Sometimes taking that first step is terrifying. Whether it’s taking the first step down the aisle at your wedding, taking the first step into a new role as a new parent or taking a new step into a lifestyle change, it can be full of so much fear that we opt not to even take it at all. Everybody has very different comfort zones. Mine is different than yours and always will be. Some people are comfortable with heights. Some people, like my very favorite park ranger ever, Ranger Roberts, are comfortable with birds, snakes, and other such creatures. I can safely say birds are not in my comfort zone! Not even those beautiful owls….. But we all have that invisible circle around us that makes us feel safe. When things are rough we gravitate to that circle. Even if our safe space, safe place or comfort zone is unhealthy, human beings tend to stay where we feel guarded.
Occasionally, with individuals that I work with, I will use this concept to give a visual image and to demonstrate comfort zones. Imagine you are standing inside a hula hoop and that’s where you feel the safest. You know that if you step outside that hula hoop, the great big old world is out there just waiting to gobble you up, so you might choose to stay inside that tiny tiny circle. Now I know that sounds like a very simplified way to look at it, but hopefully, it helps.
So what is the single most thing that keeps any of us from starting something new or stepping outside our hula hoop? I think once we whittle away all the excuses such as I’m busy, I’m too tired, I’m too stressed or I’ve got other obligations then you’ll find something we all fall prey to. FEAR! More specifically, it is fear of the unknown. We don’t live by the old adage “what we don’t know won’t hurt us”. We are terrified of what we don’t know. I’m convinced what I don’t know will absolutely hurt me! I’ll admit it, who else will? Lets see a show of hands! (Y’all know you love that little emoji!)
Fear of the unknown is what keeps every one of us from doing one thing or another at some point in our lives. We all like to stay in our hula hoops and put things on cruise control. We may work hard on keeping the status quo inside our hula hoops, we never step out and we never let anyone else step in. Things are much safer to stay inside, even when life inside our space might be unhealthy.
Starting toward a new direction or a lifestyle change is one of those steps that requires us to take that giant first step. We have to shake off some of our fears and step over our hula hoop and into the unknown. I’m really not that good at hula hooping anyway.
Starting the 52 Hike Challenge was a step outside my comfort zone of sorts. As crazy as it sounds now, as we are a third of the way through a third challenge, I was afraid to start something new. I had a few fears and hesitated to start something I hadn’t done before.
I may have mentioned before that I started the 52 Hike Challenge in 2017 because I needed to move. In one way or another, I had to get moving. Yes, I needed to lose weight, eat better, live a healthier lifestyle. But I needed to move! I needed to get going in a different direction in mind and body. I needed all of that other stuff too but I had to take that one step, just one in that direction. Now there were several steps to finally get me on the right path but it took one, only one step to get it started. (I may have even stepped ON my invisible hula hoop in hesitation before stepping all the way outside.)
The step I took was to tell somebody what I wanted to try. I had to admit that I might fail, but I wanted to do something different, something nobody had heard of at that point in time. Something I certainly had not done before.
Since I’m a helper by trade, I am constantly looking after the needs of others, coaching them in good choices or connecting them with ways to get better. I can tell YOU all day long what you can do to help yourself or take care of yourself. I can help YOU, all day long, to take your necessary steps in various directions and even tell YOU what steps NOT to take. But I don’t often tell myself these things, take time for myself or take the necessary steps I need to be better. It’s a little daunting to realize that you need to help yourself. So my biggest obstacle in getting started was to tell others that I was embarking on this challenge. I thought my husband would laugh at me. ( He laughs at me a lot so I don’t know why I was afraid of that.) I told my kids and they had the reaction I thought they’d have, they didn’t care. They don’t really care what hairbrained activity we get into anymore, I think they’re numb to our craziness at this point. I thought others would doubt my abilities and my commitment to the task. However, whatever the reactions I received, I had done it. I spilled the beans and I had openly declared my commitment to a project that now I’d have to achieve and complete. For the record, not one person I told laughed or made fun of me, at least not to my face. And not one person I told doubted me, mainly because I have this super duper family who either believes in me or doesn’t really care what I do. Either way, I’m good with that!
All of this introspection and self-examination made me think a lot about fear and why it takes hold of each one of us at some point in life. There are a lot of really scary things to be afraid of I guess, but we spend a lot of time and energy on being afraid of stuff that doesn’t really matter and that keeps us from a lot of life’s joys.
