When was the last time that you did something that scared you? I mean, a challenge that you were not sure you would master, something you had never done before, an action that went way beyond your comfort zone? If the answer and example come ready to you – congratulations! Do you have another one? Do you do such things with some regularity? If so, congratulations again.
Should your answer be a “no”, or a “I guess so” or you are not really sure, if this something is actually representing a true challenge, or even if you did something challenging and audacious but it was a couple of years ago, then let us speak about why it is so important to do something that scares you – sometimes, but with some regularity.
First of all, I don’t mean something, which is really risky and you put your life in danger – please no! As they say in stunt videos “please do not try it at home”. Taking stupid risks is stupid, period.
What I mean is stretching your comfort zone to the level, where you actually doubt if you are up for the challenge, where you truly wonder, if you will have enough physical health, mental discipline or emotional resilience to complete the envisioned task. Like approaching a stranger, fasting for a day, running 10km, finishing a marathon, initiating a difficult conversation, starting daily writing, etc, etc. Sometimes these scary things are just things that you simply do not like doing and that require a mental and emotional push to complete. Some other times, the scary projects are long-term commitments, which require a lot of work and determination (like starting a book, PhD or marathon training).
Nobody likes doing things they don’t feel comfortable doing and we all have a certain tendency to resist new things.
There is a physiological explanation to it: first, our brain always strives to reduce complexity and to save energy (that is why we have so many habits). Second, our energy systems like to save energy both short-term, by sending it to where it is most needed, and also long-term, by saving it in form of fat reserves (for a bad day), thus ensuring our preservation and survival. Also emotionally, we persist change and react highly irrationally to it, especially to any drastic change in our circumstances, both to positive and negative ones.
Our lizard brain and our energy systems do like the Pleasant Life, which is about comfort, lack of discomfort and maximisation of positive hedonic emotions. It is very pleasant indeed to be in this happy state with all your basic needs covered and misery eliminated. Let us wish that all people on this planet experience pleasant life. However, not having misery and being comfortable is not enough. It is not enough for human progress, individual development and growth and it is not enough for reaching meaningful life.
Inertia to remain at one state
The biggest trap of Pleasant Life is that we humans are highly adaptive creatures – once we reach a certain level of comfort and pleasure, we get used to it, very quickly actually, and go back to our default level of perceived happiness. This trap gets us on the “hedonic treadmill”, only to discover that positive emotions from material possessions and further increases in our comfort levels habituate very fast and we are not getting any kick out of it anymore. This is how we slowly discover the terrible boredom of being.
A much better way is to take advantage of the adaptation law and use our limited self-discipline to step out of our comfortable state, challenge ourselves with something new and slightly scary and habituate on the higher level of self-control and development. This law of adaptation is the fundament of physical training. In sports, it is also called the “overcompensation principle”, because our body reacts to stress (=training) by overcompensation, so it can handle stress again in the future. By training you very minimally damage the muscles and other tissues, and this damage is repaired during the recovery/rest following the training - but your body always overshoots a little, so that an overall improvement in your physical condition gradually happens. This principle is why beginners at any sport see big improvement when starting regular exercise.
The same magic works on emotional and mental levels: every time you “stretch” yourself, your nerves, brain, neurotransmitters etc. get to work and build their “muscles”, so that next time you are better prepared for the challenge. Growth only happens outside of your comfort zone! So if you want to grow, do something new and different every day, use your creativity to challenge yourself, do not fall into your habitual mindless routine – and do take on a bigger and truly scary challenge every year!
Why you need a Coach
The best place to start is to challenge yourself physically, because every physical challenge is also a mental and emotional one. It will require dedication, discipline and positive motivation. To gear up for a challenge you need commitment and discipline, a mentor who can help you stay focussed on the journey until you reach the peak. I will be happy to help you master this challenge as a coach. Here are some examples of my brave athletes and myself doing something scary:
- Committing to running a marathon in 6 months from zero running experience – and finishing it! Moreover, as a result, taking on a project of finishing all Marathon Majors.
- Running a half-marathon 6 months after giving birth (and looking after a baby and a toddler at home).
- Finishing 1st Ironman (a life changing experience)
- Conquering 30km of mountain run challenge.
- Finishing 2 Ironman races in 2 weeks.
- Training for 70km cross-country skiing race.
- Crossing Pyrenees on a bike.
And many more other examples. When you commit to such a challenge, it naturally scares you, especially first time. I remember, that I literally lost speech 3 days before my first Ironman. I was so scared and nervous, that I went silent. Some of my athletes reported the same experience. And how sweet it is to conquer such a challenge! However, the most important thing is to stay aware of the “reason why” we do it. Well, we don’t do because of winning and achieving, and not for earning “the bragging rights” (well, maybe just a little ☺) – this would be a way to “challenge treadmill” and to “so that was it?” feeling. Did you know that even Olympic champions suffer from “post-win” depressions, when they realize this feeling of emptiness following the euphoria of achieving such a big, hairy, audacious goal? No, we have a different motivation and a much more enlightened “reason why”!
- Do it, because of what you have to become in order to achieve such a goal.
- Do it, for what taking on such a scary challenge, persevering and achieving it, will make you become as a person.
- Do it for how much more aware, stronger, compassionate, resilient and positive will you become as a result.
It is not about the challenge itself, it is about you!
So, get out of our comfort zone and do so something scary today!