Bicycles ride in a bike lane in Atlanta (Photo Credit: ATL Urbanist)

The Value of Staying Outside of your Comfort Zone

How my bicycle commute keeps me on my toes

This morning marked the first of the fall with temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit here in Atlanta. Just as I have every morning over the course of the past couple of years, I checked the weather on my phone from the cozy comfort of my home. Any kind of venture to the world outside my warm condo merits a weather-check, to be sure, but some forms of transportation demand it more than others. Bicycling, walking, and taking transit are not always the most “comfortable” forms of transportation, especially as crisp fall morning temperatures descend to brisk, freezing temperatures, but the escape, even if momentarily, from the comfort of a climate-controlled car is valuable. You might even say the benefits of an escape from a comfortable commute could be compared to the benefits of escape from your comfort zone in general, as I realized on my brisk, bicycle commute this morning. Consider: what value might you gain by being (and staying) outside of your literal and figurative comfort zones?

  1. New Perspective.

Being uncomfortable forces you to consider perspectives and notice details outside of your normal frame of reference. If I am biking to work, for example, I need to consider how to balance both the morning and evening weather forecasts (these can be very different in Atlanta) and my work dress code. Shoes take on elevated importance, as they need to be stylish and comfortable yet resilient to various weather conditions. Some days, I may bike to work but then have errands or events afterwards in other parts of the city. It may not always make sense to go home first for a change of clothes or a snack — I am forced to think ten steps ahead of my morning commute in order to consider how to most efficiently carry what I need for the day, how to arrive at midday destinations, whether safe bicycle routes exist between my destinations, and how to arrive home at the end of the day. It’s fun and interesting to arrange your day into a seamlessly-interlocking puzzle, and it demands that you be mindful of your destinations, commitments, time, and abilities.

2. Continuous Progress.

Change can be slow, which can either be comforting or frustrating, depending on what you want out of it. Progress, likewise, is most easily made gradually. For example, by consistently bicycling to work over the past six months, I have experienced the balmy morning temperatures of spring, the humid deluges of summer, the crisp breezes of fall, and am now feeling every bit of the biting winds of late fall from my bicycle saddle. Last week, morning temperatures hovered between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit — Today, my phone showed 31 degrees. Had I biked only in summer, on 80-degree mornings, then decided to bike today, the 50-degree difference would be shocking and intense. By consistently adapting along the way, however, the transition has been strangely comfortable. Just as it’s easier to put on some gloves with the jacket I’ve been wearing for a month already, it’s easier to move four steps forward with anything in life when you are already two steps ahead.

3. Being Awake.

Nothing compares to a jolt of cold air to wake you up and make you completely alert. I never need coffee when I arrive in the office after riding my bike, no matter the season, because my body and mind have been active for awhile by then. My mind never rests as I pedal to work — My eyes are constantly scanning side streets, anticipating the impatient driver who will dart in front of me — My ears are attuned to the hum of an approaching engine behind me and its acceleration as it pulls alongside me to pass — My fingers lie ready on my brake levers, ready to squeeze if an erratic squirrel jumps in front of me. I am not protected by a steel frame and glass from anything, just as I am not protected from the weather, and being awake is crucial to my safety. Just as being outside of your comfort zone can expand your perspective, it can also heighten your senses to understand your comfortable surroundings on a different level.

4. Accomplishment.

Accomplishments elicit more pride if you encounter and overcome obstacles along the way, and so it is with bicycling. Riding to work in the fall and spring feels amazing — the temperate, sunny days feel as if they were made especially for bike rides. Surviving a ride with more extreme conditions such as cold weather, wind, heat, or humidity, however, feels like a feat. Surviving (and thriving) makes you feel like a superhero. If you can arrive at work looking professional and energized after braving crazy conditions, what can’t you do?

5. Camaraderie.

Being outside your comfort zone pushes you to find common ground with others you might not expect. All people pedaling to work (or anywhere else) are not necessarily alike. We are male and female, old and young, a myriad of races and ethnicities, and we ride just as wide a variety of bicycles. We ride to corporate jobs, government jobs, labor-intensive jobs, service industry jobs, all with the same objective: to get to work. Any other cyclist I see on my way to work, bundled up on a freezing morning or sweating on a humid morning, like myself, instantly becomes a friend. We make conversation at stop lights and ride side-by-side to stay safe on high-traffic roads. We are both empowered to be on the road but feel more powerful in numbers.

As I pedaled head-first into the cold wind this morning, I was acutely aware of how uncomfortable yet how powerful I felt on my bicycle. My commute keeps me open-minded, awake, confident, and like I am always challenged in a good way. It is not always easy to be (and stay) outside of your comfort zone, but you can always be sure that you are moving forward, one pedal stroke at a time.