As I thought about my own fears and what I read and hear others say, about 4 major fears came to mind. Things that might keep someone from starting a hiking challenge, a new path in life or a lifestyle change that just seems to naturally go along with a regular regimen of hiking as exercise. I suppose most of them could be applied to any lifestyle change or major life decisions. But I thought about specific fears might keep one from venturing out into the beautiful wilderness or wild blue yonder! See what you think…
What is it about getting started that is so fearful? I can remember being afraid that if I started it, I couldn’t finish it. If I started it and didn’t finish, then I’d be a failure. If I failed, everybody would know it and think I was a loser. And it goes on and on down a depressing rabbit hole. Others have said if they start, it’ll take up too much time or it’s too big of a commitment to agree to something for a whole year. Or what if I’m not capable, physically or mentally? What if I just can’t do it? You can do it! You can do SOMETHING! It may not be a 7-mile hike up and down Oswald Dome (which I affectionately refer to as Oswald Don’t) but it can be a city park, your own neighborhood or a nearby trail that is a fit for your skill and ability. And what about mentally? I do believe that a lot of woes have cured by being outdoors, walking off a few calories and exerting physical energy. You are only competing with yourself. It is not the Amazing Race
There are ways to help yourself out. There are ways to stay on track and combat this fear. Maps, apps and hiking buddies! Get yourself a map, learn to read your new map. Get a compass, learn to use a compass. My hiking pole has one on the handle. One of these days, I’m going to learn to use it! Search for an app on your phone or smartwatch. There are several out there. I like the All Trails app because you can literally record yourself as you go. It will tell you if you have strayed off the trail and you can backtrack to get back to where you need to be. Keep in mind, though, phones don’t always work so if you are unsure, take a different, more well-known trail or go with someone who is knowledgeable of the trail.
Hike with a buddy. I guess you have deduced that I don’t have a great sense of direction so I don’t do solo hikes. I always go with my favorite hiking buddy, you guessed it! The Sheriff! And it’s a bonus to have your friend or friends join you in your new adventure!
This also happens. You can get injured on a trail but you can also get injured at home, at school or at work. If this is your fear, this is one time you will really have to take a giant step outside your circle. There are things you can do to help ease this fear on some levels. Go slow and take your time. Carry a small first aid kit. Research where you are planning to go. Take time to plan your hike, research the terrain wear appropriate clothing and shoes. Carry the appropriate gear. Follow safety guidelines and always tell somebody where you are going.
Bears and Other Wildlife (aka Birds!)
I’m terrified of birds, have I mentioned that? Ok, so I think it’s safe to say, its probably a healthy fear to be afraid of bears and other wildlife on the trail. And you know those giant birds could just come right down on the trail and snatch you up with their talons! That could happen, right?
To combat the fear of such creatures and other wildlife that you might encounter, again make yourself aware of your trail, its surroundings, what wildlife is native to the area and what safety measures to take if you do encounter wildlife on the trail.
Being from the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, we are well aware and have seen a black bear or two on occasion. We’ve heard horror stories of bear attacks. I think the Sheriff has chased a bear or two out of town during his days as a deputy. Last fall, we ventured out west to Yellowstone where they have Grizzly Bears and other animals we don’t have. We read all we could about bison, elk, antelope, and Grizzlies. The Sheriff read all about Park rules and recommendations. We even bought ourselves a canister of bear spray for protection. There was a trail or two that we backed off of because we weren’t sure it was safe. We simply just chose another trail.
If you’d like to have your own canister of bear spray, click below! I don’t pretend to be any kind of wildlife expert or guarantee this will work. Read the instructions carefully. Know the restrictions about flying with this product and shipping information, if you
If you are really concerned about the wildlife, speak to an expert like our very own Ranger Roberts. She can teach you all would ever want to know about owls, snakes, bears and the other wildlife that inhabits her park. Ranger Roberts just so happens to be an expert at owling! Park Rangers are well are of measures to take to ensure the safety of the not only hiker and the wildlife as well. They are also well versed on how to store your food and secure your gear for safety. Utilize these various resources to help you step outside your circle, have some fun and see some amazing animals along the way if you’re lucky.
Just like with any fears we encounter in life, we have to learn to overcome. We can stay inside our comfort zones, stay stagnant or possibly unhealthy in mind, body and spirit. Or, I can step out of mine and into another and allow someone to show me a new skill, a new trail, a new concept or idea. We are never too old, too young, too healthy or too unhealthy to learn something new, start something new or overcome a fear. We just have to be willing to take one step.
Except about the birds……
We have partnered with @52HikeChallenge in 2019 and want to get more people outdoors. The ask is simple, the challenge is persistence – make it a goal to get outdoors a minimum of once per week for the next year! Think of all the places you can explore by making it your year of adventure! Best of all it’s FREE to join. Sign up and learn more at www.52HikeChallenge.com