As an executive coach, I am always practicing the latest coaching techniques on those willing in my inner circle of friends and family. My 11 year old daughter has been an eager early adopter. She recently tried using the technique called "The Power of Narrative" to literally re-write her fear of diving. As a springboard diver, her sport requires her to climb up a steep ladder to heights of 1 M, 3 M and 10M and then hurdle herself off it into a somersault, or back flip, into the depths of the icy cold water below. The mindset of a diver is each and every time you climb up the board, you need to overcome fear, fear of landing on the board, fear of smacking the water below.
Our "fears" activate the amygdala (fright/flight part of our brain) and can emotionally paralyze us into inaction. The little voice inside our head appears saying things like, "You don't need to take that on!" "Why do something so scary?" We have a tendency to talk ourselves out of even trying for that something great.
So, what is a proven scientific technique for taking on the big challenges (aka "fears") of your life?
Try using the "Power of Narrative." Dr. Pennebaker, PHD of Psychology at the University of Austin, has researched how, in writing about our fears and blocks, we can make lasting change. How it works: writing our stories gives us space to look at our life objectively, literally as we take it out of our heads and transfer it onto paper. This shifts the fear thing, trapped inside our mind and body, to something tangible and actionable. https://www.utexas.edu/features/archive/2005/writing.html
Here is my daughter's story, in her words, of how she tackled her fear of a new dive. She used Pennebaker's Principles, writing for 15 minutes in consecutive iterations over two weeks.
My Diving Story: By L. Mitchell
Life is like a doing a 2 1/2 off the diving board, when you fall, sometimes you just don’t want to get back up again. The truth is, diving is part of my life. It always has been. Maybe there will be a day when I don’t want to do diving anymore in the future, but it is the present, and the future is a long way away.
Sometimes, I feel like diving makes me scared, and I just want to curl up in a ball like a turtle who is hiding in it’s shell and never wants to come out. I am hiding my true feelings and my true personality.
I want to do a 2 1/2. I want to show my diving coaches that I can do anything, but the “devil voice” tells me, “You can’t do this. You’ll smack and hurt yourself. It'll be scary!”
At practice, I climbed up the 3 Meter diving board to try my new dive but I came out too early and landed flat like a pancake. I was in so much pain that my coach had to help me out of the water. I couldn’t move. I was red, from forehead to knees, and I was sobbing. It was hard for me to breathe, and I was scared of going back up there.
Sometimes, my coach pushes me a little too hard and I hear that voice again. The longer I keep listening to the “devil voice,” the more the “devil voice" will take over the “angel voice.” The more I will live in fear of diving. The “devil voice” is hard to control. It tells me that I am afraid of something. It wants me to be negative and have fears, and makes me think I will do bad at the thing that I am afraid of.
But I will try to keep a positive attitude. It is an obstacle in life. It is a stumble in a big running race, a D- in a big Math Test, a time when you flunk out in a big presentation in front of a big crowd. But we learn to let it go. Later, we will look back on ourselves and laugh at ourselves and say, “Remember that time when I was so scared of this thing? Why was I afraid of that?” Because I have to let it go and move on.
Even if I am afraid, life keeps on going. When I stay at the bottom of the mountain and all my friends are at the top, I am missing out on what could be a great opportunity. If I went up there- to the top of the mountain, I might accomplish what I failed to do before.
So, I listen to my other voice telling me "Go on, start the journey! Start walking up the mountain- to the peak, and start walking to your goal." In life, we all have big dreams that we want to accomplish. I can simmer those dreams down to goals, and work my way up to my dream. Take it step by step, and day by day. Make a checklist of the steps I made to reach my goal, and check them off as I go.
At this week's diving practice, my coach said, "Today's the day you're going to do a 2 1/2!" I was afraid of what might happen, but I climbed on the 3 meter diving board. I started the dive, doing a hurdle, then jumped as high as I could go, and I did a 2 1/2! Landing it, I thought, WOW! "I actually did it! I did it! I accomplished my fear!"
Dr. Martin Luther King said, “If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” To me, this means to keep reaching towards your goal. Eventually, you will overcome your fears and make your dream come true.