My Flight Into Discomfort: What I Discovered About Taking Action

When someone posed the question “what have you learned about yourself or life from flying an airplane?”, I thought about what it meant to take on an unknown which involved a degree of risk, and how I worked through moments of nervous energy or at times, straight-up fear.

We’ve all done this many times throughout our lives – that is, taking on something new that creates in us a bit of nervous energy, apprehension, trepidation, or fear.  Your body and your mind are on high alert.  The synapses in the brain and the electrical pulses in the body are firing off: rapid thoughts and racing hearts.

While the terms “thrill seeker” or “adventure junky” typically refer to someone engaging in an extreme sport like B.A.S.E., jumping, rappelling, motocross racing, launching a new business concept, buying and trading cryptocurrency, or living abroad can also fit the bill.

I’m not going to dissect fear or discuss how to overcome fear because it will always be there to some degree. And we may or may not overcome it in certain moments of life.  But I do want to share five things that influence the outcome – those moments before, during, and after that occur when we are faced with doing something that is a bit, or a lot, out of our comfort zone. 

I will also share what I’ve observed in my own life as a bit of a thrill-seeker myself. So I’ll reference a few of those things I’ve done to demonstrate my points. 

None of these points work in isolation.  In fact, several, if not all, came into play and have helped move me into action in each of the various scenarios I’ll present.  But I’ll keep them separate for demonstration purposes.

Perhaps your awareness of these might help you play with fear, rather than it playing you.  So here they are:

1. What Pre-Life have we given it?

How much thought do we give a pursuit or assignment prior to execution and what do those thoughts consist of?  Are they positive and reaffirming or are they negative and debilitating?

The phrase, “jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down,” comes to mind.  So do optimism, boldness, and audacity.  Sometimes by not putting any thought into something before you do it makes it easier to just jump.  I’m not talking about thought in how you want to execute it.  I’m talking about self-talk.  The more we think about it, the greater level of concern and angst we can feasibly create in our minds.  We start to evaluate what can go wrong and become mentally paralyzed by the worst-case scenarios.

I remember rappelling off a 5-6 story building in my early 20s.  I was taking a Venture & Dynamics class at a university in Texas, and we were tasked with doing things out of our comfort zone.  I remember thinking about the fact that I had never done anything like this before.  I had my appropriate gear on and was briefly, but adequately instructed on how to use it.  Then I stepped onto the edge of the building, leaned back, and before I could allow any thoughts to enter my mind, I was over the lip of the building.  Even as I write this, I notice my hands perspiring.  For me to do it at that particular moment, I couldn’t have put any thought into what would go wrong.  I had the essential basics of what to do and I did it.

2. What cues from the outside world are we allowing to calibrate our level of fear?

Do we look for external signals, affirmations, cues from the outside world to calibrate our level of uneasiness or fear?  Are there people we trust whose reaction we choose to observe or who we follow by example?  Or conversely, are there people we choose to distance ourselves from because they say things that further discourage us?  We typically lean into those who we subconsciously or consciously believe align with and support what we value most.

One of the greatest moments in my life was when I got to ride as a passenger in a fighter jet.  It was a one-hour flight executing a dozen different dog fight maneuvers like the cuban 8, split S, barrel rolls, climbing rolls, steep target dives, low-level canyon flying cutting sharp right- and left-hand turns, all while pulling up to 5 1/4 G forces. 

I remember sitting in the hangar as the Hungarian fighter pilot explained all the maneuvers.  He told me I’d take the controls and do a few rolls myself since I had my private pilot’s license.  In the midst of all of this, I recall looking over at my dad, who had been a commercial pilot for 33 years.  I was looking for any signs in his reaction, in his body posture and on his face, that might signal concern.  None.  Just cool and collected.  Having trust in my dad translated into trust in the fighter pilot and any fear I had was checked in those moments.  My state of nervous excitement turned into pure exhilaration.

3. What chants, directives, or affirmations have we used to coach us through?

Repetitive chants, directives, and affirmations are verbal statements that can either prime (or trick) our minds into aligning with a particular belief or flood our minds with action-oriented directives that don’t leave room for debilitating fear-based thoughts to seep in.

Depending on the degree of fear or risk involved, taking action could require additional priming that might be guided by a trusted leader, the commitment of the masses who share a similar goal, or developing additional training of a technical skill.

Years ago, I attended a few Tony Robbins events.  Now, Tony is a very energetic, dynamic motivational speaker who commands the attention and trust of those who attend his seminars.  He knows how to empower people.

Having a leader like this and being among like-minded people who are intentional in achieving things that are beyond personal comfort zones certainly affects one’s ability to move into action.  However, Tony introduced two powerful techniques that most certainly helped the outcome of my own personal experience and ability to move into action.

At Unleash the Power Within (UPW) Tony had us walk bare feet on hot coals, and at his Life seminar, we climbed to the top of a 50-60 ft telephone pole jumping to a trapeze 8-10 ft away.  I won’t get into all of the “priming” specifics, but needless to say, if you don’t follow his instructions, you may not have the successful outcome you’re hoping for. 

After getting us sufficiently in the right frame of mind, providing us proper instructions on execution, and equipping us with climbing gear, Tony gave us phrases to chant while executing those two scary feats. 

