Building Momentum for a Better Life

Lessons from changing my life and traveling the world

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Have you ever discovered something new like an art class or tandem skydiving experience that looked so fun, but you never ended up going through with because this feeling of reluctance washed over you? Has this fear become so overpowering that it kept you from ever trying it, like it has for me? Was it because you didn’t feel like it? Sometimes going out and doing new things is easy, but most of the time, we face an internal barrier. A barrier that says, “hold on a second, we don’t know if we’re going to like this or if this is safe for us to do”. This barrier may last only a second, but it is in that minuscule moment that our decision whether to move forward or not is made.

Unfortunately, this keeps us from experiencing a lot of amazing things in our life. It is good we have the innate quality to seek safety and protection first and foremost, but this quality began centuries ago when we were hunters and gathers and it was required to keep us alive. Is it still necessary?

A few weeks ago a friend invited me to try a Barre class she was teaching. Since I used to be a personal trainer and have been working out for years, I wasn’t nervous about trying a new work out, but I initially felt reluctant to sign up. It wasn’t the 5:30am start or the fact I’d be the only guy in the class that held me back. This uneasy feeling stemmed from stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something new.

This isn’t a new feeling for me. On a weekly basis, I find myself signing up for a new class, playing a new sport, or trying a new restaurant. I live in a constant loop of one uncomfortable experience after another. I have learned over time how to deal with this feeling, and I now want to help you get through it as well.

Valencia, Spain

In our generation, we don’t encounter the same threats as those in the past have. We are lucky to live in a society that places our safety and well-being at the forefront of discussions. We have an incredible government and society that leads in rules and regulations that ensure environments within the United States and other developed countries are safe for us to explore. The oversight the government provides allows us to step out of our comfort zone without the fear of getting sick or hurt simply by ignorance of our environment. That is why skydiving, bungee jumping, and skiing have become ubiquitous throughout the world. Safety standards were set for us to go forth and live without fear.

From my social media and from many influencers pages’, it can easily seem that we have always been adventurous and outgoing, but most of the time this isn’t the case. I wasn’t born with the mindset to go out and explore the world. I was raised in a small town by parents who hadn’t left the country. I was taught through school, the media, and my immediate environment to be skeptical of strangers and follow orders. These characteristics are the antithesis of solo travel abroad and experiencing life because they taught me to live in fear rather than with curiosity.

I first began to overcome this mindset when I moved into college. This was the first time I had been away from home, and although I feel I went a little crazy at first, this experience was exactly what I needed to develop new ideas of the world. I began to interact with people from all over. I made friends from China, Taiwan, Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Ghana, Canada, Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, Korea, among many other countries. My curiosity was peaked.

This new cohort introduced me to the wonders our world has to offer. I had never been out of the country at this point in my career, but this new knowledge motivated me to get out at the first opportunity offered. This led me to sign up for a WVU faculty guided trip to Munich, Germany to explore the engineering developments within the country. This was an easy introduction to travel abroad which taught me the do’s and don’ts of stepping out of my comfort zone and doing so in a safe manner.

Hofbräuhaus München, Germany

On this trip, I realized what it takes to go abroad safely while enjoying as much of it as I could. Planning is critical; particularly, understanding the worse case scenarios and small threats like pick pocketing, then understanding what to do if that occurs. These aren’t things that would ever prohibit me from visiting somewhere. Instead, they are things that I learned to be aware of early on and learned how to be proactive to prevent them from affecting me. This trip was a pivotal moment in my life, but it wasn’t only big trips that changed my perspective and how I interact with the world.

While in college, I also began to diversify my media intake. I used to view news that preached about all the bad stuff happening in the world. This was leading me to fear backpacks, marathons, movie theaters, driving, and everything else we require to live and enjoy our daily lives. Be skeptical of networks like CNN, Fox, your local news channel, the radio, and any other sources that uses drama and fear to drive viewership.

They use these stories because they evoke emotions by using drama and giving us something to relate to our neighbors about. However, I was tired of it. This media isn’t representative of the population of the world, so I switched to positive media that taught me about the world and where I can make an impact. I didn’t realize how big of a change I would experience from this until I cut it out. We have to understand how that information is affecting our lives. If we read the news every day, we begin to fear stepping out of our houses rather than being excited about traveling to a new continent alone.

Instead of listening to daily politics discussions or recent acts of terrorism, I read about human development, psychology, science discoveries, new technology, foundations making a positive impact on the world, and F. Scott Fitzgerald books. This shift altered my viewpoint on the world from negative to positive. Like the shift from the upside down in Stranger Things, I felt I was in a completely different place.

Even today, 5 years after I began this journey, when I speak to people from my past, I am reminded of the negative impacts that media and a lack of diverse experiences and ideas can have on our mindset. They are amazed at the steps I am taking to move forward. To me, my steps are obvious, without them I would not be progressing, but to them, they can’t comprehend why I would take such a risk. Unfortunately, the real risk is missing that opportunity and remaining stagnant in life. Not moving or leaving my comfort zone is the true act of death.

