A snowboarder's guide to dealing with life's obstacles
A few years ago I tried snowboarding. It was a steep learning curve and I had some painful and embarrassing falls at the start. But there were also moments of inexplicable success, where everything just flowed and I started to believe I could do it!
Since I left my job and struck out on my own, seeking to create my own courageous whole-hearted life, I have been reminded a few times of my snowboarding experiences.
The one that used to make me laugh was the matter of trying to navigate an obstacle. Whenever the thought popped into my head “I hope I don’t hit that tree” I would go gliding serenely straight into it! Without fail! The instructors would tell me repeatedly: “Don’t think about the tree! Look where you want to go!” and this really did make all the difference.
Why is this important to anyone who is trying to live courageously? Have you ever noticed that when you start thinking “why is this all feeling so difficult?” or “why doesn’t anyone help me with the washing up?”, or “what if I’ve made a terrible mistake and should get a paid job?” that all you can see is evidence that supports your fears? Suddenly the boiler breaks (confirming your fears that you can’t afford to be freelance)! Or your partner swans off to work leaving laundry and washing up still not touched (confirming your fears that no one is supporting you), or you find yourself procrastinating rather than tackling the task of building your ideal life?
You’ve snowboarded straight into the tree! The evidence that you sought takes you crashing headlong into your fears rather than allowing you to move towards your goals!
What about money? Have you ever noticed that whenever you find yourself thinking “I will always be in debt”, or “things like that never happen to me” or “I can’t charge that much just for doing what I love!” that suddenly all you can see is the evidence that confirms your worst fears: your car breaks down, or you get an unexpectedly high bill?
Oops, hit the tree again!
What I’m suggesting here is that focusing on your fears can lead to these becoming realities. How could that be? Different experts will explain this in a number of ways, but one simple explanation is that we all have choices, and subconsciously our beliefs affect our choices. For example, as a coach I frequently work with people who feel stuck, and much of the work we do together is to look at beliefs. Many of our beliefs start in childhood, and we don’t even remember where they came from. What we don’t notice is how they limit our possibilities. When we tell ourselves “I can’t do that”, we seek out evidence to support our belief. We don’t notice that we are dismissing our successes, and deleting or distorting feedback to the contrary. Our brains are hard-wired for pattern recognition, so familiar patterns (making the same mistakes) feel comforting, whereas looking to rewrite our story feels clunky at first.
Have you noticed what happens to your energy when you are focusing on the obstacles? It’s not very motivating! Focusing on your fears also means you feel less energised, less able to make a change, which makes it more likely that your fears (of failure, of no improvement) are more likely to come true.
You might question whether “not focusing on your fears” is really just avoiding the issues? I would suggest that you can still acknowledge the possible challenges, but by focusing on what steps you need to take to get to your goal, you will be more likely to seek the advice, support, or knowledge that you need.
So now, I’m navigating the bumpy road of setting up my own business, learning to talk about what I do, and I’m thinking back to my snowboard instructor. How do I avoid hitting one tree after another? What difference does it make if I stop focussing on “the obstacles” and instead focus on where I want to go?
The trick that has helped me do this, is to ask myself some questions:
What is the goal I want to work on?
This first question can be the hardest, if I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed. The trick for me is to stop, look and listen. Even a brief, ten minute meditation can give me enough head space to see what my next move needs to be.
2. What would it take for me to achieve this goal?
What I mean by this is more than just action. Sometimes I need to let go of an old belief. Sometimes I need to dare to think more creatively. It might be that I need to create some space in my schedule to give proper time to planning and execution.
3. What specific steps would it take to get me to where I want to be?
This question prompts me to drill down into specifics. What would it really take? If I imagine myself having achieved my goal, what baby steps will I have taken to get there?
4. What support do I need to take those steps?
I include this question, because over the years I’ve been guilty of thinking I have to do everything on my own. I have learned that identifying what I need, and asking for help makes a huge difference! There are so many more experienced, or just differently-talented people around me. It is so easy to feel shame and fear and hide away, but the antidote to shame and fear is being kind to oneself and speaking up, and it feels great to overcome those thoughts and get started!
Whenever I feel myself slipping into doubt, fearful thinking, or anxiety, I sit myself down and ask these questions. I use the wisdom of the snowboarder to redirect my attention towards my goals, moving in the direction of my dreams and away from life’s obstacles.
Stand up, and look where you want to go!