Facing a Fear in Neoprene Slippers

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If life was a game, then fear would be the Great Hand controlling the direction of that game. Therefore, if one is interested in winning the game, using that fear is the best way to get closer to the finish line.

For many years now, I’ve been curious about fear and how it directs our lives. It’s the constant villain that color thousands of years of history, it’s the shadow steering today’s politics, it’s that voice sitting on our left shoulder, whispering instructions on what choices to make and what not.

Wondering what I’m talking about? Hang on for a little while longer.

Fear is our greatest enemy – but also our best friend. It’s the feeling that both keeps us from progressing and helps us get onward… depending on how you face the fear. They who are courageous enough (and even a bit crazy) to listen to Fear’s voice and, most of all, challenge everything it says – these people can find their way to many great things.

By following our fears we find the roots to our anxiety and are able to deal with them first hand – and we might end up with a more fulfilling, self-confident life. But if you do the opposite and avoid those fears, if you opt for closing your eyes from them and distract yourself into thinking something else, something nicer… Life will definitely be more dully colored.

Are you still there, still reading? Good. Now, let me tell you why fear is the topic for this Thursday.

Facing One’s Fears

For the past few years, I’ve been curious about my comfort zone and what lies outside it. What are the fears I need to face so that I will grow as a person? What am I afraid of and why? How do these fears limit my life and the choices I make?

I am certain of the fact that facing one fear’s is a good thing. But the challenging thing is to know when it’s valuable to face that fear and diminish it, and when it’s better to leave it alone because, in the end, it only limits your life very little.

For instance, I’m quite afraid of snakes. However, as long as I’m not living a life where I have to deal with snakes on a daily or even weekly basis, I can’t see the point of getting rid of my fear for snakes. Working on diminishing one’s fears takes an incredible amount of time and energy, two of our most valuable resources, which means we have to make a choice. Instead of focusing on some more seldom activated fears, I’m more interested in facing other fears – those that limit my life on an almost-daily basis.

One of these fears is calling up people I’m not familiar with. I wrote about it last week because it’s an active fear at the moment, something I have to do for my Master’s thesis if I wish to graduate. But I faced that fear, called those people, and although it was a daunting task and made me extremely stressed, I survived. With a smile!

And last Friday, I faced another fear.

(This year has clearly been a good year for facing fears so far – it’s only the beginning of March and two fears diminished already!)

Neoprene Slippers and a Cotton Overall

For years now, there has been a course I’ve been avoiding as some cats avoid wet grass – a course called Survival Course for Boaters. For years, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in that course and even been encouraged to do so, but I never considered twice if I wanted to participate – because I didn’t.

The Survival Course for Boaters is a course organized by the Maritime Safety Training Centre a few-hour-drive away from my home city. The exercises take place indoors in a huge 43×27 meter swimming pool with a sail boat, life rafts, authentic evacuation equipment for cruisers and, coolest of all, a helicopter.

The course is aimed for sailors and boaters who want to practice surviving in the water. The exercises include, for instance, pulling oneself into a life raft, a sailboat or a rowing boat, climbing up the side of a cruiser ship, and getting evacuated into a ”flying” helicopter. In addition to this, the exercises can be made pretty authentic because the place has a storm simulator which means that they are able to create one-meter-high waves, heavy 10–15 m/s wind, rain and darkness.

It sounds cool, right? And I can tell you that the place is extremely cool – but participating in all those exercises… as I said, I have been avoiding this course for years. Why? Because I was so incredibly afraid: I was certain I would panic during the simulated storms and that my physical condition wasn’t good enough to accomplish all those exercises.

I didn’t want to go because I was 100 % sure I would fail.

And still, somewhere inside me, I was curious to know how I would survive this one-day course filled with physical challenges in water.

So finally, after all these years, I decided to face my fear and found myself beside that pool wearing my swim suit, a red cotton overall, an orange life jacket and neoprene slippers. I had no idea what to expect, how many bruises I would get, or how I would get through all those exercises. But I was there and I was ready to get comfortable on the outside of my comfort zone.

Feelings of Horror… and Surprise

Well, I had the most awesome day in a long time.

