Over a Beer: Shatter Your Comfort Zone

Skier: Greg Heil. Photo: Tom Gordon

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

One of my personal goals over the past three years has been to challenge my comfort zone by attempting new activities–trying new things that I’m not an expert at. In fact, these new challenges may be activities that I have no experience with at all.

For example, I went whitewater rafting with a friend at peak water volume in Brown’s Creek Canyon on a raft that looks like it’s seen much better days (no offense, Tom) in 50-degree weather with thunderheads looming above us. As we started thinking in terms of warmth and survival instead of just having fun in the rapids, we traveled way outside of my comfort zone.

Top of Missouri Mountain, 14,075 feet
Top of Missouri Mountain, 14,075 feet

On another recent trip last summer I joined some friends for a few days of backpacking in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, summiting three different 14ers along the way. At that point I had backpacked once in my life (8 years previous,) and had never summited a mountain during a backpacking trip. While the experience was rather alien to me, it turned out to be an amazing trip!

Skier: Lisa. Photo: Greg Heil
Skier: Lisa. Photo: Greg Heil

Most recently, I completed a backcountry hut ski trip for the first time. Now I’m a very competent skier–some might even say expert-level–but I have less than 10 days of total backcountry ski experience. And I’ve never been to a backcountry hut before. I’ve never skied with a big, heavyweight pack on my back. I got the invite to go on this trip, so I took it. But it turns out that pretty much everybody on that trip was an extremely accomplished backcountry winter traveler… except me

In my recent article titled “Stop Asking for Easy: A Manifesto for Doing Hard Things Voluntarily,” I talked about pushing boundaries in relation to mountain biking. But the thing is for most of us, even if we do push our MTB boundaries, mountain biking is still a type of comfort zone. I’ve been mountain biking for 12 or 13 years now (which is nothing compared to some of you), and I work full time in the mountain bike industry. I’ve ridden a ridiculous number of trails, and I’ve encountered most crazy things that can happen on a mountain bike. Sure, there are new adventures and challenges to be had, but mountain biking is still within my comfort zone. Pushing beyond my two-wheeled comfort zone, into something that I have zero experience with, offers up an entirely new set of challenges to face and to overcome.

This is where the beauty of the completely foreign experience lies. By trying something that you have absolutely no experience with you are forced to abandon your predispositions and your habitual ways of doing and thinking. Instead, you must examine this new experience with a completely blank slate out of necessity, arriving at decisions and drawing new connections that you otherwise wouldn’t have been forced to do.

By shattering your comfort zone with completely new experiences, your ability to innovate in new and unexpected situations grows exponentially.

My wife might tell you that I could use even more expansion in my comfort zone, shattering my habits by learning to salsa dance with her. And maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s the next thing I’m going to do.

What I am not saying here is that you must always do things that you don’t enjoy and are not passionate about. If you try salsa dancing, you gave it a shot, and you decide you don’t care to do it anymore, I think that’s totally fine! You must make decisions about what the few things are that you want to invest your time in, what you want to truly become excellent at. If we are always running in random directions in a misguided assumption that the more things we do, the better we are, we would be in danger of becoming a wandering generality instead of a meaningful specific, to paraphrase Zig Ziglar.

Rather, the benefit of trying salsa dancing, even if just for one evening, is the challenges applied your habits and your comfort zone. Simply by trying something new and foreign you have crashed through a personal barrier and have instantaneously grown as a person.

So go out there this week and find a way to shatter your comfort zone. You’ll be a better mountain biker and a better human being for doing so.