How To Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone (And Why You Should)

By Di Westaway | CEO and Founder of Wild Women On Top

No matter how well you communicate and how fit and prepared you are, when you push yourself outside your comfort zone in order to experience adventure and excitement, you can also expect to learn lessons about fear. And sometimes that fear is shit. Literally. 

When I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro with a group of Wild Women in 2006, I had a life-changing experience that was WAY out of my comfort zone. We had trained hard for up to 12 months, and had prepared gear and fitness thoroughly. We spent the five days of our acclimatisation treks in two groups, with the faster group waiting for the slower group every 30 – 60 minutes. There were a few issues as some women got sick from altitude and gastro, but on the surface, things seemed fine.

Then, on summit night, my mate and I got gastro and struggled to keep up. A blizzard set in and the two groups became three groups, with the two of us struggling the most, as we battled against vomiting and diarrhea in the freezing night. We couldn’t eat or drink anything. When a gastro wave rumbled down through my intestines, threatening to make me soil my pants, I ignored it. Yes, I made the pathetic decision to just poo in my pants. I was affected by altitude, illness and fatigue and was beyond caring. But at the time, it really wasn’t a decision. I just had to “do nothing”. Fortunately, my bowels were already empty so there was no disaster, but of course, it’s an unimaginable indignity.

We struggled on with our guide, Rambo, who was steadying my friend as we climbed. Meanwhile, as the first group powered to the summit so fast that some of them nearly passed out; the slower group felt abandoned, alone and scared. Although they had three guides with them, they were missing the emotional support from the rest of us, and they became bitter and resentful.

All 15 girls ended up summiting in three separate groups. We supported each other in mini teams as we fought through the extreme altitude and weather. However, the emotional fall-out from our failure to summit together as a full team as we had planned went on for 6 months after we returned home. We had failed to communicate enough and we had failed to de-brief. We learned a valuable lesson, which is to debrief after a trek, and make sure everybody understands everybody else’s journey.

We also learned that the more extreme the hike or climb, the more extreme the emotions that can be unleashed. On  this occasion, most of us experienced fear in a way we never had before - we thought about our responsibilities as mothers, reflected on how vulnerable we were on the side of the highest free-standing mountain on the planet in a blizzard, and came to terms with the fact that we might not have had the skills or resolve to help somebody who needed our help. We arrived back home in two distinct groups: those who NEVER wanted to experience that level of fear again, and those who chose to forget all the fear and focus on the amazing challenge and adventure. 

However, we shared one common outcome: we were all much stronger, both physically and mentally, than before. We knew we were capable of far more than we had ever imagined. For some of us, this was addictive and we couldn’t wait for the next adventure.

For some of our clients, “surviving” a Trek Training session is an achievement in overcoming fear. For some women, hiking around rocks on coastal tracks is a frightening experience. Fear of falling is common as you learn to juggle your pack on challenging and rocky scrambles. But the more you can experience and overcome fear during training, the better prepared you will be for your adventure.

You might also struggle with rock scrambles, both in the bush and on coastal tracks, because you don’t have the upper body strength to take your weight. This might be due to actual lack of strength, or perhaps to lack of confidence caused by lack of experience. It’s up to you to work on your weaknesses, and dispel fear by building up the skills you require to approach the challenge with confidence.

The best way to build confidence in rock scrambling for hiking is to go rock scrambling, join a climbing gym, do some indoor rock climbing and/or do an outdoor rock climbing course with a reputable guide. This will greatly improve confidence and dispel fear.

We also do a lot of Trek Training at night by torch light. Many mountains - even small ones such as Mt Kinabalu and Mt Rinjani - involve pre-dawn or “alpine” starts. This is because low cloud often obscures the view mid morning, or because you want to get up and back down in daylight. Training by torch light is a great way to practice this. This is not recommended if you’re alone, but if you can get a group of 3 or 4 friends together, and use a known suburban bush or coastal track which you’ve practiced on during the day, it is a great way to build confidence for your adventure.

Getting out of your comfort zone is good, because every time you do it you expand the zone a little further. This is crucial if you want to lead an adventurous life you love. However, it’s important to get out of your comfort zone in a safe environment, and this involves practice. The more you can practice for every possible scenario, the better prepared you’ll be and the more fun you’ll have.

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