When I posted my recent ‘GoApe Tarzan Swing’ video, I received two very distinct types of response.  The first type went along the lines of:

“Goodness (or words to that effect!) Sharon, why get so worked up and upset and take so long over such a small thing?!  Was that it – a small swing onto a cargo net? I thought you were going to do something HUGE!”

People found it strange that I would want to make public a video of me at my vulnerable worst, appearing very ‘weak’.

The other type of response went something like:

18-me-hurrah-cert-img_4594“Wow!!  Sharon you’re amazing!  You were obviously terrified, and yet you still managed to jump and overcome your fears.  You’re such an inspiration. Magnificent.”

I shared the video – not to get praise and admiration (although it has been appreciated) – but in an attempt to inspire others to overcome whatever they are afraid of.  I am attracted to, and respect people who are open, honest and vulnerable about their struggles and flaws.  People who appear to have it all together, I find quite ‘fake’ and boring (although there ARE levels of vulnerability – I don’t believe you should share your inner turmoil at all times to all people!).

We all have things which we’re scared of.  Some people spend their lives avoiding such things, happy to remain within the safety of their own comfort zones.  And that’s fine if they’re happy with that.

But, if like me, you find pleasure, enjoyment, and satisfaction in pushing forward and working through the tough stuff, the lifelong process of growing and maturing into a better, stronger person, then read on as I share some ideas which have helped me, and will hopefully help you too.

Admit it

Before you can begin to tackle something, you have to admit that it’s a problem.  Start by admitting it to yourself.  That can be challenging in itself.  In our environment of success, striving for perfection, achieving self-worth and status… to admit that we can’t do something, or are afraid of something, is hard.  Very hard.

But admitting to ourselves that we’re not perfect is liberating.  It frees us up from the pressure of having to appear perfect.

Following this admission, there comes the challenge of admitting the struggle to someone else.  When I was in a 12-step programme, Steps 4 & 5 seemed exceptionally daunting.  It’s one thing to own up to yourself as to where you’ve screwed up and struggle, but telling someone else??!!  Hmm…

But it’s that very process which opens the door towards overcoming, recovery and growth.

11-log-bridge-start-img_4580From my experiences, I’ve found it very hard (impossible even?) to overcome something on your own.  I’m a huge believer in the need of a good support structure around you.    When I decided to try Go Ape, I asked my younger brother Ian to come along as support.  Not only is he good at capturing my endeavours on camera, he is also patient, encouraging and supportive.  Ian had also been round a Go Ape site before, so knew what to expect.

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I’m not scared of heights – I truly admire people who do Go Ape and ARE scared of heights.  My fear was in the embarrassment of a) getting stuck half way round an obstacle, or b) slipping off and my harness not being able to hold me up (I used to be 23.5st and sometimes my brain still thinks I’m this weight!).

Analyse and practice

Fear, by its very nature, is often irrational.  A fear which I proudly made giant steps forward in overcoming three years ago was getting my ears underwater.  As a kid I’d had numerous perforated eardrums, and had grown up with a fear of going deaf.  As a consequence I hated anything that affected my hearing: ear plugs, cotton buds, in-ear speakers, thermometers, and going under water.

However, the crunch came in Feb 2013 when I injured my Achilles tendon and had to take my weight-loss gym-based training into the swimming pool.  I admitted to my coach / mentor that, although I could swim, it was in the ‘head above water’ position, due to my fear.  Over the next few months there were many awkward, and at times tearful and distressing phone conversations as I started to come to terms with my fear.

I researched what happened to the ear under water, and also discovered that there’s no name to the fear of going deaf!  I spoke to a couple of ‘experts’ in the area of diving and talked through all the practicalities and physiology.  However, no amount of talking would alleviate my fear.  I concluded that I had to just DO what I feared, and face the consequences.  So I booked myself on a Try-Dive SCUBA diving session with Dream Divers of Rotherham.

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They were fab.  My 1-2-1 tutor Lesley was amazingly patient.  By the end of the 90-min session, I found myself sitting on the bottom of the swimming pool, looking up at the 12’ of water above me and smiling.  Not only was I down there, but I was loving every minute of it.  The day’s final photo – Lesley presenting me with my certificate – sums up how I felt.

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But I still needed to keep practicing my new-found skill.  I would frequently go down to my local swimming pool and put my head under water. The act of putting my ears under water needed constant repetition if I was to keep the fear at bay. This developed to learning to swim under water and then to swim ‘proper’ strokes.