In the end of that day, I felt tired but exhilarated. I had had a wonderful, super awesome and cool day filled with climbing, paddling, swimming, jumping and getting pulled up into a sailboat and a helicopter. I was cold and shivered like crazy after having finished the last exercise (two minutes in a 5°C cold-water pool), but as I got into the sauna and my body began to warm up, I felt relaxed and happy, almost as if I had been on a vacation. I even felt somewhat surprised that the day hadn’t been tougher than that.

During the course, I accomplished all the exercises without any problems. I had the energy and courage needed to take action in different situations, and most of all, I could keep myself calm even during the more adrenaline-boosting exercises.

Only once did I experience a clean sense of horror: we had just climbed up the side of the (fake) cruise ship when we found out we were going to go back down the next second… by jumping back into the water from a height of 4.5 meters. To someone, this might sound like nothing. To me, it sounded horrifying. I’m not afraid of heights but I’m not comfortable with them either. I was never that kid who wanted to jump from ten meters to the swimming pool – 1.5 meters was quite enough for me. So when the instructor told us to jump and it was my turn, I almost turned around to say I wouldn’t do it. The sense of horror was extreme, the feeling of panic when I saw the distance to the water – but I only hesitated for a second or two before I jumped.

I was able to face a fear by (quite literally) taking a leap to the unknown.

Fear of the Unknown

My fears that had been built up during years and years of avoidance were proven wrong that day. Of course, good physical condition helps one finish the exercises, especially in the end of the day, but in the end, surviving in the water is much more about your mental strength and knowing the right techniques of surviving.

The thing with this fear, as with many others, is that it was built upon something I didn’t understand or have enough knowledge of. In my case, my fear was built upon the belief that I’m not fit enough to succeed and I’ll panic although I didn’t even know what the exercises of that course entailed.

I built my own fear on the basis of my own speculations, beliefs and horrifying visions, and realized last Friday how twisted they were when compared to reality.

In addition to all those magnificent bruises I now have in my legs and armpits, I have a better understanding of myself and my fear. The course gave me a boost of self-confidence but it also made me realize how wrong my fear has been all these years. And if this fear was wrong, what are the odds that some other fears of mine are twisted as well?

Because, even those phone calls I was so afraid of making… they all turned out really good – another fear diminished.

So, facing one’s fears is a way of winning in this game we call life, because it takes you closer to yourself. Facing those fears helps you get onward with your life because when you’re not afraid of things that aren’t actually frightening, you are able to focus on other things, throw the dice one more time and see where the number takes you. Maybe to another fear, and, extended, to another win?

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What are the fears you would like to deal with? And if you consider them in the light of this post, how real do you think those fears are?

Choosing What’s Important

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I had been hoping I would be able to write a nice update on how my editing process is going. A month ago, I had just read my manuscript of Yellow Tails from beginning to end and was excited to share some facts about the plot and the main character, Jello.

I thought that the notes I took while reading the manuscript for the first time would be enough to start editing the story, but I decided to go a different way. Instead, I chose to focus on planning a more detailed storyline before diving into the editing process of the actual manuscript.

And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past month: working through every scene, creating an external, plot-focused arc and combined it with an internal, emotion-focused one – trying to create a well-flowing, interesting story.

However, I haven’t come very far. This past month hasn’t been a glorious month of progress when it comes to editing Yellow Tails. Why? Because I’ve been focusing on my Master’s thesis. And that hasn’t been a completely conflict-free decision.

Work Before Passion

I’ve been beating myself up many times for not focusing more on my book project. For many weeks now, on my list of to-dos for the week, I’ve had a box waiting to be ticked off, saying Plan Act 2, Part 2 and the next day, Plan Act 3, Part 1 and so on – but none of those boxes have been ticked off. There hasn’t been any progress, which makes me incredibly disappointed, even a bit sad.

Instead of editing, I’ve been focusing on my thesis (and this blog, in order to allow myself to think about something else than qualitative research methods). One could say that I’ve been prioritizing work over my passion for fiction-writing for the past month – and that does not sound nice to my ears.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who puts obligatory to-dos first instead of things I’m passionate about. But as the deadline for my thesis is closing in on me… so are the thesis-related thoughts. I just have to make a choice and that choice is, this time, to work.