Mespelbrunn, Germany

The media I began to consume that positively affected me were ones such as Ted Talks like the year of yes by Shonda Rhimes where she made an extremely simple pact to play with her daughter any time she asked. Another was the Youtube channel Yes theory which follows co-founders Matt Dajer, Ammar Kandil and Thomas Brag as they do amazing things like convince Will Smith to bungee jump out of a helicopter or prepare to run a full iron man. Another simple one was the movie Yes man where Jim Carrey gives up his boring deteriorating life for an exciting one full of yes.

In all of these videos, one thing is common. The message. One that strikes a movement to bring people together and begin saying yes to not only experiences but to experiences that scare us and force us out of our comfort zone. We must go into an environment where we grow into a much stronger and more intelligent person. A person who is more prepared to take on life.

The good news is this transformation is easy. If taken one step at a time, you can move exponentially forward in your life by creating a snowball of opportunities. Start small. I think the saying “Do something every day that scares you,” is even a bit overbearing. Instead, try doing something new every week, then every couple days, then every day.

These things don’t have to be big events. Signing up for a new workout class, eating at a new restaurant for lunch, ordering something new that doesn’t sound good from your favorite restaurant, or asking that person out at the bar or in your class are all examples of things that might scare us or that we have always wanted to do but just haven’t for whatever reason. We can use these to simply expose us to a new perspective in our already present reality or to open ourselves up to the many opportunities that we haven’t yet been offered or even know that exist.

We can prove that they aren’t dangerous. They are just new. These are risk free opportunities to grow. We need to get over the lapse that is preventing us from moving forward and experiencing life. No one can predict the future. We don’t know whether the outcome will be good or bad, but instead of starting with the idea that it will be bad (which is what causes us not to act), begin with the thought that it will go well.

Tasman, New Zealand

Be prepared for it to go differently than you planned in your head beforehand. Remember, life never works out exactly as we want it, which is what makes it so beautiful and interesting. However, it is the overthinking and over-planning which brings us to a conclusion that justifies whatever decision we come to. So, if we are creating an outcome in our mind that we will use to justify our next move, use a positive outcome rather than a negative.

An approach called the 5 second rule by Mel Robbins can help with this. She uses the 5 second rule to surpass the opportunity for us to create an excuse which would lead us not to move forward. I like this so much because, as previously mentioned, there aren’t many things that we consciously need to think about every day to maintain our health and safety. This safe environment combined with proper planning leads us to a state of optimal preparedness to act. Using the 5 second rule capitalizes on our unconscious minds ability to keep us safe while we take advantage of the opportunity that is being offered.

A movement to bring people together and begin saying yes to not only experiences but to experiences that scare us and force us out of our comfort zone.

All of these things are about stepping out of our comfort zone and trying things we don’t yet know if we’ll like. We only understand and know about things we’ve done in the past (which are also biased) and things we’re doing right now. But there is a whole world worth of new things out there that we haven’t done yet. To truly experience life, we need to stop contemplating so much and just start doing. However, just knowing what you’re capable of and where you need help is the first step. Once you figure yourself out, everything else becomes much easier.

Take some time to figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are. I use guided meditation and journaling to become intimately aware of myself and what I am capable of. Tim Ferris, a distinguished author, podcaster, and someone I look towards for advice to becoming successful, uses it to focus his high intensity life on what really matters.

After you figure yourself out, utilize the resources you have at your fingertips to achieve your dreams. Although you know you can’t speak another language, you have google translate and duolingo to learn some phrases for an international trip. Acquiring these skills through preparation and combining them with your skills of kindness and willingness to talk to others can make getting around in a foreign environment seem much less daunting . You may not be able to dance now, but if you have the desire to try and the confidence to put yourself out there to fail, you will learn regardless of how much it sucks in the beginning.

Downhill Mountain Biking

When you take that first step you will be scared, very scared. I know I was when I stepped off the plane in England for the beginning of my 4 month study abroad experience. But, looking back it wasn’t that bad, and when I ran into a problem I utilized my strengths to solve it or sought out help from someone nearby.

It wasn’t easy; it still isn’t easy, but I’m more confident in my abilities, in my interests, and have more skills now to face the unexpected when it inevitably comes. I wasn’t always aware I was acquiring new skills and abilities along the way, but as I would encounter more and more uncertainty, I felt more and more prepared. You can do this too, and once you complete your first big step you’ll be even more prepared for the next. You can achieve your goals. You can achieve your dreams. You just need to take one step forward…

Achieving my goal of completing an Iron Man 70.3



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Zach Stiffler

Zach Stiffler


I strive to find science and experience-supported solutions to our greatest psychological and physical based skills.