 

It’s not that bad!

Often, the things that you fear, when you finally pluck up the courage to do them, turn out not to be so scary after all.  I did my first ‘natural cold water swim’ on Sun 9th Oct.  The venue was the amazing Kings Cross Pond Club, a short walk from London’s Kings Cross train station.  It’s a man-made pond, using plants instead of chemicals to maintain the water quality.

em-13-changed-nervous-poolsideThere were two main challenges for me: a) the cold water, and b) the thought of having to swim through weeds and algae etc.  Two plus points were a) I was doing the swim with some friends who’d done it several times before, and b) the water was a wonderful 2.8m deep – I love swimming in deep water!

A third plus point was I’d persuaded my brother Ian to come along and film the event.  I was looking forward especially to swimming underwater alongside my coach who’d challenged me to conquer my fear of going underwater in the first place.

em-18-me-front-smileI’d done a bit of research about cold water swimming, and talked to a friend who’d swum in very cold water on his travels abroad.  Advised to “go in steady up to the waist, and then get swimming as quick as possible”, that’s exactly what I did.  I managed two laps of the pond, and then got out to chat on camera about my experience.

It really wasn’t as bad as I expected, and in fact, I actually enjoyed the experience!  A recent BBC TV programme “The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs” highlighted the research into cold water swimming, finding it can be as effective as medication for depression. I certainly felt proud of my achievement and exhilarated straight after.  I hadn’t had to swim through any plants or algae, and the water was clear when I went under too.

It is a real shame that the Pond Club is due to close within the next week.  Sign the petition here to keep it open so that everyone can enjoy this experience in the centre of London.

So what is next?

I’ve mentioned above that I need to keep repeating what I’ve achieved in order for me to keep the fear at bay.  I’m quite happy to go under water in a controlled manner, and going face first.  However, I’m still very scared to jump in feet first, or to get my ears under water when lying on my back, or indeed going backwards into water (as required to when SCUBA diving from a boat etc).  So… the thing with overcoming fear, is that you need to keep pushing forward.

If you are not panicky, but at the same time aren’t pushing yourself out of your newfound comfort zone, then I don’t think you’re progressing any more.  However, if you’re constantly pushing yourself to do new things while still remaining a scared, surely that’s progress?!!

So this Sat I’m off to the Dive Show at the NEC in Birmingham.  Gonna wander round, talk to people, and decide what my next Physical Challenge will be (probably in the spring).  In the time in between, I’ll work on conquering my fear of jumping feet first into deep water, and going underwater backwards.  Watch this space!!

What if…?

You may well be reading this and thinking to yourself “Yes, that’s ok for you Sharon, but I’ve been trying to push past this particular point, and I can’t seem to get any further”.

At this stage, it’s time to pause and think through what is holding you back.  Ask yourself a few of these questions:

– am I lacking a particular skill to move on to the next level?  If so, do some research and find a person or training course that will equip you to move on.

– have I attempted to progress too much or too fast?  If so, reassess your goals.  Make sure they are realistic for you.  I often talk to people who are pushing themselves to achieve goals that either someone else has set for them, or that they see other people doing well and think they too can do the same.  We are all different and have unique skills, gifting and abilities.  One of my key phrases with new clients is “Don’t compare yourself to anyone else: you don’t know their journey, and they don’t know yours”.  Just be honest with yourself.  Talk it over with someone who knows you well.  Re-establish new goals, and get started again.

– do I just need a bit of extra support?  All of the Physical Challenges I’ve done over the past four years have been without my coach being present.  That’s been very important for me.  I’ve had to do the challenges for myself.  However, having a team of great supportive friends and family around me is VITAL.  Not only is it advisable on a personal safety note, but it’s also a lot more fun having people around to share the experience with.

I often get complimented for my networking skills.  Going up to people and starting a conversation with them is hard.  But, if you go to places and meetings where you have something in common, chatting and making new connections becomes easier.  There’s the excitement of not knowing where the next conversation will lead!!  You never know who a person will introduce you to, what skills you could develop, and the different places you will go to and experiences you will have.

The practice of repeatedly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone helps to develop you as a person.  You naturally become more self-assured, confident and interesting to be around.  You develop your life skills and learn new things.

But be warned – it’s addictive!!!