While meeting with a client last week who had recently taken a big leap in her life, she shared that she was feeling like she had just jumped off a river bank into the raging water. She said she knew it was necessary in order to get to her goal on the other side, but she feared that she couldn’t swim.
I took issue with the way she was framing her story. Of course, she could swim!
I then shared the following real-life story with her. Notice I didn’t say adventure story, because while it was for me, others might not see it that way. I should also warn, this is not a glamorous story either, but it may just make you smile.
Several years ago, my husband, Jerry, and I visited the Florida Keys and decided to book a day trip on a catamaran to do some snorkeling. Although it had been a few years since we had snorkeled in the Gulf of Mexico, we were both experienced swimmers and had always enjoyed snorkeling.
It was a gorgeous day and there were others on this outing excited to explore the beautiful underwater world. Jerry and I were a bit surprised at how far out in the gulf we traveled, but we knew this meant the experience would be even more spectacular.
So, when the boat finally anchored, no land could be scene. Hmmm, my brain took this in…
Then, we were given a choice: We could either use a staircase that lowered into the water and just ease out, or “for those who like a challenge”, we could jump off the side of the boat.
Jerry said to me, “It looks like the kids and the older people are all going in from the staircase. How about we jump off? I’m sure we can do it.” Of course, I thought, no big deal.
As we prepared for our turn to jump into the water, one of the deck crew, a very nice looking young guy who looked like he could have been on the cast of Baywatch, explained the importance of holding on to your snorkel gear at the sides of your face while jumping in so it wouldn’t pop off. Okay, I thought again, no big deal.
Jerry went first, and easy peasy, jumped into the beautiful water. Then, it was my turn.
As I climbed to the edge of the boat, I hadn’t anticipated how high it would rise and then fall with the waves. Timing the jump was critical, and meant the difference between about a 10-foot and 20-foot drop. Whoa, definitely didn’t anticipate that.
I also didn’t realize how difficult it would be to balance in flippers while holding onto my snorkel gear at the sides of my face. I couldn’t put my arms out for support.
But since the Baywatch fella had emphasized the need to do this, I didn’t want to be that person who didn’t follow directions, and so I awkwardly stood on the edge wondering how I would keep my footing enough to jump in.
I stood there, legs trembling, and my mind began to race. It felt like everyone was looking at me and the Baywatch dude was saying (in a California type of accent), “Come on, you can do it. You’ve got this!”
Jerry was also cheering me on from the water, and a few other spectators had gathered to watch the show. Since I am not one to back down from a challenge, especially with witnesses, I counted to three and into the water I plunged!
Unfortunately, my timing was less than perfect and I jumped when the boat was about as far from the water as it could get. I went in hard and went under deeper than I had anticipated. I took salt water into my mouth and nose and lost my bearings. My brain went into panic mode and my snorkel gear popped off – despite following the directions, I might add.
Ugh, the Baywatch fella had to jump into the water after me. I came up panicked and coughing out the water I had taken in, and I clung to him like a life raft. Yep, not glamorous at all!
My new friend eventually got me a real raft and convinced me to loosen my grip on his arms.
Jerry was there too and also tried to reassure me that I was okay. However, I looked around at the horizon with no land in site, and my brain stayed in panic mode: “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I’m going to die!”
Jerry eventually talked me into letting the Baywatch dude go back to his post, but there was no way I was going to let go of that raft (despite the look of aversion on my husband’s face.)
“Tracy, there are kids in the water without rafts. You really don’t need the raft,” he said.
“Nooo! Leave me alone! I need this raft!” I insisted.
“Okay, it’s fine. You can hold onto it,” he sighed.
And so, I did for a good long while. My mind kept warning me that I was in danger. It told me to hold onto the raft for dear life.
Jerry, being the smart husband that he is, left me alone for a bit in hopes that I would settle myself down. Eventually though, he floated back over and said, “Babe, you know how to swim. Remember? You are a good swimmer.”
What? Oh, that’s right, I do know how to swim! Ahhhhh, I guess I forgot who I was for a hot minute. And with that simple thought shift, I relaxed and gave up the raft.
Every time I think of that story, it cracks me up. I’m not sure what was funnier, my drama or the horrified look of embarrassment on my husband’s face.
However, the truth is, I was very scared when this incident actually happened because my body was reacting to my panicked thoughts. My husband actually brought me back to reality by reminding me of who I am and what I am capable of. I simply forgot that I am a person who can swim!
This is what I reminded my client of last week. The fear that she was describing to me was sparked by her mind panicking and causing drama. Our brains do that in order to try to protect us when we tread outside of our comfort zone. Often, this can then get in the way of moving forward.
This is a big part of my job as a life coach – to provide support to my clients as they take steps forward towards their dreams.
As their minds try to create drama and trick them into believe they are in danger, I often have to say: “It’s okay, that’s just your brain trying to hold you back with a false story. Remember, you are the kind of person who can do this!”