Get outdoors to get out of your comfort zone
I love the outdoors. Collectively, it’s the place where I’ve had the most fun, taken the most risks, challenged myself the furthest, met the best people and had the most incredible adventures. Simultaneously, it’s the place where I’ve been the most miserable, felt my most uncomfortable, experienced my worst nights and of course been more wet and cold and hungry than I ever thought possible.
The ‘Great Outdoors’ is a place of superlatives and that is why it is brilliant.
I don’t believe that anywhere else is able to take us further to the edge of our capabilities. The combination of physical and mental challenge that it provides makes it such an incredibly special place.
Crucially, it facilitates our important escape from the ‘comfort zone’. Challenging ourselves to be slightly uncomfortable allows us to practice perseverance and understand our potential. We might feel stressed and frightened, but ultimately we can then achieve things we never thought possible.
Where/when do we leave the Comfort Zone?
I often joke that outdoor adventures can be categorised into two types of fun, ‘Type 1’ and ‘Type 2’. Let me explain.
‘Type 1 Fun’ is an experience that is really enjoyable at the time.
Skiing in fresh powder, surfing a barrel wave, dashing around an unfamiliar city on questionable but hilarious public transport.
‘Type 2 Fun’ is hideous at the time, but incredible in retrospect.
A really hard ascent up a mountain, cycling for ten days without a shower, wild camping on a freezing moorside, running a marathon.
Obviously everyone’s interpretations of these are unique. What I am trying to say is the examples of ‘Type 2 Fun’ fall outside of the comfort zone. At points, you’re really not enjoying yourself. You’re probably hungry, cold and/or tired. You’re struggling and you think (more than once) that you won’t complete what you set out to do.
But you also learn so much about yourself and the people around you. You understand your limits much better and you are always proud of what you have achieved. Once you stray into ‘Type 2 Fun’, the lessons, the memories, the stories and reflections are infinitely better than any other outdoor experience you might encounter.
NB. ‘Type 3 Fun’ was once discussed on a particularly miserable night in a leaky tent in the snowy Scottish Highlands. My best friend and I agreed that it wasn’t fun and it never would be. That still stands.
Give me an example
A relatable example of ‘Type 2 Fun’ is Iskandar completing the College’s 5km plantation run, the Beagle Hash (sorry girls!)
The build up to the Beagle Hash is always a slightly reluctant one. There are audible groans when it’s announcement is pinned on the notice board and the departure from Court is usually fairly lacklustre.
Skip forward a few hours and the mood has changed considerably. The girls are slightly more bedraggled but there are also some reluctant smiles peeping through the splatters of mud. If you listen carefully, you will catch snippets of conversation throughout the evening. ‘Remember the section with the huge water ditch!’, ‘Sofia fell in that huge puddle – she wasn’t happy!’, ‘We got completely lost and had to listen for the shouts for ages!’
Whilst they won’t always admit it, they absolutely love this rather strange MCM tradition. Although at the time it doesn’t seem enjoyable, they look back at it with fondness and they’re quietly proud of what they’ve achieved. Any negative memory has all but disappeared and they are left with story swapping, a strong sense of pride and a handful of the traditional and delicious post-run brownies.
The outdoors makes you wonderfully vulnerable
I recently read a National Geographic article by Avery Stonich and I was interested by her comment on the onomatopoeic quality of the word ‘vulnerable’. She noted that the soft syllables suggest exposure, like you’re opening yourself up to possibility. You’ve got to take risks from time to time, and if it terrifies you, do it.
You’re taking risks constantly in the outdoors which is why it’s such a good place to practise this vulnerability. The risks don’t have to be the obvious or big ones like climbing a vertical rock face. It could simply be giving your child the responsibility of map reading and allowing them to make mistakes. Once they realise that they’ve (hopefully) safely navigated their family around the wilderness for a few hours, they’ll take on that group maths project with renewed vigour and confidence. Importantly, their comfort zone will have shifted slightly.
If you combine this with the well documented health benefits of being outside, the great outdoors really is the perfect place to practise perseverance. And once you do get outside your comfort zone, it’s the most important, most incredible, most inspiring lesson you will ever learn. And it’s better than any classroom.
Ms Rachel Brooke | Iskandar Deputy Housemistress, Head of Merlin, English Teacher
Photographs: All photographs taken from MCM trips.