Wading through the bay and trying not to think about all of the creatures I might step on, I feel the paddle sliding through my sunscreen-greased, sweaty hand. I grip the paddle board and slowly hoist myself onto the board and up on my knees. I can’t tell if the board is shaking from my quivering limbs or from the tiny ripples of the water. Either way, I have to stand up. It’s time.
As someone who usually errs on the side of caution and has a genetic predisposition for anxiety, my “comfort zone” is a pretty big space. I like knowing what I’m getting myself into and plan for a variety of outcomes in a given scenario. When it comes to physically challenging activities in unknown places, I feel especially timid. In the past few months I have done some soul-searching about why I have these boundaries and small ways I could push them. Have you ever noticed how doing something really small to challenge your normal boundaries can actually translate into feeling more confident and capable (insert self care siren here)?
During the yearly beach vacation with my extended family, I happily observe my cousins and their kids dive through the crashing waves and paddle board along the shore of the bay. It’s not that I’m afraid to engage, per se, it’s just that I’m comfortable where I am, with my toes planted firmly in the sand. When my sister told me that she and my cousins were taking the kids paddle boarding, I told her to count me in.
As you can probably tell from the triumphant pose the mystery paddle boarder is striking in the picture above, I did it! I won’t go into all of the details about the before and during–the most important takeaway for me was the after. Even though most people would probably paddle board without a second thought (basically everyone I was with and their five year old kids), to me, the feat of actually standing up on the board and meandering my way through the ripples of the bay was like completing a marathon. Beyond the adrenaline and pride coursing through me, my family was SO proud of me. They know me and accept me for who I am, and wouldn’t have been disappointed or even said anything to me if I didn’t end up paddle boarding. But let me tell you, when I stood up and paddled away, I heard my cousin Peter yelling to my sister “MAEVE! She did it! Take a picture!” Paddling outside of my comfort zone not only fostered self-confidence, it reminded me of what an amazing support system I have.
I found these articles really interesting about one’s comfort zone and how there is a level of “optimal anxiety” which leads to all sorts of positive outcomes like increased productivity and creativity. There also is a point at which pushing oneself too far outside of the zone can be detrimental. Check them out and leave a comment to let me know your thoughts!
Journal Prompt: How can you push yourself out of your comfort zone this week? Write about how you feel before and after this experience.