My earliest memory of water is a combination of fun and fear. Fun whilst playing at the edge of the shore, fear as soon as a wave came close.
Over the years, as I grew, so did the fear. For 40 years of my life, I would fear the water – walking too close to the edge of a pier resulted in a physical manifestation of the fear – I would become dizzy, which further confirmed my fear.
The thing is, I really, really (no, really!) loved the water and wanted to sail. When I turned 40, I realised I was close to the apex of my life and if this issue was to resolve, it was now or never. I tried every technique related to swimming, that existed and while I was okay in a pool, I immediately was fearful when I reached the shore. But I really did want to sail! I am known to be a logical person – logic told me I would not drown if I wore a lifejacket – yet the fear existed and stopped me nearing the water – every time.
Until one day, I realised I was focused on the wrong thing. For 40 years, I tried not to feel fear – with zero success. From that day on, I started to accept the feeling of fear BUT with a difference – instead of judging that feeling as a bad thing, I judged it differently. I started to tell myself that feeling fear means I am making progress towards something new.
And while this insight did happen in one day, it took me years to break my connection between fear equalling danger to fear equalling opportunity. Now I sail (badly! and often fearfully) but I sail. I now look back on my life and wonder what else I felt fear about and what else did judgement of this emotion stop me doing?
As an executive coach, there are many theories that explain the reasons and the techniques to solve those reasons. I had read all of these in much detail – but applying it personally, took more than following the guidebooks! For me, I believe the following steps moved my relationship with fear to enable me to do new things:
Emotional Self Awareness
Using mindfulness techniques, over a 2 year period, helped me understand what emotion I was feeling. In the beginning, I found it really hard to give my feelings a label – once I figured out the emotion, then I could do something with it. If you live in a world where you don’t have moments to even think, never mind feel – then this takes a little (okay, alot!) work.
Part of Jon Kabat Zinn’s mindfulness work includes the notion of “non-judging”. In this case, not judging the emotion was key to me removing the barrier to water. More difficult than it sounds, I had to call myself out everything time I attached negativity to this emotion. Even then, I was judging my judgement of the emotion! So learned to call myself myself out, but with self – compassion. Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about “non-striving”. The simple idea of just noticing what you are feeling and then STOPPING before you judge.
For me, there were many steps forward and, stops and starts, along this journey and today, I continue to use this technique of 1) labelling my emotion, and 2) noticing but not judging – these two steps alone change my perspective and of course, my ability to go do new things!
Try it and see!