Ghouls and ghosts come around to scare us once a year on Halloween. But some people live with imagined fears and anxieties that haunt them year-round.
For them, the possibility of failure or rejection is so scary that they would rather play it safe — even if it means enduring the suffering that is familiar and predictable — rather than take the necessary risks to change their lives.
I’ve learned a lot about facing fear from a 30-year-old client who is just learning to swim. Regina grew up in the inner city, and despite her family being from the Caribbean was never enrolled in a swim class. Consequently, Regina grew up fearing the water and staying ashore during her many trips back to her homeland.
When Regina started learning how to swim last year at a local pool, she was terrified of drowning — she simply did not trust the water. Gradually, with the help of flotation devices, she began to venture into the deep end. Though she has good days and bad days, she keeps showing up and is making progress.
If you long to take risks but find yourself clutching the sides of your metaphorical pool, know that you also don’t need to jump into the deep end right away. Follow these four basic swim instruction guidelines to ease your way into the water:
1. Learn the strokes. When trying to push past fear, preparation is often half the battle. If you look in the right places, you can probably find tools and techniques that will help you move forward. Scared to change jobs? Learning how to write a proper resume or making the most of Linkedin and other social media can help you take charge of the situation.
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2. Start slow. The goal is to stay afloat and move forward, not win an Olympic medal. Take small steps until you feel more comfortable. When necessary, tread water (take breaks) and use flotation devices (friends, loved ones, mentors, counselors) to keep your head above water.
3. Trust that the water will support you. Every new undertaking requires a small leap of faith. Since we can’t predict the future, we have to trust that the universe will assist us if we are prepared and our efforts are aligned with our best intentions. Some might call this a spiritual perspective. For the more existential crowd, trusting the water is also about trusting yourself to relax and go with the flow.
4. Keep moving. To make changes that feel scary, you only need to be slightly more courageous that you are fearful. Once you've taken the first step, it’s OK to feel the fear as long you keep moving your arms and kicking your feet. Change happens one stroke and kick at a time.
Kim Schneiderman, MSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and the author of Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life. Email Kim your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.