So, instead of an update on Yellow Tails, how about some facts about my thesis?

I’m doing qualitative research about a relatively unknown phenomena called digital volunteers. To find out what is known about the phenomena in my country, I will be doing semi-structured interviews with local authorities and then try to find some patterns in their thinking that describes their awareness.

The deadline for my thesis is in the end of April (or, if I don’t make it then, a month later), after which I will graduate.

(At the moment, I’m in the part of the process that is, for me, the most daunting one: I have to call people and try to find authorities who would like to participate in my study and give an interview. For some people, calling up unknown folks isn’t a problem but for me it’s something I always try to postpone as long as possible.)

After I’ve found enough participants, what’s left for me to do is to interview them (which I’m not that nervous about because of my background in journalism), transcribe and analyze their answers and write write write until my thesis is done.

So… Any wonder the thesis has taken over almost everything else?

Reminder of Balance

As I wrote earlier, I’ve been frustrated and disappointed with myself because the editing process of Yellow Tails has been standing still. Last week, I even noticed some thoughts on giving up on the whole thing. The questions of Is this still worth it? Many first books don’t get published (although this isn’t my first book but third), should I just move on to the next and forget about editing this one? where actively bouncing around in my mind.

I couldn’t believe myself.

I’ve been working on this manuscript for a year now – and so quickly, so easily, I was thinking of giving up? That’s so not me! I’m no quitter and most of all, I have belief in my own story! I think Yellow Tails has something great in it and I can’t simply give up on the story because of an academic, obligatory paper. Giving up would be an incredibly shortsighted thing to do. But still, I was having these thoughts. It made me realize that somehow, my balance was off.

And that forced me to reason with myself.

In the beginning of the year, I wrote about finding balance during the year of 2019 (and onward). It’s a journey of finding the right ratio of everything, between accomplishing things and taking it easy, in understanding when you need to give your best and when it’s enough with the nearly best. But I’d like to say that finding balance is also about prioritizing.

Until now, I’ve been pushing myself to work on three projects at the same time: writing this blog, writing and editing Yellow Tails and working on my thesis. The blog-writing process has been an uncomplicated one, something I have in the system, but balancing between the other two has been tough. When I am working on Yellow Tails, my mind is constantly reminding me of the to-dos with my thesis and I feel bad. And when I am working on my thesis, my mind keeps going back to Yellow Tails and wondering how much I am dragging behind those self-imposed deadlines I have decided upon earlier this year.

I am constantly feeling bad about not working on the one while working on the other.

Therefore, I have decided to prioritize. From now on, as my thesis has an actual deadline created by other people than myself, I will give more attention to writing (and finishing) the thesis. I will continue prioritizing it as long as needed, probably for the following two months. Hopefully, this will help me lower my stress-levels, keep me from beating myself up for not doing everything I’d like to do and also, focus my energy on one thing at a time because multitasking never did any good.

However, I’m also aiming to maintain my balance. Working on Yellow Tails makes me happy and calm, and that’s why I’ve decided to dedicate one hour every day to edit the manuscript. But instead of having amount-of-work goals, I am opting for amount-of-time goals. Hopefully, this will give me the best of both projects during these up-coming months.

Keeping it Positive

Although I don’t have a passion for doing academic research or writing only things that are based on something someone else has written before and not what I think about things, I’m trying to keep a positive attitude to the whole thesis writing project.

For instance, the thing I mentioned earlier about calling: I was extremely stressed out, nervous, even horrified about calling up those authorities and talking to them about a topic they probably didn’t know about. Trying to get them say yes to an interview about something even I don’t know if it exists in Finland, was like trying to sell a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t exist yet. Talk about taking a walk outside one’s comfort zone… However, everything went fine! I begun making those calls last Friday and although I’m definitely no sales woman, I managed to find four (4) authorities that were interested to participate! That sudden gush of hope and motivation was really rewarding.

And, if nothing else, writing my thesis and being forced to stay away from my true passion for fiction writing, has helped me see what I really love to do and what I’m passionate about. We get blind so quickly, we humans. We seem to need a reminder of things we love and respect, as often as possible.

