The Discomfort Zone

A few months ago, Mr. FH and I walked into our favorite bicycle store in San Francisco and upgraded some of our cycling equipment. A fancy new bike for Mr. FH, and clipless pedals, cleats and biking shoes for both of us. 

As the popular adage goes, once you learn to ride a bicycle, you never forget it. The muscle memory is strong and when you're on the saddle, you're basically on autopilot. I came across this fascinating video a while back about a backwards bicycle that completely messes with your brain. 

I felt the same type of "messing with my brain" that day on my first ride with clipless pedals/cleats.  The cleats on the bike shoes attach to the pedals while riding to increase the efficiency of energy transfer from the muscles to the bicycle. For a city rider in San Francisco, this means that when you're faced with a red light, stop sign, jay-walking pedestrian or any of the other 10,000 things that need you to come to a stop immediately - you can't simply jump off your bicycle. Instead, you have to remember that you're clipped in to the bike and move your heels in a particular way to allow unclipping. 

The cleats on the bike shoes clip into this pedal


Fighting years of conditioning and retraining old reflexes is a classic case of discomfort zone. I went into this with a lot of fear, mostly from self-exaggerated versions of all the stories of friends falling off their bike while clipped in. 

I fell off my bike twice on that day. The first time, Mr. FH was right beside me and gave me a hand to help lift the bike off me. The second time, I found the strength to get back up myself. No real damage was done and I came home with some minor scrapes and bruises. Both times, I got back on the saddle and continued the ride. Both times, I got a little better at handling myself and the bike. 


On my ride back home, I was reflecting on why I should strive to live on the edge of the discomfort zone. It's just slightly outside of what normal feels like, yet it's the easiest way to get better at everything I do. Everything that is scary ends up being way less scary once I actually do it. The satisfaction of climbing one more rung in the ladder of whatever it is that I'm doing is immense. 

Riding a bicycle. Driving a car. Moving out for college. Studying for ridiculously challenging exams. Moving to a new country. Switching jobs. Asking a stranger for help. Speaking in front of a large crowd. Hiking the cables of Half Dome in Yosemite. Jumping off a plane at 21,000 feet. Getting lost in a foreign country. All of these put me at the edge of my discomfort zone at first. These were all things that terrified me 100% before I actually did them. The pattern here however is that this fear gets magically replaced by excitement/courage/strength/brain skills when it's crunch time. I suddenly have a voice in my head that keeps saying Just Do It. Must be the Nike shoes. 

I still have many baseless fears that hold me back from doing things that millions of people in the world already do. I'm struggling to retrain my reflexes so that I can define a new normal for myself. These adventures serve as a reminder that everything is hard at first, and everything gets easy in due course. You just have to let time play its course.

Whatever wall you're hitting right now - Just Do It, and Just Keep Doing It. It's sure to get easier eventually.