The discomfort zone

What’s the connection between learning to ride switch on my snowboard and making a cold call? How could one facilitate the other and why should you care?

Steven Kotler, in his book The Rise of Superman, names 7 ‘flow triggers’: Focus, Risk, Rich Environment, Deep Embodiment, Clarity, Immediate Feedback, Challenge/Skill Ratio (awesome book, highly recommended), and the discussion is centred around hacking flow state via high risk adventure activities.

My question then, is whether these same flow triggers exist in everyday life, and can we use them to hack flow without the risk of bodily harm?

A few weeks ago in Tignes I hired a snowboard coach for a day and was reminded of what it is to be a beginner. I re-learned technique, attempting to un-learn years of incorrect riding, and spent quite a bit of time learning to ride backwards, or ‘switch’ for those unfamiliar with the term (right foot forward, instead of left, as I’d been doing for the past 20 years). It was largely a success — I learned a lot, and having practiced the technique now quite a bit feel I am a stronger rider for it.

That’s   Simon Cooke  , the snowboard coach, tearing it up . If you're in Tignes and looking to learn to ride from day one, head out off piste with a pro, or up skill your technique, I cannot recommend him highly enough.

That’s Simon Cooke, the snowboard coach, tearing it up . If you're in Tignes and looking to learn to ride from day one, head out off piste with a pro, or up skill your technique, I cannot recommend him highly enough.

Being a beginner again was interesting for my mind and body — I felt the real fear of failure immediately — adrenaline pumped through my blood just like my first time ever on a snowboard. I pushed through that fear and adrenaline as I was completely focussed on the task, in the rich environment of the mountains, my whole body (deep embodiment) involved in the process, felt immediate feedback via falling on my face if I messed up, and was challenged beyond the limits of what I had comfortably done in the past (challenge/skill ratio). Though my body was doing the work, it was my brain that largely felt the impact — I recall saying ‘my brain is melting’ because it required so much focus.

There in that moment nothing else existed, I was completely immersed in the process, focussed on the task at hand, physically challenged, and totally in the zone. Flow State.

In a different example — I recall my early days in sales and making cold calls. There is the moment of anticipation when the heart rate increases and the sweat beads up on the forehead and hands as I dial and the phone begins to ring (adrenaline, fear). Then the voice at the other end of the line as I try to remain calm, my voice cracking “Hi, I’m Chris, and I’m calling from The Acme Corp., can I try to sell you something.”, my voice stammers as I stutter, giving in to the fear. The response negative; the call ends with an attempt at a polite “I’ll send you an email with my details”, knowing full well I’ll never get a response from this person.

In that moment I gave in to fear, and mentally speaking, fell flat on my face.

On the next call I take a deep breath, acknowledge the fear that will come, and tell myself to push through it. This call starts much the same way, but the breath reminds me to allow for a pause, to choose my words carefully and deliver them with confidence — it’s a great interaction and within seconds the fear falls away and I’m having a friendly conversation with another human being.

It no longer feels like a sales call, more like two industry equals having a meaningful discussion about whether there is a value exchange worth pursuing further.

In that moment I was totally focussed on the task, my whole body (deep embodiment) responding with adrenaline as the risk of failure stares me in the face from down the phone line. It felt way beyond my comfort zone (challenge/skill ratio), and I knew right away (immediate feedback) if it was working as the prospect responded. Is the process in my brain all that different from what happens when I learn to ride switch?

Steven Kotler talks about a rush of adrenaline and fear that precedes a state of flow. If we give in to that fear it’s over — we fail — some even die, but if we push through it we are delivered into flow state, the fear falls away, and we are physically and mentally capable of things beyond what we thought possible in that moment.

So that moment of fear and anticipation at the beginning of the cold call — is it so different than pointing the wrong foot down the mountain on a snowboard — or from any other action in life which is uncomfortable, elicits fear, puts us at risk of failure, or challenges us? And if we push through that fear will we be delivered into the mental zone where we are capable of those things we thought we couldn’t do?

How often are you presented with situations that put you in that fear and adrenaline zone? How do you respond? Do you carry on walking instead of saying hello to that lovely lady, or handsome gent? Do you step away from that social interaction in the same way you step away from entrepreneurial risk, allowing fear to rule the day? Are you, in the process, missing out on the many opportunities life puts in front of you each and every day to hack flow state simply through basic interactions — effectively training you for the bigger challenges when they come up?

And what if you didn’t. What if you stepped up to the challenge — walked right through the fear and into the zone, what kind of greatness might you find on the other side?


P.S. I believe that success comes at the intersection of passion and value, and that a strong mind and a clean body are pillars of that success. My goal is to empower entrepreneurs to combine flow state training with adventure sports and yoga as a platform for enhanced performance and creativity in business and in life.

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