Finding Your Edge

Happy September, League!

I was reading through my past notes on our weekly challenge packmeets, and ran across a great question. “What is the difference between finding your limits safely versus risking breaking yourself?” 

“Finding your edge” is a concept that means pushing outside of your comfort zone so that you can grow. It might mean physically, it might mean mentally, but often it is both. Obviously, limits can be important. You don’t want to set out on a 30 mile trail only to find your absolute limit is 20 miles. You don’t want to push a workout to the point you get injured and need surgery. Our bodies can almost always do more than our minds will lead us to believe, but how do we explore those limits and stay relatively safe? 

It’s mostly in your mind
I personally enjoy a lot of intensity in the things that I do. I like when my workouts or other efforts leave me completely spent. In the moment, there is a lot of “Ugh! This is so hard!” but the second I finish I am saying “That was awesome! When can I do it again!?” 

I do not want to be injured and have to take time off from things that I enjoy but I want to push myself and test what my mind believes my limits to be. Our minds can be a bit like helicopter parents, never wanting us to get bumps and bruises or experience any level of struggle. It’s ironic that our bodies constantly strive for homeostasis, but the only thing that makes us grow – in our bodies and minds – is challenging that homeostasis. 

When I am setting out to do something challenging, there is always a sense of “Eek, can I do this? What if I can’t?” and that’s how I know it’s the right level of challenge. I know it’s possible, but I’m a bit scared. When I took my first backpacking trip, as soon as I hoisted my pack onto my back there was a loud “Oh no, what am I doing?” voice in my head. But I stepped onto the trail anyways. When I increase the weight in my strength training routine there is a moment of doubt. All I can do is try.

My best example of pushing limits was the backpacking trip I took with my sister. I was largely unprepared for it and I knew I was in a bit over my head, but I did it anyways. I knew that the worst that would happen is I would be tired and sore. Yes, I could have fallen or otherwise gotten injured, but that can happen just walking to the library. There was a sense of not being sure I could do it. But I also knew my only way “out” if I wanted to give up was to call the rescue squad, and I certainly wasn’t’ going to do that for anything other than a broken ankle. I knew I had more in me than my brain wanted to believe.

I always have my journal with me, and one of the things I wrote on the first day of that trip was, “My feet are tired, my legs are still shaking, and we have so many more miles to cover. My body is doing ok. My spirit is happier than it’s ever been. But my mind is having a tantrum. It is not happy with this venture and wondering what I’ve gotten myself into. It’s astonishing how badly my mind wants to return to my normal comfort zones. But my mind can spit and sputter all it wants, I’ll just continue to put one foot in front of the other.” 

Then on Day 5 (the last day) I wrote: “ At the top of a steep climb we had to army crawl under a fallen tree. I was so exhausted. I was wet from rain and sweat. My sister stood on the other side of the tree and I said “I can’t do this.” She cheered me on and somewhere from the deep recesses of my mind came a different voice that said “Of course you can” and I did. My mind threw every game it had at me on this trip, and I beat them all. I learned I can keep going a very long time after the initial thought of quitting first pops up. On the other side of “I can’t do this” I found a vast well of determination that said otherwise. I learned to check in so I could realize my discomfort was almost entirely mental. Rather than give into the mental discomfort, I shifted to gratitude. Sunshine, companionship, cool breezes that came out of nowhere, a mobile body that is stronger than I often give it credit for, having easy access to this amazing wilderness, and now, the promise of home and family – and a shower. For all the details I planned for, which sleeping bag, how much food, what types of clothing, the only thing I really had to contend with was myself. It was an epic battle. And now I know there are so many more layers than the first thought that pops into my head. I am left with a deep longing for more. Not just more time in the wilderness, but more expanding my ideas of discomfort and limitations.”

That is what it looks like for me when I am pushing limits. It is definitely not a case of never doubting, never wanting to give up. It’s a case of knowing that regardless of what my mind tells me, I have more in the tank. Sometimes I have to be more cautious. When I get physically exhausted, I am more likely to make mistakes like tripping over rocks, so then I slow down and I rest more often. There are a lot of options before giving up. 

Find a partner to challenge you
After tackling the army crawl my sister and I talked about how funny it would have been to just give up. To call for the rescue squad to hike in and find me waiting on the other side of this fallen tree. After climbing all the steep, muddy trails, scrambling cliffs, balancing on slippery beaver dams, and a 6 hour thunderstorm, I briefly considered that a fallen tree was the nemesis I couldn’t get past. The rescue squad often posts about their work on Facebook, and I was not going to be their next rescue story because of a single fallen tree.

Most of the time, I am alone when I am in the wilderness. I enjoy hiking with others, but most people I know don’t like the level of intensity that I do. My sister does, and she knows how to push me. Many times on that trip she tackled an obstacle and then said “Get your butt over here!” to keep me going. Having a partner to push me was vital on that trip. It allowed me to increase my confidence exponentially. When I hike with my husband, he is ever the gentleman and offers his hand to help me up and down obstacles and he carries the heavy stuff. While I appreciate his helpful nature, in those situations, the best way to help me is to push me to do it myself. Having the right person to test your limits with can go a long way to developing the mental tools to surpass obstacles. It can be scary to wonder if you’re going to truly hurt yourself or get lost, and starting out with a partner can be so helpful. It definitely made a big difference for me. 

Finding your edge
The best thing I've done is to learn how to check in with myself so I can figure out the difference between my mind’s tricks and games, and when I truly need to change course or stop. Not too long ago I increased the weight on my bench press. I could do it, but I had to tweak my shoulder just slightly to complete the move and I could tell by how it felt that it was not a good position, so I backed off. Another time I was doing pistols and my monkey mind was going on about how much it sucked, but checking in with my body told me everything was ok so I finished the workout. I pay close attention to what is happening in my body so I can check in and bypass the mental chatter. There is a difference between “Something feels wrong here” and the mind whining that it’s uncomfortable. How to figure out what that looks like for you takes practice. I do a lot of writing because it gets the mental chatter out of my head. I spend a lot of time in nature because it is a form of meditation for me and allows me to get deeper access to myself. My thinking mind is an amazing tool, but sometimes it needs to take a back seat. 

When you start pushing your limits, bring a partner who can allow you to push yourself. It removes some of that fear of “What if I really hurt myself??” so you can explore those edges. You can talk about solutions to obstacles and have someone to cheer you on. Building confidence with the right partner can make all the difference. 

Enjoy the weekend, and find an edge to explore!

In Wildness, 


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