Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

“The best way to obtain personal growth is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

-Melissa Emmons

Personal growth is a topic I’ve study for many years now. One of the most important things I learned along the way is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’ve transformed my life significantly by stepping out of my comfort zone in ways that I never imagined I would. I’ve heard it said many times “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Stepping out of your comfort zone is scary regardless of the frequency or magnitude. The rewards of being uncomfortable, even if it’s for a short amount of time, are truly amazing.

I’ve made it a daily habit to do something, even if it’s small, to push myself out of my comfort zone every day. Sometimes it’s pushing myself to do one more round or one more rep during my workout. Other times it’s cooking a new recipe I’ve written not knowing if it will taste good or bad and not having a back up plan for dinner. For someone who’s really shy, this could be smiling and saying hello to a stranger on the street. Your smile might just make that person’s day.

In June of 2016, Scot and I hiked the Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. It’s an 11 mile hike to the end of the trail where you arrive at Kalalau Beach, a beach in which you can only hike or kayak to. Boats or jet skis are not allowed on the beach. It’s rated one of the most difficult and dangerous hikes in the world. When Scot first told me he wanted to hike the Napali Coast and I agreed to do it, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. What I did know was that I would be stepping way outside my comfort zone mostly because we would be backpacking for three days and I had never been backpacking before.

He did tell me there were six streams we had to cross to get to the beach. I had a huge fear of crossing streams that I created (yes, I created this fear in my head) when we hiked through Convict Canyon near Mammoth. On our way back to our car on the Convict Canyon trail, it started raining and the stream rose and the undercurrent grew stronger. Crossing the stream was more challenging going back than it was coming. I remember standing on a rock in the middle of the stream and my legs were shaking so bad because I was so scared. I knew one misstep and I would be swept away with the current or so I thought. Scot had already made it across to the other side. He kept telling me, “You can do it. I’ll be here to catch you.” He was confident I would make it so I went for it. I made it across safe and sound and in one piece.

When you step out of your comfort zone it’s ok to feel a little scared and nervous. As long as you are not putting your life or anyone else’s life in danger it’s beneficial to your health to do activities that scare you every now and then. When we are put in a stressful situation it brings out one if our most important primal responses that our genes expect: the fight-or-flight response. Our fight-or-flight response protects us when our primal instincts are telling us we’re in danger by increasing our cortisol levels. When our cortisol levels are increased, we are more alert. This helps us to to be more aware of our surroundings. This was beneficial to us when were on the Kalalau trail because for a good portion of the trail we were on the edge of a 400 ft cliff. One misstep and we would be fish food in the ocean.

The night before we started our first backpacking adventure together, I started to have a lot of anxiety about the stream crossings even though we called the ranger and she said the streams were crossable. One of the things that I allowed to triggered my anxiety was that it was raining more than usual for that time of year. The streams can be crossable one minute and flooding the next. Something inside of me was telling me everything would work out. And Scot’s reassurance helped also. When you do something you’ve never done before and your belief in yourself isn’t as strong as it should be, it helps when someone you trust believes in you.

When we arrived at the Kalalau trail head at Ke’e Beach it started sprinkling. The man who gave us a ride to the trailhead said the rain meant that the island was blessing us. At that moment I knew we would be ok no matter what happened.

It took us about 10 hours to hike the 11 miles to Kalalau beach. When we approached mile seven, we arrived at Crawler’s Ledge, which is exactly how it sounds. It’s a two foot wide trail that had a rock wall on one side and a 400 foot cliff on the other. You literally had to crawl along the rock wall so you didn’t fall of the cliff. Scot didn’t tell me about Crawler’s Ledge before hand because he thought it would discourage me from going on the hike at all. This was the most technical part of trail. We kept each other going with positive talk and focusing on our next step.

We were so happy to be at the beach and be able to set up camp, eat dinner, and relax. The next day we began our hike back to the other campsite which was about 5 miles, just about the half way point. That night it rained pretty much the whole night on and off. I was up most of night worried about the stream crossings getting off the trail. The first stream crossing on our last day hiking was right next to our campsite. The stream had flooded and was difficult to cross and it took us about 30-45 minutes to figure how to make it to the other side without being swept away with the current.

We knew if we wanted to make this work without risking our lives we had to get creative and think outside the box. Scot put his pack down and tried to cross without the extra weight on his back. When he made it across I thought,”We’ve got this!” I started to take things out of his pack and throw them over to him one at a time since it was too risky to throw the whole pack at once. I then did the same thing with my pack. I kept my trekking poles with me for support and crossed successfully. I felt so relieved when we were both on the other side of the stream. That particular stream crossing increased my confidence so much that I had no doubt after that that we would make it off the trail in one piece that same day.

It continued to drizzle through the remainder of the hike out. We still had one more big stream crossing before we were totally clear. I was extremely determined to make it to the end of the trail that day because we were flying to Maui the next day to stay at a 5-star resort for the next four nights.

When we got to the final stream crossing the water was up to my chest. One of the park rangers was at the other side of the stream along with other people helping to pull people across. There were three more people that we were leap frogging with on the way out that were crossing the stream when we arrived. Scot was worried about me being swept away with the strong under current. I was confident that we would make it across the stream just fine.

I approached the stream with Scot in front of me and stepped into the water. I felt how strong the under current was and told Scot to go for it and that I was ok. Thankfully there was a giant boulder under water that we were able to step up on to so the water wasn’t so high on us. Scot grabbed the park ranger’s hand and she assisted in pulling him out of the water. Immediately following that, Scot pulled me out of the water. When we were on dry ground I started crying tears of joy. I was overwhelmed with emotion thinking about the last three days. That hike was the hardest thing physically, emotionally, and mentally that I had ever done in my life.

We still had two miles to hike to reach the trail head so we weren’t quite finished yet but we over came the last obstacle. After we hiked the last two miles, we hitched a ride to Hanalei where we were going to take the bus back to our hotel. We had some time to kill so we enjoyed a cup of cold brew coffee and bowl of macadamia nut ice cream (yes, I know it's not paleo or primal). That was the BEST (and probably always will be) cup of cold brew coffee I’ve ever had.

I felt incredibly relaxed and proud of myself for doing what I did the past three days. The experience increased by confidence in my ability to tackle any obstacle that comes my way whether it be physical or mental or both. It also taught me that when you have a very strong why you can achieve anything with enough determination and belief in yourself. My why was catching a flight the next day to Maui to relax at a five star resort for three days. I was determined to make it on that flight no matter what. I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way. Those three days in Maui were my reward for pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

Since our Kalalau adventure, we’ve hiked to the peak of Mount San Jacinto near Palm Springs, CA, with three feet of snow and, at times, questionable weather. The peak is at 10,800 feet and there's an elevation gain of 2,190 feet.  That was a piece of cake compared to the 400 foot cliffs and two foot wide trails we walked along in Kauai.

You don't have to go back packing in the jungle to have personal growth.  Just go do something every day that scares you a little.  I challenge you to do one thing outside of your comfort zone every day for the next 21 days and write down how you feel before, during, and after.  I guarantee by day 21 you will have increased your confidence.

I welcome all e-mails to let me know what you did and how you feel.

Thanks so much for reading!