Extreme swimmer and business psychologist Deniz Kayadelen tells the unvarnished story of how she moved out of her comfort zone and into her growth zone. Whether it’s transcending physical limitations by swimming the cold waters of the English Channel, or overcoming psychological stressors by moving from Frankfurt to Johannesburg, Kayadelen knows what it’s like to face your fears and move beyond them. In an inspiring narrative, she offers encouragement and tips for how you can do the same.
- The process of personal growth moves through three stages: comfort, out of comfort and growth.
- Sports teach skills like endurance, resilience and collaboration that can be applied to other areas of your life.
- Overcome limiting beliefs by trying new things and trusting yourself.
- Push past self-imposed restrictions, and also learn to accept what you can’t change.
- Overcome mental blocks and physical limitations by tackling new challenges.
- Uncover your passion by listening to your inner voice. Then actualize your goal through strategic planning and hard work.
- Find your flow, but know your limits.
The process of personal growth moves through three stages: comfort, out of comfort and growth.
Any journey toward personal growth begins inside your comfort zone and moves beyond it, until you finally reach your growth zone. Although moving outside your comfort zone brings the risk of failure, it’s a necessary part of your development journey. Confront your fears to overcome them, and cast off your limiting beliefs to move toward personal transformation.
Learn to identify which zone you’re in, so you can move through it seamlessly, and help others do the same. The process begins inside your comfort zone, which is what’s well known to you. This familiarity allows you to feel safe and in control. Although safety and control are important in life, if you allow those feelings to dominate, they can inhibit personal growth. To avoid this, move towards discomfort.
“The more we have the courage to face the unknown, the more we grow and explore our limits.”
The out of comfort zone is made up of a fear zone and a learning zone. Full of vulnerability and anxiety, your confidence wanes in the fear zone, and you become susceptible to the trap of other people’s limiting beliefs. Learn to avoid this pitfall and reclaim your confidence.
Expand your worldview and push your limits in the learning zone. To do this, deal with challenges, acquire new skills and extend the boundaries of your comfort zone. Just beyond the learning zone lies your destination: the growth zone. Here, you set new goals, find purpose and conquer obstacles to achieve your vision.
Sports teach skills like endurance, resilience and collaboration that can be applied to other areas of your life.
Whether it’s swimming in cold water with sharks or playing football with friends, sports teach transferable skills that can enhance your personal and professional development. In particular, they strengthen the following six skills.
- Endurance – Sports teach you to push past self-imposed limits. Growth happens when you’re tired and want to quit.
- Resilience – Sports not only build strength by propelling you to soldier on when you’re mentally and physically exhausted; they also challenge you to control your reactions to losses and upsets.
- Collaboration – Some sports, such as swimming, may seem individualistic. However, they require you to train with others, integrate the feedback of coaches and foster a supportive network.
- Physical and mental control – Sports test your body and mind. Your reactions to these trials offer insight into how you function under extreme circumstances. If properly understood, this awareness allows you to maximize your mental and physical energy.
“Without knowing your body and thought process, you can’t be successful and lead others, especially in business, and you can’t cultivate your strengths and the potential of others.”
- Time management – The process of playing sports – especially competitive sports while balancing professional duties – requires time management skills. You must carve out time for training, adhere to that schedule and avoid tempting distractions.
- Growth mind-set – Although competing against others is a great way to build your skill in a sport, competition can also facilitate inner growth. As you work to improve your skills, sports foster a growth mind-set. Rather than solely comparing yourself to others, you can focus on boosting your technique and speed, while gaining better control over your mind-set.
Overcome limiting beliefs by trying new things and trusting yourself.
Everyone has limiting beliefs. Some are produced by self-criticism, like believing you lack enough experience or the right abilities. Other self-restricting views that hold you back can come from family, friends or even strangers. Whatever their origin, ideas that box you in limit your growth. You must trust yourself and explore your inner potential to overcome them.
“With every new situation, you explore yourself, you learn about your past experiences about your coping strategies, and you go further step by step.”
Try new things. Prove you can handle new challenges by expanding the breadth of your experience: Eat new foods, take up new hobbies or meet new people. For example, Deniz Kayadelen decided to swim between Northern Ireland and Scotland in the frigid waters of the North Channel; only 80 people have crossed the North Channel alone.
In addition to the North Channel’s cold temperatures that hover around 12 to 13 degrees Celsius, its conditions remain unpredictable, and it contains the toxic lion’s mane jellyfish. If she’d felt too self-critical or susceptible to others’ limiting beliefs, Kayadelen may never have trusted herself enough to swim with a team across the North Channel.
