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Spend Time in the Yikes Zone


It’s hard to believe that I’ve never blogged about the “yikes zone” though I talk about it frequently with clients. I learned about the “yikes zone” from a book called Women Ski decades ago when I was an avid downhill skier in New England trying to overcome my fear of moguls, which are those big bumps on the advanced slopes. The author described a gentle, paced, effective way to tackle difficult moguls—or any feared task.

Her concept is to ski on a flat downhill slope near one that has moguls. Some trails are actually groomed to facilitate this either-or dynamic. The idea is to head onto the mogul side and bounce around as long as you can without freaking yourself out, then return to the groomed trail until you regain confidence and equilibrium—not just once but over and over, each time drawing out your stay in the yikes zone a little bit longer. 

The reason this strategy works is because you always know that you can return to safety whenever you want. It’s a somewhat like wading into cold water gradually, bit by bit to hold onto the feeling of being in control. If you believe that you must drag yourself over to the bumps, as they’re called, and stay on them, you can build up a head of anxiety that can ruin your efforts. Knowing you can leave and come back whenever you want to reduces anxiety and increases motivation.

So what does learning to ski moguls have to do with improving your eating—and your life? Let’s say you’ve pretty much mastered eating intuitively at home, but still have agita going out to eat with friends or family. Taking the yikes approach, you’d start by going out to eat for a snack with someone, not a whole meal. You’d do this several times until you were used to being in a restaurant or someone else’s kitchen for short periods of time. Then you’d go home to your safe space with food and gradually work your way toward going out for a whole meal. You’d keep meals out brief—a quick meal, then home again. And you’d keep doing them until you gained more comfort. 

You can do something similar with bringing challenging foods into the house. Try it for a few hours and see how it feels to have a previously forbidden food around. Then try keeping the food around for a day or two days, then a week. Do this with foods one at a time rather than bringing in all your favorite goodies all at once.

Try other challenging activities in short spurts: being more social, standing up to your parents, wearing shorts in public, or running. Make sure you know that you can quit whenever you want. Take the yikes zone approach with trying any new behavior. You’d be amazed at how long you can keep going interspersed with small doses of yikes.