While walking on hot coals, we were instructed to repetitively chant “cool moss, cool moss, cool moss” while walking with purpose across the smoldering coals.  This chant might not seem significant, but from my experience, what was under my feet felt, in fact, just like cool moss.  While climbing the 50-60 ft pole, we were instructed to repeat “now the next foot, now the next foot, now the next foot” as we stepped on each of the metal pole steps leading up to the top. 

The beauty of those repetitive chants was, in retrospect, intended to fully seize control of my vessel – both my mind and body.  While I charged up the pole or across the coals with purpose, my words were instructing me on what to do next and where to put my focus and attention.  Climbing the pole, I was solely focused on listening to each phrase and executing it as I was being directed – directed and empowered from within.  I was the authority instructing myself on how to proceed.  And, with the speed and tempo I used to repeat these words, I ensured no other fear-based thoughts had time to seep in.

Sure, there was more that went into establishing the right frame of mind and proper technique of execution, but without these repetitive chants, other debilitating thoughts would no doubt have seeped in.  I didn’t want to take that chance, and I assume the thousands of people also participating felt the same.

Our minds are powerful instruments, and they can work for us or against us.  If you’re emotionally hijacked by any number of things, remember that your mind can be manipulated – our thoughts can either serve our greater good or make us prisoners to its mental clutches.  We can’t let our minds hold us back from achieving things outside our comfort zone.  In the end, it’s all just the story that’s being told.  What is your narrative?  What do you choose to believe?

4. How much have we prepared ourselves?

Not only do we prepare ourselves in mastering technical skills, but also mentally, physically, intellectually, or even emotionally?  Do we have a process or plan for execution?  How much time have we put into getting familiar and more comfortable with an idea?  Have we done enough research or asked enough questions?

This is an obvious one, I agree.  But, let’s look at the flip side of this statement.  How often do we decide not to engage in something falling outside of our comfort zone because we have little experience doing that very thing?  But, ironically, the only way to gain experience is by throwing yourself into the lion’s den.  Sometimes that’s exactly what we must do. 

A good friend gave me a book called, “I Hope I Screw This Up: How Falling in Love with Your Fears Can Change the World” by Kyle Cease.  This author writes in such an unordinary way.  His style alone, not to mention all the great tips he offers, showcases exactly his point: don’t be afraid to do things your way and possibly screw it up.  Chances are, people will embrace your unique style and appreciate your breath of fresh air to what often feels like a world of conformists. 

Think of your own physical features, personality, mindset, beliefs, and values.  If we were supposed to conform to a certain way of being or doing, then each of us would not have our own unique variations contributing to our unique DNA sequences.  Since there is no one else exactly like you, then give the world exactly you.  Be bold, audacious, and unapologetic.

Okay, I might have gotten a little of course, so I’ll bring it back home.  Preparedness can happen before…or during.  Sometimes preparedness beforehand is essential, especially when the activity requires a very technical skill to accomplish it successfully or when injury or worse is possible. 

In high school, I decided to get my private pilot’s license.  I took ground school classes at a local community college and logged flight hours with an instructor in the evenings and on the weekends. 

One afternoon, we were doing a series of touch-and-goes at an airport 20 nautical miles away.  Completely unsuspecting, I thought it was just like any other day in my training.  Except it wasn’t.  As I was making a left turn to line up with the runway, my instructor told me to land the airplane and taxi off the runway.  Once I taxied to the designated area, my instructor opened his door and said, “now you’re going to take off without me. You’re going to solo this airplane.”  I remember looking at him with surprise and then all I could say was “okay.” 

My brain immediately started going through the mental checklist of what I needed to do to fly this airplane.  Yes, I had taken off many times before, but this time it would be without the comfort of knowing I had a much more experienced pilot sitting in the right seat ready to take over if ever needed.  He didn’t give me, nor did I, any time to contempt things.  He closed the door and gave me the go-ahead.  I remember my muscle memory immediately took over.  One by one, I went through all the steps, and eventually, I was in the air, gaining altitude, by myself.

Of course, it was a combination of things that influenced my taking action, but I believe it was my preparedness having already spent about 20 hours of flight time and 65 landings that gave me the confidence I needed to put my mind into a state of great focus.  I had a procedure to follow that had proven itself time and time again.  And, I trusted myself.

5. What set of values are driving us to power through discomfort?

Sometimes despite the hardship, discomfort, or fear in taking action, we have no choice but to power through it, because what lies deeper within is a set of values we seek to satisfy as a result of taking action. 

Think about what has driven you into action.  Were you seeking freedom, independence, significance, security, variety, adventure, or connection with others?  Were you seeking a spiritual experience, personal growth, or contribution to a global, regional or local movement, cause, or need?

When it comes down to it, I believe we all want and need to learn, evolve, and progress.  For this to happen, we have to empower ourselves – using whatever tool, technique, or device – to help move through those moments of discomfort, or even fear. 

The results of taking action are unique and specific to our own journey.  Through reflection of those individual or collective experiences, we learn what we need to learn as well as how and when we need to learn it.  Each new experience has its own inherent value and a reason for being a part of our very individual and unique path in life.  Be curious in understanding how and why.

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