If you don’t have the time or resources to try out such intense adventures, consider finding new ways to do old things. Instead of seeking out new foods, hobbies and people, view those you’re familiar with in new ways. Break up your routines: Drive to work along a different route, volunteer for new projects or take your regular jog through a new location.
Push past self-imposed restrictions, and also learn to accept what you can’t change.
In February 2020, Kayadelen felt stuck in her comfort zone of Frankfurt and decided to seek out international assignments with her employer, Ernst & Young. At first, she focused on Sydney, Singapore and New York. Then, after a chance encounter with a senior manager from Johannesburg, she applied for a transfer to South Africa and was accepted. When she shared the good news with her friends, however, they were baffled. Compared to the safety of Frankfurt, they believed it was a risky move.
“Desire, determination and taking risks despite the possibility of failing make you stronger and push your growth zone. ”
But Kayadelen decided it offered a chance to transcend her self-imposed limits. So, after calculating the risks and benefits, she decided to make the move. Her first few weeks in Johannesburg didn’t prove easy. Over the following months, however, her confidence grew. She built a peer network, joined a gym and grew comfortable enough to go for solo morning runs.
She also decided to swim the Robben Island route. Widely regarded as one of the most challenging open water swims in the world, the eight-kilometer journey from Robben Island to Cape Town is notorious for its frigid temperatures and great white sharks. Facing her fears, she enlisted an experienced guide, and swam in 15-degree Celsius water for 2.5 hours. After reaching the shore, Kayadelen became the first Turkish woman to finish the route.
When she flew back to Johannesburg, COVID-19 lockdown was at its height. As someone who loved the outdoors, she found sitting inside alone wasn’t always easy. Yet, she could do nothing to change it. So, instead of fighting it, she learned to accept what she couldn’t control. When she wasn’t working, she practiced meditation and started writing her book.
Overcome mental blocks and physical limitations by tackling new challenges.
Kayadelen was fearful of cold water ever since she contracted moderate hypothermia during a swim competition when she was a teenager. Although an understandable fear, she felt it was holding her back. To overcome that anxiety, she decided to swim the English Channel years later, a notoriously cold long-distance swim.
“Start to visualize your dream, feel how you achieve your goal, and focus on that. Everything starts in your mind and becomes real in your life!”
To prepare herself, Kayadelen practiced three techniques.
- The Wim Hof Method – Named after the Dutch athlete Wim Hof, this method is a mix of cold exposure (ice baths) and breathing exercises (controlled hyperventilation). The latter involves 30 cycles of deep breaths in, and a passive exhale out. After the 30th cycle, breathe deeply again, hold it for as long as you can, and then release completely. When you feel a strong need to breathe, take a full breath in, and hold it for about 15-20 seconds. Exhale fully to complete round one. You may complete these three phases for a total of three successive rounds.
- Visualization – Start by imagining where you’ll perform a certain activity. Then, add in details: Visualize yourself succeeding in the challenge, and connect that visualized success with positive affirmations.
- Healthy eating and proper rest – To prepare for cold-water swimming, Kayadelen ate a lot of salmon, avocado, nuts, eggs and other foods with healthy fats. To recover after physical exertion, she also made sure to get enough sleep.
Using this three-pronged approach, Kayadelen gradually grew more comfortable swimming in colder water. Over time, she not only acclimated but also built up a layer of brown fat that kept her warm internally, which helped her endure the cold water. When the day for the race came, Kayadelen and her team swam the English Channel in under 12 hours. Her success illustrates how to transform a specific fear into a source of personal growth.
Uncover your passion by listening to your inner voice. Then actualize your goal through strategic planning and hard work.
Follow your passions to unearth energy and joy. If you had one day free from all responsibilities, what would you do? Reflect on your answer to uncover your passions. Don’t worry if no immediate answer reveals itself. Simply continue to reflect on what makes you feel satisfied and energized, and your inner voice will reveal itself. Once you identify a passion, work to realize it through hard work and strategic planning.
After discovering her passion for competitive swimming, Kayadelen committed to a rigorous training schedule that culminated in her first open-water competition, the Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swim. Crossing between the continents of Asia and Europe, she won fourth place in her age category.
Although admirable, she wanted to place higher the following year. Instead of swimming harder, she decided to swim smarter. She analyzed the water conditions and identified a longer route with weaker currents. She followed that course and won first place.
“If you think about the overall goal, the goal becomes bigger than you. But if you split your goal into smaller pieces, then it becomes easier to handle, not only physically but mentally.”
Think big, but start small. Although it’s tempting to aim high when pursuing a new passion, take small steps to reduce pressure and a fear of failure. For example, Kayadelen’s training program for the North and English Channel swims began with a 10-second cold shower. As the weeks progressed, she lengthened the 10-second shower to 10 minutes.
