I did something I never imagined I would do–I bought a longboard.
I did it so that I could cruise around with my 9-year-old on his skateboard, helping him ease a bit more into his discomfort zone–while I, inevitably, follow suit. In the past few weeks we’ve had a really great time skating together, and surprisingly, it’s been something that has brought us much closer together.
John and I bought Isaac a board for his 8th birthday, and in the almost 2 years since, he’s used it maybe a handful of times. In discussing this with him, he intimated that he was a bit…uncomfortable. And I get that. Trying something new, especially when you don’t have the requisite skills, can be downright frightening. I sensed his hesitation, discomfort, and fear of embarrassment, and I put my coaching skills to work.
“If I skate with you, will that make you feel more comfortable?”
An amused and excited affirmative followed. The idea that Mom would be on her board, looking EVEN MORE ridiculous, gave him the courage that he needed to risk looking silly.
Every single one of us experiences fear of the discomfort zone from time to time, and it’s completely normal. Fear is a natural reaction, and it’s not something we should try to eliminate. But sometimes we can benefit tremendously from moving through that fear, into something uncomfortable and exciting.
One of the techniques I use with clients when they experience this hesitation is to introduce a buffer, such as taking a friend with you to a party where you don’t know anyone, or taking your first yoga class at a studio where you might know an instructor or a current student.
A dash of familiarity, no matter how small, can help ease the fear of discomfort–and although it’s a simple tool, it has a powerful effect. In this case, I’m acting as Isaac’s buffer, giving him the opportunity to do something he truly wants to do, but is held back by the fear of looking awkward.
When I joined Deuce Gym here in Venice Beach last Summer, I experienced the same fear and hesitation that Isaac is feeling about skateboarding.
I worried about not knowing anyone, and whether or not I would look stupid based on the fact that I had never done Crossfit. I waffled over joining for months on end, mostly because the fear of being new-especially in a physical environment-is very real for me. Finally one day, when the loneliness of training in my garage gym and the lack of motivation I felt to train alone became too much to tolerate, I walked the 4 minutes from my home to Deuce to inquire about signing up.
And I took my dog with me.
I didn’t just take Samwise along because he needed a walk; I took him because I needed a buffer. It might sound silly, but having him there to break the ice (everyone wants to pet him because OMG his face) was exactly the thing I needed to muster the courage to walk into the gym.
Taking this buffer a step further, a girl I’d met through the Radiance Retreat who was also a member at Deuce, offered to come with me to my first class. I’m not sure if Lacey knows this, but her willingness to act as my buffer is one of the major reasons why I still take classes at Deuce 7 months later–4 classes per week, at that.
I walk into Deuce every morning now with a sense of excitement and anticipation–not anxiety and discomfort. All it took was a little bit of stretching, a few small buffers, and some time in the discomfort zone to get me there.
When it comes to fitness and active play, so many of us will often abstain from doing the things we truly want to do, simply because we’re scared–just like Isaac was. Just like I was. We’ll put off going into the weight room for the first time, signing up for a yoga class, or joining a new gym–all for fear of the discomfort zone.
And I get it, because the discomfort zone is a scary place.
But if we can find the courage and the tools necessary to get into that zone in the first place, we actually have the chance to discover: Is this something will increase my quality of life? Does this thing contribute to my experience of my external world and the cultivation of my internal world?
Not every scary venture into the discomfort zone will yield tangible positive results. In fact, you may discover that you actually don’t like that yoga class, or that new gym isn’t your jam. Last year I bought roller blades and rode around, despite my fear, on the Santa Monica bike path–only to discover that I actually don’t like rollerblading. But the stretching, the expanding, the courage it took to ease into the discomfort zone–these things have benefitted me greatly, several times over.
What’s the thing you’ve been really wanting to try but haven’t been able to pull the trigger on, perhaps for fear of being new or looking silly?
Indoor rock climbing?
Maybe you want to start doing deadlifts or cleans or pull-ups in your gym, but you don’t really know how and you’re afraid you’ll look like you don’t know what you’re doing. I can totally relate to that, and so can thousands of women in this community.
Whatever the activity, I want to encourage you to enlist a buffer. Maybe you ask a friend to take a surf lesson with you, or you hire a trainer for one session to help you learn your way around the barbells. A buffer will take some of the edge off, freeing up space for you to act with both courage and curiosity.
And maybe you can act as the buffer, too.
Sometimes even asking for the buffer can be a challenge–asking is, for many of us, an act of vulnerability. Start looking for opportunities in which you can be the buffer for someone else. We’re all in this together, and I don’t know a single person who is without fear. While some of us are comfortable in the gym, others may not be; we all have our unique fears and insecurities, and as a tribe we can find ways to be there for each other, holding space and encouraging growth.
We all have the opportunity to ask, “If I skate with you, will that help take the edge off?”