I wish you an energetic Thursday!

A People-Pleaser’s Autopilot

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Question: Do you know what a people-pleaser’s biggest fear is?

(Hint: it’s only one word)

The answer: No.

The biggest fear of a people-pleaser is saying ’no’ when someone asks for something, may that be a favor or a meeting. It’s the fear of creating a conflict, of provoking the person who is asking, by saying the simple but oh-so-dramatic ’no’.

I haven’t written about people-pleasing in a while. That is mostly because my life has been pretty calm and there haven’t been that many requests or favors asked of me. And it’s been nice. I’ve been able to focus on more important things, on myself, on my writing.

However, now I have something to say, something to update you on. Progress, so to say.

The Autopilot

After I decided upon quitting my people-pleasing behavior (progress that has been going on for a year or so, but the active, conscious decision was made this Summer), I’ve done pretty well saying ’no’ to many things. If I haven’t felt like doing something or meeting someone, I’ve simply declined and moved on with my life. Of course, everyone hasn’t been quite okay with me saying no to them, but I’ve tried my best to accepted that.

Instead, I’ve focused on myself, prioritized my school work, my own interests, my own time and energy. They have come in the first place while favors and other things have come second.

However, there is a thing here: all the favors and meetings have been asked by friends and acquaintances. When the people asking for favors are part of my family, it’s a whole different story.

When they call and ask for something, it feels like I turn on an autopilot mode. I don’t even consider saying ’no’ to them because I’m already thinking how I can say ’yes’ to the thing they are asking. It’s insane – and still it happens.

Let me give you an example.

Last week, I was extremely focused on finishing the theory part of my thesis before the deadline on Friday. I invested huge chunks of time writing it in the library and prioritized the thesis over everything else (except my creative writing and habits). On Monday, my mother called. She asked if I could to do her a favor on Wednesday, two days before the deadline. It was something that would probably take a few hours of my afternoon. It would help her a good deal, she said.

While holding the phone to my ear, I already knew what my answer should be. I knew I should say ’no’ to her. I knew that I needed all the time I had scheduled for my thesis-writing that week and if I’d spend ”a few hours of my afternoon” executing that favor, it would definitely put me behind my work. I’d probably even miss my deadline. In addition to that, I knew the favor wouldn’t take only a few hours. I would put down energy and time before that favor (whether I wanted to or not), waiting for it to happen, and I would probably need a good deal of time for the after-effects of that favor, processing the experience and my thoughts about it.

In other words, the favor wouldn’t take only a few hours of my time. Instead of two hours, it would probably take five or six hours of my day, most likely the whole day.

While on the phone, I was aware of all this. I knew I was supposed to say ’no’ because it would have been the right thing to do for myself. It was my deadline, my biggest and most important essay for school, I needed to make that deadline in order to get onward in my life.

But here’s the thing: a people-pleaser never puts herself first. She always thinks of others before she thinks of herself. And this is why, while my mother explained something on the phone, my brain started going through these thoughts:

”Maybe I’d be able to get everything done before the deadline if I just re-scheduled my creative writing or postponed it altogether, prioritizing my thesis instead of Yellow Tails. After all, Yellow Tails doesn’t have to get done as soon as possible, even though I’d like to finish the first draft as soon as possible.”

”Even if I don’t make it to the deadline, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. I could probably ask for more time, say I only need a few days more if it were okay. I could finish the theory during the weekend. Yellow Tails could wait.”

In retrospect, what amazes me is that I had a one hundred percent valid excuse to say no to my mother’s request and I knew it. I knew it – and still I was doing some serious B-planning in that moment! I was actually considering putting a favor in the first place, and letting my thesis, my novel, my personal well-being take the second place.

Now, a week after that phone call, I wonder how could I even consider it. But I did. It was so close that I would have said ’yes’. However, I managed to say that I needed to check my calendar first. I’d call her later that evening.

So, hello. I’m H.E.R., a recovering people-pleaser who almost relapsed last week.

