted and grown used to it. With new experience and knowledge came understanding of the systems, equipment and my capabilities. This then decreased my stress levels and left me with the range of benefits. I had grown and developed myself.
Keeping the balance gives us a rest. Our comfort zone isn’t something to loath or be disappointed in, or to stay inside our whole lives either. It’s good that it’s there. We need it. But just as important, it’s good to get out of that comfort zone and have a little push.
GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
We don’t all have to go on crazy adventures to ‘get out there’. The idea is to experience new things and manage that ‘optimal anxiety’ that has been found to be so useful. And along the way you have loads of fun and gain more confidence.
There are specific ways you can manage the optimal anxiety and even ways to teach yourself new skills. Known as the ‘zone of proximal development’, it’s the difference between what a beginner can and can’t do. The key is to find that ‘sweet spot’ in the zone where you can get out of your comfort zone and learn new things.
Starting the first step is the hardest (when isn’t it??). We are all the same. We all find it hard to do. But you can remember that just as you can step out of your comfort zone, you can always step back in.
Want to know how to get started, you know, getting out of your comfort zone?
Read my “How To Start Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone In The Outdoors” post for great tips and methods you can do it!