Drowning While Learning to Swim
Last week I took a swim lesson. I know this is a bit unusual at age 51, but as I am training for a triathlon, I figured that perhaps a few suggestions from an expert could shave some seconds off my time. Very early on in the lesson, I knew I was in trouble. The instructor changed everything about my swimming style, from the way I held my hands, to the way I kicked my feet, to the movement of every body part in between. She even changed how I breathed. I spent the entire lesson overwhelmed by how bad I must be and how hard it would be to incorporate all the changes to improve. I took in so much water while trying, that I literally and figuratively felt I was drowning.
But I knew she was right, so I wrote down all her suggestions and taped them to my fridge.
The next time I got in the pool, I forced myself to swim her way, but pretty quickly I found myself back in almost drowning mode. I considered just giving up and going back to my old way of swimming, which really wasn't that bad. But then an idea came to me. As a life coach myself, I know that change is really hard. I appreciate that trying to change too much at once can lead to "change fatigue.” Instead, if you make the change in incremental steps, getting comfortable with each stage before moving on, the process is far less painful.
So, in the pool I decided to focus on just three things: holding my hands like flippers, keeping my head down, and using my arms in the proper motion. It still felt uncomfortable, but at least I wasn't drowning. The next time I got in the pool, those three things actually started to feel more natural, as though I had always swum that way. That’s when I added another of my instructor's suggestions: keeping my arms at shoulder width as they enter the water. (Yes, the suggestions were that specific!) Again, initially it felt strange, but after several laps, I could see that I was swimming a little faster - and even better, it seemed to take less effort.
Clearly I am not writing this so that you will become a better swimmer. The point is that anytime you go through major change, you initially can feel as though you're drowning. You become so overwhelmed that you give up and retreat back to your comfort zone. To make a major change less painful, I recommend the following:
Be crystal clear about why the change is necessary. If you are at all ambivalent, it is too easy to give up during the difficult stages and revert to your old ways. In my case, it would have been easy to give up. (Really, who cares if I swim a minute faster?) Sometimes change is forced on us (such as when a spouse asks for a divorce), and you have no choice but to make the change.
Believe in the end result. In my case, I truly believed that my instructor’s advice would make me a better swimmer. If the change is something you know is for the better, that gives you the power to believe in the process that brings you to the result.
Tell someone about your transition or change, and ask them to be your “encouragement partner.” The person should listen to your complaints and doubts, but then encourage you to keep moving, providing the accountability that many of us need to succeed. And in fact there are even websites like StickK.com where you can post your goals on line and be accountable to the world.
Recognize that change is often painful in the beginning. The key here is “in the beginning.” The difficulty is not a bad thing in and of itself, but merely a phase to push through. I like to think of a how uncomfortable a snake must feel when it first sheds its skin, and yet it is just that uneasy transition that is necessary in order for the snake to transform and grow.
If it is too painful or difficult, yet you feel that the end result is too important to give up, then slow down and take baby steps. Think of my swimming example, and each of those little changes I needed to make in order to be a better swimmer. Making them all at once was overwhelming, causing me to flee back to comfort -- in my case, my old way of swimming. So, instead of trying to do it all at once, incorporate and embrace each step fully before undertaking the next one. This will avoid "change fatigue."
Get In “Change Shape". I like to think of going through a major change as being like running a marathon. You would never wake up one day and say “Now I need to run 25 miles”. Of course you would start training for the marathon months in advance, starting with shorter distances and gradually getting in shape. Each week you would feel stronger and better able to tackle the big race. Well, a major change is just like a marathon: You need to be in shape. So how do you get in “Change Shape”? By forcing yourself constantly to tackle small challenges that take you out of your comfort zone. I do this every two weeks. One small challenge I set was to speak to a group about a new topic, another was to take a ballet class with the professional dancers of Cincinnati Ballet even though I'm no longer a professional ballet dancer myself. Each scared me in a different way and each time I succeeded with these little challenges, I got in a little better shape to tackle big changes that either I sought, or that got thrown my way.
Celebrate the completed change. Often when we look back we wonder, how did we not... "do that,” "know that," "feel that"... all along? My new swimming style feels so natural to me now that I couldn't go back to my old way if I wanted to. In the end, change can seem so much easier than it really was, but take the time to celebrate what you have accomplished. When the next big change comes along, you will have the confidence of knowing that you tackled and overcame the last one.To comment, click here.>
Julie Shifman is an award-winning, speaker, writer, and business owner. She is the author of Act Three: Create the Life You Want After Your First Career and Full Time Motherhood. Julie believes in every woman’s ability to challenge herself and to grow as she herself continues to do. She started her career as a professional ballet dancer and then became a highly successful lawyer in New York City and in Cincinnati before founding her company, Act Three,in 2008.She is also a certified coach and an adjunct professor of business law at Xavier University. Julie recently received the prestigious Athena award by Cincy Magazine and was named as a Woman to Watch by The Cincinnati Enquirer. Please visit www.actthree.com.