Two Realizations

That phone call last week made me realize that my family truly is the weak point of the people-pleasing side of me. The members of my family are the people who trigger that people-pleasing behavior in me and even take it to the next level, the insane level.

It isn’t any wonder that it’s my parents and my sisters who trigger the behavior in me. The people-pleasing habits of an individual are often created in one’s childhood. As children, we want to please the people we love in order to avoid conflicts and not add to the burden. I recognize myself there – I never wanted to add to my parents burden. Therefore, I was always the kind, trouble-free, helpful, well-behaving child. The one, who always had the time and energy to help others out.

And now I’m paying for that.

The happenings last week helped me realize another thing as well: my role in the family has always been to be that person who gives her time and attention to the other members of the family. I have always been that person who helps out, listens and does favors. I never ask anything for myself, in order to not add to the burden. I manage everything myself, but when someone needs my help, needs to lend my ears, my attention – count me in, I’ll be there.

Until now.

Saying ’No’

It’s a tough boggart to fight. It’s tough saying ’no’ to one’s family – after all, haven’t they done so much for you? Haven’t they always taken care of you, helped out when needed? Wouldn’t saying ’no’ be ungrateful?

The answer: no.

It’s tough to say ’no’ because you know it will provoke a conflict, questions about your attitude, your behavior. Your family will remember that you said ’no’ – and they will remind you of it later.

It’s even tougher to decline when I know my family doesn’t understand that me saying ’no’ is actually completely normal – they’re not just used to it.

Despite all this, the answer is: no.

Saying ’no’ is the only option I have if I wish to quit this kind of behavior once and for all. It was my family that brought up that behavior in me when I was a child and they are the people who trigger the behavior in me today. Saying ’no’ to my parents and my sisters, when it feels like I’m doing wrong towards myself in order to please them, is the only right thing to do if I want to stop pleasing other people.

It’s a battle I must take on. I want to be the kind of person who holds on to her own values and uses her time and energy on her own terms. A person who respects herself and who doesn’t recognize an autopilot mode when it comes to doing favors.

And that is why I told my mother I couldn’t do her the favor she asked for. I didn’t say it in the moment, on the phone, but later that evening as I had promised I would tell her when I got home. It was already late when I got home so I sent her a text message, explaining about my deadline and how important it was for me to use every hour I had to be able to meet it.

If she understood what I tried to say and if she respected my effort, I don’t know. She only informed me the next day that she had managed to get someone else to do the favor. I was left with mixed feelings, but in retrospect, I’m proud I said no. Because now I know it’ll be easier to do the same next time.

(And yes: there will be a next time.)

How Our Discomfort Zone Changes and Evolves

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During that weekend of sailing I managed to come to some sort of conclusion that living on a sailboat would be a good way for me to keep myself curious but also gently push me to my discomfort zone.

This is a good thing because I know that being outside one’s comfort zone has several benefits. And because I know this, I’m actively thinking I should be out on that zone more than I am now. Being social, trying new things, pushing myself to be more than I feel like I am. However, I also love to stay at home, cook some good food and watch a movie or enjoy a book.

One could describe it as a love-hate relationship between me and my (dis)comfort zone: I love my easy nights at home while at the same time I’m also pining for something exciting to happen. And this love-hate relationship with my (dis)comfort zone could be an answer to my feelings of restlessness but also an answer to the conflicting thoughts I have going through my head.

In other words, I think the reason behind my restlessness is the fact that I’m not pushing myself enough to be on my discomfort zone more often. This makes me wonder: would it be possible that I’m chronically searching for things that make me feel uncomfortable, continuously challenging me to adjust to new things, to keep my life interesting?

On the Escape Route

Let me tell you about my history with my discomfort zone.

I was the kid in school who wasn’t very gifted in gymnastics. I never found a sport I was good at or would have enjoyed which led to a deep dislike towards weekly gymnastic lessons in elementary and high school (and weight-gain, as well). In addition to that, winning didn’t matter to me that much, not at least at sports which meant that I never fought whole-heartedly to win a game or score a goal. This didn’t help me get more motivated in gymnastics, either.

So, as soon as I had completed the final obligatory course in gymnastics, I waved goodbye to my gym bag, feeling satisfied that I’d never have to do sports if I didn’t want to.

