Overcoming Your Obstacles

I think I left early enough.  That was my thought as I sped towards Boston. 6:30am seemed to have worked out just fine in my head as a good time to leave last night. Yet here I was doing the math in my head again, trying to figure out when I needed to arrive at the Alewife T station to make it to Fenway Park by noon for my very first Spartan Race!

I was actually running this race with a team. Now I’m not going to say they were counting on me in any possible way, but I did say I would be there.  I trained with them (which was very hard and fun), and I wanted to do this race with them.  I had never done a Spartan Race before.  Although we had practiced many of the obstacles, a great deal of uncertainty was still creeping in about how I would do on race day.

The entire three-and-a-half-hour drive gave my mind plenty of time to wander. All of my ‘anxiety gremlins’ came crawling into my brain creating fear scenarios, turning any tiny concern I had into a “What if?”  What if I can’t get my hands on a Charlie Card?  When I lived in Boston years ago and got on the subway, I bought tokens for 85 cents, got on the train, and that was that.  But now there where these Charlie Cards that you purchased to use to get on the train, and I knew they were impossible to get (ok, really, I was told they were hard to find, but my fear was creating this, so…).   It probably doesn’t sound like a complicated thing, BUT the 3 ingredients that my anxiety gremlins needed to make a really good fictional certainty were there –

One: I didn’t have a Charlie Card on me.

Two: I never put money on a Charlie Card, and have never used the new machines to buy the pass.

Three: I would be cutting it close getting into the Alewife T-stop, it would take at least take an hour to get to Fenway.  Then I still had to figure myself out (register, lock my stuff away, find my team, etc.).

This amount of uncertainty, fear, and doubt was enough to create a ‘fictional story line’ in my mind that, left unchallenged, became my truth – I was not going to make it to Fenway in time to race. Why did I believe this?  Because fear and anxiety live in the unknown and nothing is more unknown than the future (no matter how certain you think it is!).  Imagining scenarios of all of my fears coming true was much more welcome than the uncertainty of the future that could work out just fine.

I quickly parked the car, grabbed my bags and rushed out to the Alewife T-station. As I passed an older woman, she tried to slow me down to ask a question.  I reluctantly stopped.

Older woman – Do you know if they have a schedule for the bus service from here?

Me, being short – I don’t know, I’ve never taken the bus from here.

Older woman – Well, I saw they have the fences up, so I know that the trains aren’t running today.

“What?!” I looked around.

No one by the train entrances. The entire Alewife train station was fenced off and there was a sign that read ‘Take buses to Harvard for the Red-Line’ “Holy, crap!” I ran over to the machine, because I knew that Harvard would be jam-packed with people trying to get at those machines. The concern of whether or not I would know how to use the machine, or even knew how to get a Charlie Card or not, wasn’t even a thought.  I went to the machine, pushed a ‘cash’ button – it took all of about 2 seconds – and got a two-way pass.  It printed out and I tore off after the next available bus.

My anxiety gremlin quickly began to latch on to the next ‘What if?’ as I caught the bus. “Holy, crap! What if I don’t get from Harvard Square to Fenway Park in time?”  I nervously started talking to the bus driver about getting to Fenway, to the Spartan Race, if I had enough time.  He tried to assure me I would be fine and started asking me about the race.  We had an engrossing conversation on the bus ride about dieting, health, our kids, his losing close to 80 pounds.  After 15 minutes he asked me what time my race was.  What?

I laughed. I was so fully present, I completely got a break from my anxiety. Which meant I was not actively creating possible scenarios that could happen once I got to Harvard.  I thought about the fact that I had created all those problems about the Charlie Card for three and a half hours in the car, and when I got to Alewife, found my situation to be completely different.

I sat back in my seat and decided I was not going to leave these anxious thoughts unchecked anymore. Every time my anxiety gremlins went to create fictitious mental-emotional obstacles, I met every one with possible solutions.

Yes, it would be frustrating if I didn’t get there in time to race with my team, but if it didn’t work out, I had their cell number. I could text them and let them know what was going on for me.  I could always start in a different wave.  It would really suck not to see them at the race, but I also knew I could catch up with them later because we are all going to the North end afterwards.  So, really, even if we didn’t start together or we see each other at the race, we would see each other afterwards and celebrate together.

Every time a fearful anxiety gremlin reared its ugly head, I used my internal five senses to show myself overcoming the obstacle it was presenting and everything working out. I found myself intentionally looking for the worst things that could happen, and using them as tools to strengthen my ability to visualize many possible scenarios that were what I wanted to have happen.  My anxiety gremlin’s voice became a whisper, as the obstacles that were being created by my mind were now being seen as challenges to overcome.

I ended up meeting up with my team in plenty of time for the race and everything had worked out amazingly. It was my first Spartan Race and, although many of the obstacles were very challenging, it was also incredibly fun and exciting to be doing a race in Fenway Park.  As it turned out, I had trouble with a couple of obstacles I didn’t think I would, and excelled greatly at some of the ones I thought would be a struggle for me.  I found myself looking for the solutions to any possible setbacks before my mind even had a chance to grab onto them.

What tools do you use that shake up your thinking around mental/emotional obstacles in your life, and leave you redefining your fear or anxiety as excitement to meet the challenges you encounter? I’d love to hear about them.  Please share in the comment box below.

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