Comfort Zone

Comfort zone

noun: comfort zone; plural noun: comfort zones
  1. a situation where one feels safe or at ease.
    “the trip is an attempt to take the students out of their comfort zone”
    • a settled method of working that requires little effort and yields only barely acceptable results.
      “if you stay within your comfort zone you will never improve”


Comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.


Last week Casey Neistat posted this fantastic video titled “Do what you can’t” it’s really good and I suggest you give it a watch.

“To the haters, the doubters, my seventh-grade vice principal! ……..To everyone who’s ever told anyone with a dream they can’t…….. This video’s for you.”

Casey’s video is a pretty empowering and encourages you to give the middle finger to anyone who says you can’t do something.  As far as live advice goes it’s pretty solid, however there is another side of the coin, and it’s something that’s really applicable to us as paddlers.

Every single one of us has a comfort zone, from the first time nervous kayaker right up to the superstars like Dane Jackson or Ben Marr. Sure it’s all retaliative but we all have that psychological state in which things feel familiar to us… Where we feel we have some control.

You can check out Instagram, Pintrest , Facebook on any given day and see some meme or inspirational quote encouraging you to step out of your comfort zone. While these are all well and good to ‘like and share’, do we ever actually do what they suggest or even should we?

comfort zone vs magic


Many of you will have seen the above graphic in some way shape or form previously, it really gets the point across about why you should leave your comfort zone. However I’m going to have to call bullshit on it! In my comfort zone there are lots of things I love and I class as ‘magic’. As paddlers inside our comfort zone is a place where we can solidify and hone our skills. The idea of pushing your boundaries chasing some nondescript ‘magic’  seems pointless to me.

At the same time I do believe they quote above carries some weight “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” I think it’s difficult to make significant progress as a paddler if you are unwilling to explore beyond your existing boundaries.  That comes with a caveat, every paddler no matter how talented will reach a point  outside of their comfort zone where their skill ends and chance takes over.

Comfort zone graphic

The above graphic is my take on it. We have three main zones, comfort, learning and uncertainty. The more time we spend in the ‘learning zone’ where we are pushing our boundaries, but not beyond the skill set the better. This is going to allow us to progress rapidly while reducing our exposure to uncertainty.

In answer to a questions about the above graphic.

  • Why is the ‘uncertainty’ elipse much larger? :  It’s drew it that way to show that the ‘uncertainty zone’ by its very nature is larger than we can anticipate. Through the passage of time our comfort zone will become larger and the others reduce. ‘

The graphic shifts in scale as a paddlers skills improve over time and would begin to resemble this shape.

The revised graphic does raise the question does that mean we learn less as time goes by? Of course that isn’t the case, but the smaller space for ‘learning’ recognizes at as standards improve and you move into the ‘elite’ space there is a law of diminishing returns. Gains in skill and performance are harder to come by. And often any gains are shown in the solidification of the comfort zone skills rather than in learning new ones.

In a dynamic whitewater environment there is always going to be uncertainty that’s why it’s hyper important that we operate inside the variables that we have direct control over. How far we push outside of our comfort zone is one such variable we have control over. There are only so many times you can roll the dice of uncertainty and to win.

So yes I wholeheartedly encourage to explore beyond your comfort zone, encourage and support your friends to do the same. However lest not do so wrecklessly and put ourselves of friends in danger. If you want to change the status quo in your paddling and progress NOW is the time to push those boundaries, challenge that comfort zone. But trying to do so without  acknowledging there is a space outside of our comfort zone were we can still progress but be safe within our skill set is foolhardy. It’s this area outside that where uncertainty lies, that’s something we should be aware of.

It’s the area outside that where uncertainty lies, that’s something we should be aware of.

I’ll be following this post up with one on ‘decision making and risk management’ so when you’re expanding that learning zone you do it as safely as possible.

Until then check out Principles of safety posts, C.L.A.P and S.T.I.G

Posted in Coaching & Instruction.

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