Then, she coupled her gradual cold-water immersion with an incremental running regimen. Each week, she improved her running speed along the Thames River just a bit. Eventually, those incremental improvements led to her successful North Channel swim.
Find your flow, but know your limits.
When people exist in a state of flow, they experience complete focus and immersion in whatever they’re doing. Generally, these activities – which range from solitary reading to competitive swimming – prove intrinsically rewarding and offer challenging yet attainable goals. The flow state typically involves strong concentration, focused attention, present-moment awareness and ego transcendence. You often develop a sense of personal control in the process.
Kayadelen tapped into the flow state while competing in one of Germany’s 24-hour swim marathons over a period of years. She was able to swim a bit further each year. In her final year, she set a clear goal for herself and focused intensely on each stroke. She persevered despite her physical discomfort and exhaustion: Her 42.2-kilometer swim took 17 hours to complete.
“Know your limits and stop yourself when you reached the right level. Your body, mind and soul will tell you when you need to stop.”
That swim pushed her limits; it was the fourth year she’d taken part in the contest. In her first year, she swam only 33 kilometers. In the following years, she swam 36 and then 39 kilometers. She could have kept swimming a bit more each year, but she decided against it. She knew that pushing herself harder and further didn’t guarantee happiness. Pushing yourself has value; knowing your limits does, too. For Kayadelen, that endgame was 42.2 kilometers. Once she reached that goal, she decided it was time to stop.
About the Author
Deniz Kayadelen is a business psychologist, head of Talent Management at Ernst & Young, and an extreme swimmer who has earned multiple national and international awards.
“Out Of Comfort Zone” by Deniz Kayadelen is a remarkable book that combines the worlds of sports psychology and business lessons to provide readers with valuable insights and strategies for personal and professional growth. Drawing from her experiences as an extreme swimmer, Kayadelen skillfully translates the mindset and techniques used in sports into practical advice for navigating the challenges of the business world. In this review, we will delve into the key themes, strengths, and notable takeaways from this engaging and inspiring book.
Deniz Kayadelen takes readers on a captivating journey, sharing her personal experiences as an extreme swimmer and highlighting the parallels between athletic endeavors and the challenges faced in the business arena. The book is divided into several sections, each focusing on a specific aspect of sports psychology and its application to business. Kayadelen explores a range of topics, including goal setting, mental toughness, resilience, teamwork, and leadership, offering actionable strategies and real-life examples to illustrate her points effectively.
Key Themes and Strengths:
- Goal Setting: “Out Of Comfort Zone” emphasizes the importance of setting ambitious yet attainable goals and outlines practical steps to achieve them. Kayadelen’s own experiences, from training for extreme swimming challenges to establishing successful businesses, serve as compelling examples of how goal clarity and persistence can lead to remarkable accomplishments.
- Mental Toughness and Resilience: The author delves into the mindset required to overcome adversity and maintain focus during challenging times. Drawing from her encounters with unpredictable weather conditions, physical exhaustion, and self-doubt, Kayadelen shares valuable insights on building mental toughness, managing stress, and bouncing back from setbacks.
- Teamwork and Collaboration: Kayadelen emphasizes the significance of teamwork and collaboration in both sports and business. Through her anecdotes and lessons learned from participating in team-based swim races, the author underscores the importance of effective communication, trust, and leveraging diverse skill sets to achieve shared objectives.
- Leadership: The book explores the qualities of effective leadership and provides guidance on how to inspire and motivate teams. Kayadelen draws from her experiences as a team captain and coach to highlight the role of leaders in fostering a positive team culture, empowering individuals, and driving collective success.
- The power of visualization: Kayadelen emphasizes the benefits of visualizing success and using mental imagery to enhance performance and overcome obstacles.
- Embracing discomfort: The author encourages readers to step out of their comfort zones, highlighting that growth and learning occur when one pushes beyond familiar boundaries.
- The importance of self-care: Kayadelen stresses the significance of self-care, including rest, recovery, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, to sustain long-term success.
While “Out Of Comfort Zone” is a commendable book overall, some readers may find that the author’s personal anecdotes dominate the narrative at times, potentially overshadowing the practical application of sports psychology principles in a business context. However, the valuable insights and actionable advice provided throughout the book make this a minor concern.
“Out Of Comfort Zone: Cutting Edge Business Lessons Based on Sports Psychology from the Experience of an Extreme Swimmer” by Deniz Kayadelen is an enlightening and motivational read. By bridging the gap between sports psychology and the business world, Kayadelen offers readers a unique perspective on personal and professional growth. The book’s emphasis on goal setting, mental toughness, teamwork, and leadership provides practical strategies that can be applied to various aspects of life. Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur, a sports enthusiast, or simply seeking inspiration, this book has something valuable to offer.