Another example: while I was in Scouts, I avoided hiking as much as I could. I was lousy at orienteering, having no sense of direction, and as mentioned before, not a fan of sports. Therefore, hiking never felt like an enjoyable activity to me and I can count with one hand all the hikes I ever participated in during those thirteen years I was an active scout.

I probably would have had the chance to participate in double that amount but because I didn’t feel comfortable hiking, I didn’t take up the challenge either.

And one last example:

After playing classical piano with the same teacher for eleven years, I decided to switch both genre and teacher – I applied to pop and jazz school, got in and started almost anew. I had never learnt the theory behind piano playing so almost everything that had to do with pop and jazz piano was unfamiliar to me. Especially improvising was the worst part of the whole thing and I avoided it as much as I simply could.

After three years of trying I stopped going to lessons, and was, in a way, relieved that I didn’t have to push myself anymore to play something I didn’t feel good at. From now on, I could play whatever I wanted, never having to feel the discomfort of improvisation again.

The lesson from these examples – well, it’s clear, isn’t it? In many different areas of life, I have been avoiding uncomfortable situations as much as possible. Of course, I have challenged myself to do many things that have made me nervous – piano concerts, taking responsibilities as chief editor for a magazine, public speaking… but I’ve also managed to avoid many things that I now believe would have benefitted me.

Into The Light

As it’s been quite a few years since my last obligatory improvisation lesson, orienteering hike and school gymnastics class, I’ve gained some insight in these discomforting situations. They were chances for me to grow as a person, to learn new things about myself and also to gain self-confidence. However, I bailed at every single one of the activities.

Now, if someone would ask me to tag along for a hike in the woods or join a volley ball class today, I’d go for it. Dare to ask questions about orienteering, dare to fail at passing the ball and admit that I’m really not that comfortable at improvising while playing the piano. I could correct all those failures from my childhood and teenage years. I could finally become comfortable in the things that for years felt uncomfortable to me.

But if I returned to the things that were challenging for me then and ”overcome my fears”, would it really help me develop, get more creative and benefit me in ways that being in one’s discomfort zone does?

The thing is, I really don’t think it would. Because today my life is about different challenges altogether. If I’d spend time doing things I was uncomfortable with, it wouldn’t get me that far. In conclusion, I have to let go of the things I failed at becoming comfortable with in my past. Instead, I need to take the lessons learned from it and stay curious to new things, keep my focus on things that make me feel uncomfortable.

As we grow older and develop as humans, our (dis)comfort zone does the same. Therefore, we should always be looking for new challenges. But how do I realize in time what discomforting things are worth becoming comfortable with and what are not? Is it worth my time and energy to get rid of my fear of snakes, for instance, or learn how to kill a fish I’ve caught?

What are the things I should do (i.e. the things in my discomfort zone that I’d rather avoid) and can they become the things I want to do? Is there a way to align these two? Because, if I think about it, that would probably be the way to reach the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment.

The Next Step

On a sailboat, I might be able to align these two things. It’s not just about sailing, which I already know a few things about. There are a great deal of other stuff to learn, many of them being on my discomfort zone – mechanics, technical things, oily and greasy maintaining, plumbing, electrics… that I have no clue of and my first instinct being that I would really want to avoid all of that. At the same time, my second instinct says that it is precisely something I should do. And by doing those things, I would be able to sail onward. Does it make sense?

However, as I wrote on Tuesday, the sailboat dream is something for the future. Right now, it’s about other discomforting things, such as writing my Master’s thesis, dealing with conflicts and creating even better habits. And as time goes, other challenges will come in my way. It’s the way life is, and it’s something we have to deal with and adjust to over and over again.

Just as self-development, pushing oneself to one’s discomfort zone is both time- and energy-consuming. It’s tough and it requires a great deal of self-discipline and willpower to challenge oneself with something that is new and unknown instead of relying on revisiting the old challenges.

I do believe it does pay off – we just have to realize when the discomforting challenges are in front of us and meet them with curiosity instead of escaping them.

What are the things you felt uncomfortable with before and what are the main issues on you discomfort zone you’d like to address right now?