I can remember quite vividly the final hours on my last hundred-mile attempt. It was Halloween, my favorite time of year. A full moon. Some of my crew in costumes. The works.
As the miles got into the 50s, I began to feel my physical body falter. When that happens, it tends to take the rest of you with it. My mental game may be good, but physical problems in a race always bring about fear. Fear that I won’t finish and I’ll be embarrassed. Fear of the shame and self-judgement of putting all this time in and having nothing to show for it. And then there’s the other fear–the one that comes on the moment I start to feel wobbly and goes,”Oh my God! You still have at least 45 miles to go with this kind of crap!”
But, truth be told, my sound mental-emotional game doesn’t come from not knowing these emotions, and it ESPECIALLY doesn’t come from ignoring or ‘overcoming’ my fears. It comes from knowing them all too well and accepting them. Feeling them and knowing why these emotions are there allows for very important questions to be answered: is my fear trying to stop me from doing further physical damage, or am I just shaken up a bit and, if I walk it off, is it possible I’ll come back from this?
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Our bodies have all kinds of safety mechanisms and our emotions are one of them. That fear that we feel, where the hairs on the back of our neck are standing up, is there to let us know that there is immediate danger and we need to get the hell out or get ready to fight! When we start to feel physical back pain, leg pain, and our lungs feel like a deflated balloon, these are all indications that we are physically pushing ourselves to our limits.
The goal of the endurance runner, or the person trying to get themselves ready to go after a job they want, or the parent trying to get themselves in a place where they can actually talk to their children about something difficult, is all the same. We are looking to have our own back and use our emotions wisely as advisors instead of ignoring them and having them make our decisions for us.
Most of the time we can train ourselves physically and mentally for just about anything. We can get familiar with physical or mental exhaustion, pain and fatigue that comes with our efforts. We can improve our speed or our skills in just about anything important to us. We even know what to do if we get an injury (go to a doctor or grab a bandaid) or just burn out mentally (go bed). If we follow the directions to the letter of our doc or hit the sack, we will probably feel a great deal better.
But what about our emotions?
When that strong fear comes up in our body, all we have is empirical evidence. If we don’t have any empirical evidence, we are like babes in the woods. Yes we all have had fear, but not all of us can identify when it’s there, why it’s there, and if it’s giving us useful info for what we’re dealing with. Consider this: how about if you’ve never been in a race where you pushed yourself to your physical, mental, or emotional limit? How about if you’ve just decided to do some seriously hard parenting and put out some good boundaries? How about if you finally got the courage to go after that job you’ve always wanted and the resume is ready to go? Most likely fear is flowing through you screaming, “God! Don’t do this! This is dangerous!” The question then becomes: dangerous to what?
Danger to our ego. We don’t want to feel shame, uncertainty, or self-doubt about ourselves.
We may have uncomfortable emotions that we have no way to train for.
Or at least we think we don’t.
Emotional resilience training is about getting familiar with all of your uncomfortable emotions, but mainly it’s fear. Because most of the time we don’t fear the things that we are trying to tackle nearly as much as we fear the feelings that we’re going to feel if we fail going after them.
Think about it. We have anxiety over the fact that we may feel anxious if we take on a new challenge for ourselves. We fear that we’re going to feel embarrassment if we ask that certain person out that we’re keen on, and we definitely don’t wanna feel that! We feel shame when we go after a certain distance or a race and we don’t make it…what are other people going to think of us? We fear these emotions because they don’t feel good. We don’t know how to identify them and we don’t know how to listen to the information they provide and use it to take action that will help us.
When you build a relationship with your fear, you can start using it to further your endeavors instead of allowing it to decide for you what you’re actually going to try. Here are some tips on how to befriend those emotions, so they can help you instead of hinder you:
Think of Fear as a friend not your foe – we all have friends that sometimes tell us uncomfortable things because they’re worried about us. Sometimes they are right, and sometimes they’re not. It’s always our choice as to whether or not we take their advice, but we need to acknowledge that they are coming out of a place of love for us.
Ask yourself, “Is that really true?” – we all do it. Usually we hang our proverbial hats on the fact that some things are physically just too demanding, we don’t have time, or we are simply not capable of tackling a new and uncomfortable challenge in our lives. Sincerely asking yourself, “Is that true?”, cuts off the ring so to speak. When you take the time to consider whether failure is certain, you are forced to acknowledge that you actually might have a shot at success, but you are scared, anxious, or worried about being shamed if it doesn’t work out. When we look at it in this light, we can see that it is actually an emotion stopping us from trying, not our abilities.
Practice the “six of one, 1/2 a dozen of the other” rule – many times we forget that we’re avoiding the job interview because we don’t want to shame ourselves. Whether we like it or not, when we want something and we don’t act, or when we act on something and we don’t get what we want … we are still in an uncomfortable emotion. At least by trying whatever challenge is in front of you, there is a chance that you will experience positive emotions like confidence, joy, and capability. If you do nothing … you will always be scared.
So, in a race or in life, it’s often best to take a moment and recognize when your ‘not so friendly’ emotions rear their heads and try to warn you off of something that you are stretching or striving for. As you do, you can acknowledge the information they are providing, see if that emotion has usable information, and if not, work on recognizing that discomfort for what it is: growing pains. Turn your attention to the effort at hand, get up off that curb, dust yourself off, and continue to pursue your goal and welcome all of the emotions that join you along the way.
I’d love to hear about an emotion that came up for you recently and what you learned from it that helped you. Post your experiences in the comments below!
If you would like help lessening your fear and anxiety, reaching your goals, breaking habits, or creating new ones, I’d love to work with you. Just click the button or the link below for a free consultation and let’s talk.