Last month I completed a ropes challenge course. I’d wanted to do one for years. I’d been told it’s a great way to go beyond your comfort zone and increase self-confidence.
I did little planning before arriving (very unlike me). A friend and I were looking for something to do over the holiday weekend and had purchased an online deal awhile back. I’m so glad I didn’t browse the web site, or look at the promotional videos in advance – I probably never would have gone! I’ve never considered myself as being afraid of heights. I love roller coasters and tall buildings with a view. But I discovered that if you put me in a harness 40 feet up in the air with just a thin cable to hold on to, and a just a log or parallel ropes under my feet, and my knees start trembling.
There are some principles about a ropes challenge course that are true in life as well:
- Don’t run on empty. The morning of the course, I ran out of the house with a mug of ginger tea and a Special K bar. Had I truly understood the challenge ahead, I would have made time for a protein breakfast. I work out regularly, but I underestimated just how rigorous a morning it would be. Halfway through the second level, my muscles were screaming and my energy fading. This reminded me how important it is to be filled in order to expend energy. We need physical, emotional, and spiritual fuel in order to meet life’s demands.
- Take a friend along for the journey. You’ll both need the encouragement. I might not have completed 2 levels if my friend wasn’t with me. Afterward, we talked about how she was encouraged by seeing me try many of the challenges first. Toward the end when my energy was fading, we switched positions and she went first. While I looked on with trepidation, she would say, “You can do this,” and gave me tips for what helped her navigate that challenge.
- You can’t get to “over there” without completing what’s in front of you. The layout of the course allowed me to see each new challenge ahead with increasing height and difficulty. There were moments when I got distracted and thought “How am I going to do that over there?” I realized this was pointless because I could only get to the next task by completing the one in front of me. I had 2 choices, finish the task or climb down and exit the course. I also found that when I was fully engaged in the task at hand, it was impossible to worry or think about the next one. It’s great to have goals, or to want your situation to change, but the only way out is through.
- Keep your eye on the goal. I couldn’t look down or else I’d lose my balance. It was much less scary to look straight ahead and stay focused on where I was going.
- Sometimes you just have to leap. Although I lacked the energy to complete the third level, there was one more optional challenge at the end. All I had to do was wear a harness and jump off a platform, into the air while attempting to reach for a rope. Easy, right? If I missed the rope, no big deal – a staff member was on the ground, guiding my harness and preventing me from plummeting. So I did it. I jumped off the platform, and for a split second I thought “Why did I do this? I’m going to be injured.” But that didn’t happen. Just at the point I thought I’d fall to the ground, I felt a tug in my harness and I was being lifted up, then I was gently lowered to the ground. Sometimes the thing we fear the most isn’t really so awful (and often doesn’t happen).
Which of these 5 lessons applies most to you right now?
This article is intended for general education purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please call The Stone Foundation at 410-296-2004.
Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker, and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 15 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Elicia helps couples increase emotional intimacy, and foster healthy connections among family members. She has spent the past 3 years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families on communication, stress management and building healthy relationships.