For many of us, it’s hard to step outside of our comfort zone. Everyone’s bubble is different so what is easy for one person can be terrifying for the next. What I don’t think we realize is just how powerful the decision to venture into unknown territory can be for our self-efficacy.
Often in life we are presented with daunting tasks; a large project at work, a health dilemma for us or a loved one, not enough time, money, or energy, or we are put into a situation where we need to overcome a fear. The easy way out is to make an excuse. We can blame others, back out of the commitment, or ignore the situation altogether and hope it goes away.
However, one of the most important things I learned while travelling was just how capable I am. This sounds corny and perhaps a bit cocky but it’s true! Personally, it took many times stepping outside my comfort zone to figure out how physically and mentally strong I can actually be.
I’ll give you some examples of how I now apply my travel experiences to everyday challenges. Some of these are big and some are tiny, but the point is, the technique works.
Fear of singing in front of others – When I taught in Cameroon I was paired with a music teacher and we team-taught. I had to sing in front of the class sometimes and I found this EXTREMELY hard at first. I’ve discovered the Africans in general love music and they seem to sing from their souls. They belt out lyrics with no shame whatsoever. They didn’t look twice at me or giggle when I started singing. Now, every time I travel I channel those little Cameroon kids and I belt out my national anthem with pride.
Singing in Cameroon Class Helping Indonesian students with their school project by signing my National Anthem
Running a Half Marathon – In September, I ran a half marathon. Training during the summer heat waves was hard but I remembered other times where I had struggled physically and endured extreme heat. It gave me the confidence that I could complete my goal and push through any mental blocks that hampered me when training.
Big Project at Work – I viewed my 100 days of travel as a big project. I didn’t know how I would cope with being away from HubbyHobo for that long so I decided to take it one day at a time. I had a large plan but took baby steps to get to the end. If you do this with projects you’ll find it less stressful and you might actually enjoy the day-to-day of it.
Loss of Control – Most people like to feel in control of their lives. You are to a certain extent but things will always pop up that are out of your control. A situation out of my control occurred when I couldn’t withdraw any cash in Indonesia for 2 days (I lived off granola bars until I could get some money). On a previous trip to Honduras we arrived on a transfer at an airport only to be told our flight didn’t exist despite having tickets in hand. Life’s realities can be frustrating at times but things always work out; maybe not ideally, but ultimately you survive.
The funniest part about gaining confidence through challenging experiences is that often those that love you, know how capable you are …. it just takes stepping outside your comfort zone for you to realize it on your own.
The second time I ever decided to go on a big trip I went to Cameroon, Africa to teach with my University. Within 2 days of getting there we climbed Mount Cameroon. I had no idea what to expect. I can tell you that I was NOT prepared in the least: I had hiking boots that were 10 years old and gave out on my way down the mountain, my clothes and socks were of poor quality, I had trained incorrectly and really had no idea what I was getting myself into. The first day we climbed from 7 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. We ate dinner which was chick peas, the worst noodles ever, and other mystery ingredients… I took 2 bites and gave it away. We could choose to sleep in the mountain hut with the rats or out on the mountain with the lions. I opted for the lions and used a rock as my pillow (since I hadn’t brought one). We woke up at 3 am and started climbing in the pitch black. I had no energy and really struggled; it was both a mental and physical challenge. By 8 am half of the team had made it to the peak! It was the most satisfying feeling. On the way down a few of us took a detour to see the smoking crater (Mount Cameroon is a volcano) and then we began the long descent. Walking down sounds easy but it is just as hard as walking up in its own way. By the end my toes were out of my boots and my hip was popping in and out of its socket with every step.
Among our group of 18 we had one disposable cell phone. I decided to buy 5 minutes and call my Dad to let him know I had made it to Cameroon and I had made it off the mountain. I told him it was the hardest thing I had mentally and physically ever done but I was so happy I made it to the top. His nonchalant response was, “Well, of course you did.” My point being, although I questioned my capability and really struggled with my goal, those that loved me knew I had it in me to climb that mountain.
So use your past experiences (whether travel related or not) to push yourself into new adventures. We are so much more competent than we give ourselves credit for.