It has been said many times in life that each and every one of us has something called a “comfort zone”. This “comfort zone” consists of wherever we feel comfortable. It is a set of situations, places, activities, and types of people. Inside our comfort zones, we feel a certain calm. The situation does not call for any kind of panic, and does not induce a certain kind of stress. I think we all enjoy being in our comfort zones, and can have some of our best times in life in places that are familiar to us, around people that we know and trust, and doing activities we know we excel at. Outside our “comfort zones”, we feel stressed. We often have some level of self-doubt, about our ability to handle a certain situation, excel at a certain new activity, or relate to an unfamiliar group of people.
It is also commonly stated that our “comfort zones” are in a perpetual state of flux, and at all times they are always either expanding or contracting. And, believe it or not, whether our “comfort zones” are expanding or contracting is typically at least partially under our control. When we open ourselves up to new experiences, we allow our comfort zone to expand. Nearly every activity any one of us enjoys was once strange and unfamiliar. LeBron James was once new to basketball, and Lindsey Vonn was once new to skiing.
Those that do not leave their “comfort zones” from time to time tend to see their comfort zones contract over time. This is because, well, in life, change is inevitable. We have all had the experience of one of our favorite places, perhaps a restaurant or a store, either closing down, or changing under new management. Likewise, sometimes friends take a different path in life, or change in some kind of a way making the friendship simply not what it used to be, or gone altogether. If we don’t perpetually find new places, new activities, new people, and new situations, we are doomed to enojy less and less as time goes by.
In that vein, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to do a new activity today: mountain biking. Today’s adventure took me to Alderfer/ Three Sisters Park near Evergreen, CO, which is actually less than an hour from Denver.
Some might say that mountain biking is not too different of a sport from road biking, which I have done over 1,000 miles of every year since 2009. I even came into this thinking it was only slightly different, like how baseball is to softball. But, there are actually much larger differences than I imagined.
The main difference between the two sports can be summed up as balance vs. speed (or power). In road biking, when idle, it is proper to have one pedal down and one pedal up, and be positioned in an aerodynamic stance. This is because the top priority is sped, and putting our legs in the most powerful position possible will help us develop that speed. In mountain biking, it is proper to put both pedals at roughly the same height, especially on downhill sections with rocks and jumps. This, along with an upright position off the saddle, bent arms, and weight back is the best position for maintaining balance, which is the top priority when mountain biking.
This was the hardest downhill stretch I did today. In fact, it took me three tries to get down this without either crashing or hitting a rock, which would make me come to a stop, and have to dismount. Even upon completion, I am sure I looked quite lame. However, I was told I did pretty well for a first timer.
Stretches like this become both easier and more fun, as one develops to confidence to take them at faster speeds. In this sense, mountain biking actually reminds me of skiing. Most people don’t understand how enjoyable skiing is when first learning. My first day of skiing, when I was 14, all I did was try not to fall. As I got better at it, and, most importantly, developed more confidence in myself, allowing me to go faster, the sport became more enjoyable. In fact, I came to the conclusion today that if an activity is easy to master, within the first day, it will likely get boring over time. Some of the most enjoyable activities, the best games, and most interesting topics, cause frustration at times, especially at first.
Later in the day, I crashed on a similar downhill stretch. I broke my pants and got a couple of scrapes. This is, of course, bound to happen to anyone that goes outside their “comfort zones”. Whether it be the physical “scrape” I got my first day of mountain biking, or the mental “scrape” of a 14 year old who got rejected after asking someone out on a date, we all take this risk when we exit our comfort zones. Assuming we can overcome our “scrapes”, and learn from our experiences, we will all be the better for it. In reality, we have a choice. We can either let fear control us, or gain control of our fears. This does not mean we eliminate fear. I was quite scared today. It means we work through it, and refuse to let our fears close us off from new experiences and relegate us to an ever contracting set of options in our lives.