I recently joined a synchronized swimming troop. Every Thursday at 5:30 I ruin about twenty minutes of my life trying to talk myself out of going and then I go anyway. I always leave the pool feeling like a million dollars so I began to wonder why I was self-sabotaging this amazing experience. It didn’t take long to realize there were a bunch of little fears working their magic like little joy parasites. I rolled my eyes and sighed at the realization, “oh my gosh, Oh my goodness- ok, I got this.”

What am I afraid of?

What am I afraid of here? Well rejection for one and failure for another. I’m walking into an established tight knit group where I am new and don’t know anyone. I’m literally afraid of treading water all by myself, not participating in locker room banter. Not being picked for a formation team.  On top of that I have not learned a new physical skill in forever. I’m afraid of not being able to do the lifts, master the form, flow beautifully through fluid formations.

When I made my excuses every Thursday, I did not realize these were at play. These were subconscious fears that I realized only upon closer inspection were bubbling beneath the surface and showing up as “its too cold today” and “I should probably stay home and mend all of my torn sweaters.”  

Moving beyond fear.

Then I was able to put my fears in the crosshairs. Just by recognizing them, individually, giving them names and bringing them to the light I could pick them off one by one. How can I get to know these ladies better? I can listen, I can ask questions, I can learn about them. I can be patient for crying out loud, that is how relationships are formed. Sticking that complex formation on my first try? Yeah right! How has my adult mind been duped into thinking this is how anything works? Hello? Revel in the progress! I’ll start by not sinking it can only get better from there.

So needless to say at the first inkling of what I now know is a fear response I  play the old west high noon dual showdown whistle in my head and take my position. Instead of feeding it at all, I replay in my mind how great it felt to master sculling for almost an entire width of the pool. How much fun it was to view the formations from under water and gain a better understanding of their inner workings. Small victories right! It seems like small stuff, but it’s all small stuff and yet it’s critical. Here’s why…

Developing new ways of thinking.

At its core, this practice is all about developing new neural pathways for your brain to call upon. Left unchecked, little fears become big fears and eventually habits of the mind. You literally are creating pathways in your brain when you experience thoughts and emotions. Have that same fear over and over again, feed into it, let it take hold and it’s created one and only one well-worn thought path in your brain. So now you’re only available thought pattern leads to fear. Something happens and the fear brain kicks in and says “that’s ok, I got this, I know the way” and off it goes. When you create a new thought pattern you create more alternative pathways for your brain to explore as responses and then you can break the pattern of fear based thinking. As you identify and then move beyond one small fear after another you build upon your collection of positive possibility pathways in your brain. When you do this, new pathways and possibilities are opened up and who doesn’t love new possibilities!

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