Conquering Obstacle Courses and Leaving Comfort Zones

heather o'neill coaching

Well after a long delay in writing a blog post on an obstacle course/mud run that I did a month ago, I am finally sitting still long enough to write it. I have played the day over in my head many times as it was one of those experiences where pushing outside of my comfort zone really reaped a lot of rewards for me. We all have heard people talk about pushing beyond our comfort zones and I too recommend doing that. I am not suggesting that you need to run out right now and do something that you are totally afraid of. That can turn us off to venturing out close to that edge of comfort, and that is what I want to talk about here. The venture, and then the push just beyond. Because the more we do that, the easier it becomes. Notice I didn’t say EASY, but easier. I used to study with a wonderful acting teacher, JoAnna Beckson, and she always used to tell us “don’t be afraid to go out on a limb, it’s where all the fruit is.” Meaning when we were doing a scene to REALLY be in the moment, go all the way with it, no matter how uncomfortable we felt. Because when we did that, that’s when we got to the truth of it all; the moment, the emotion, the authenticity.

And I think that is the same in life. When we push ourselves a bit, we discover what we are really made of and what it feels like to really be connected to who we want to be. We then are not giving all of our attention and presence to fear and apprehension, which is ultimately constricting and holds us back. We become a little uncomfortable in order to feel more alive in a sense. This course that I did was a Spartan course. For those that are unfamiliar with Spartan races, they are an 8 mile obstacle course and this one in particular was up and down the side of a mountain. I was doing the course with my friend Pam who was on Season 14 of the Biggest Loser and she is now facilitating their Run/Walk Challenge series. So those of us in that group completed 4.5 miles of the course. And when I say it was up and down a mountain, I mean UP and down, repeatedly, carrying buckets full of rocks and heavy sandbags and dragging cinder blocks. I mean pulling huge tires on chains and carrying extremely weighty medicine balls to the point of feeling like your arms would fall off. I mean a straight mile walk up a mountain where I looked down at the ground as I walked so as not to see that I couldn’t in fact see the top.

And all of this pushed me. Really pushed me. Not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. Prior to the race I didn’t look at what the course would be like. I didn’t want any material with which to construct stories from that may or may not hold any truth in regards to what it would be like and what I would be capable of. I work out often and am in decent enough shape for my age so I went in unknowing, except for that I was going for it. Now a full Spartan…that would require me to actually train for it, but that’s another story to come! But when I was walking up that mountain with an incredibly hot sun beating down on me, fatigued and in need of hydration and food and things I didn’t not have access to in that moment, I drew on my spirit. I drew on it before I would let my mind start qualifying how bad I felt or how tired I was. I thought about those I love. I thought about my son and how I could tell him about what I accomplished when it was over and I pictured him at the top of the mountain. I thought about my other friend Pam who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro some years ago and her incredible story of how she finished the climb. I was in awe of the folks doing the Biggest Loser Challenge who had worked so hard to lose weight and were now pushing themselves to do incredible things with their bodies, things that I would guess previously they didn’t think they could do. I drew strength from other people’s stepping outside of their comfort zone, and I hoped that at some point my story would provide strength for others doing the same.

I do enough work with being mindful of how I think to know to choose thoughts that served me as I was walking down a mountain steep enough that I almost fell over, the pounding on my knees and the pain it cause being what actually kept me upright. And I knew that I could choose to think about the pain or that I could think “I want to go down this mountain with as much ease as I can muster.” 2 very different thought processes. And so I weeded my way through my tired brain and thought about how great I would feel when I finished this course, having tackled every obstacle to the best of my ability. I may not have made it to the top of the climbing rope, but I got on it and tried. I climbed across monkey bars which I haven’t done in years, and MAN that was not easy like it was as a kid! But I did it. And knowing that I could very well fall from those monkey bars, I stepped outside of my comfort zone, also knowing that there would be reward for doing so.

And there absolutely was! What a feeling of accomplishment to finish a physically grueling race. Maybe that’s not everybody’s thing, but there are plenty of ways for us to step outside of our comfort zone. The feelings of success and of my body being strong and there to support me were incredibly rewarding. On my last wall obstacle, there was a group of friends carrying a man’s legs and helping him over the wall. This man was wheelchair bound and his friends had carried and pushed him on his wheelchair through the run. He finished the course on his hands, while his friends held his legs for him. It was one of the most amazing examples of love and true human spirit that I have witnessed with my own eyes. And as my eyes filled with tears, I thought about how lucky I was to be around something so powerful. Had I not pushed myself outside of my comfort zone I would not have been witness to it. So what I want to put out there is, where can you find ways to push beyond yours? Maybe small steps at first. Small acts of slight discomfort that can show you where all that juicy fruit lies. And then comes consciously choosing to go beyond comfort. One of my favorite sayings is “action cures fear.” When you can step a little outside of your usual self you can step more fully into your true self!

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