Walking towards the edge of the Avon viaduct, my easy stroll along the canal has just changed its tune into gripping fear. The calm and focus I had as I walked among the trees, and admired the reflections on the water, has disappeared.
The last time I walked over here, my fear of heights hit me like a sledgehammer and my sister had to take my arm to walk to the other side. I made the mistake of looking down the 100-feet drop. My head swam at the vast gap between me and the ground.
This time I have a bouncy labradoodle, and I know from experience she’ll sense if I become anxious.
Do I turn back?
No. I can do this.
Taking a deep breath, I focus on the path ahead and notice how solid the stone feels below my feet. I think about the techniques I’ve learned to help me connect with a resourceful state. I focus on the outcome of reaching the other side smoothly and calmly.
Continuing with the deep breaths… I place one foot in front of the other. Strong, solid, and calm. I repeat these words with each out-breath: strong, solid, and calm. And it has a transformative effect to the extent that I feel meditative and uplifted by cool clear breaths. I notice a slow, steady rhythm to my movement. I even cheerfully say ‘hello’ to a man walking a sheepdog coming the other way.
As I reach the other side and step off the viaduct, I experience a feeling of celebration and courage, as if on a voyage of discovery, and I’m overflowing with positivity. I’m excited by what I’ve discovered on the other side of my fear. No big deal in the whole scheme of things, but I feel like I’ve proved something to myself.
I find life is like that, too, and I feel enriched through personal growth each time I step out of the other side of challenges which may initially have brought fear. I often take time to reflect on what I’ve learned, and in this case I have the ideal opportunity to test and integrate the learning as I have to make it back the other way across the viaduct again!
Same as before, I bring myself into a resourceful state by focusing on the outcome (not the problem!) and saying the positive mantra in my head. I glide across with ease and grace. What could have been a fight-or-flight adrenaline rush has instead become a confidence boost.
And I’m reminded how much our thoughts and beliefs shape our experiences, something I’ve learned through NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and which has opened up my world to infinite possibilities. My connection to real-life experiences of building resilience, mindful living, connecting with creativity, and living with purpose, have helped to deepen my experiences and my relationships.
4 steps you can follow
If you want to feel more calm, confident, and focused when you’re experiencing fear, here are four simple steps for you to try:
Slow down your thoughts and body movements and pause in-the-moment so you can take a step back. If your mind is still busy, picture a giant ‘pause’ button in front of you, and imagine clicking on it to completely pause your thoughts and emotions.
Where is your attention right now? Are you focusing on the fear and what could go wrong? Observe with curiosity; with a ‘beginner’s mind’. Simply acknowledge what comes up and how you’re experiencing it just now, without judgement or telling yourself off. You might have a mental image, or sounds, or physical feelings and emotions. This is natural, and we’re wired to respond to what our subconscious perceives as a threat. When we understand this, and acknowledge it, we then have a choice as to how we respond. We don’t have to engage with it.
When we are having these natural, unconscious reactions to fear, all sorts of things can happen which are not helpful to how we would consciously choose to be. We might notice an increased heart rate, breathing is shallow and faster, we may start to sweat or have cold hands.
The first thing to do to ease this is to take a deep breath. Notice how the cool, clean air feels as you breathe all the way in through your nostrils… and the warm air as you release a relaxing breath all the way out. As you focus on your breathing, notice how your body softens, allow yourself to let go, and the tension starts to drift away. Ideally, do this for at least 2-3 minutes, regularly, for lasting results.
And if you find it a challenge to be still, moving around can help. Go for a walk, run, dance, do exercise of any kind that suits your fitness level. Or do something creative. The main thing is to change state to a more resourceful and connected way of being.
Now you’ve cleared some headspace and calmed the fight-or-flight reactions, you can choose what you want to focus on, in line with the outcome you want. And your brain has more capacity for thinking, now that you have more oxygen and fewer stress hormones running around!
You could bring a specific goal to mind, or simply imagine being peaceful and positive, or calm and focused. Notice what words come to mind for you.
Tune in to your senses
And now vividly imagine that as if it’s already happening, for example:
See an image in your mind’s eye; the colours, shapes, light, and shade. What can you see happening around you, and in the distance?
Hear any sounds, and their tone, pitch, rhythm.
And what are you saying to yourself?
Notice sensations in your body, what success feels like, any emotions that you’re experiencing now you’ve achieved your outcome.
What you focus on you get more of. What do you want to create more of in your work and home life?
Keep practising and, over time, you will form new habits and patterns of thinking to bring about more of the results you want.
Bring to mind something you are holding some fear about at the moment, or where you find your mind is busy when you think about it. Go through the four steps above and notice the impact of taking a few minutes to reset.
I stopped in my tracks as I reached the top step of the open-air restaurant.
I was captivated by the view of the warm terracotta roof tiles and palm trees framing the pale blue sky and the vast Arabian Sea, where fishermen worked for hours every day to bring in their catch.
We had just finished yoga on the beach at sunrise (Cherai Beach in Kerala, India), and I was feeling invigorated by the grace and flow from moving my body , the sounds within and around me as we chanted, and how present I felt in my body and mind. My heart was also pumping from the ride home on the bikes which Carolyn and I hired to get us back and forth from yoga.
This was how we started each day on the 8-day NLP Intensive run by Sue Knight and Ramesh Prasad, and I found that I had many a-ha moments outside the training room as well as within it.
I’ve found it fascinating how moving, stretching, and focusing on my body in this way reinforced and enhanced the changes in my mind, and how at home I felt from the moment I arrived.
There was a moment last time when I squeezed a juicy piece of lemon into my tea, and I later anchored* that moment. Right then, I realised that I can feel at home wherever I am. And I smiled and re-connected with that when I had my first cup of tea this time in the garden at Blue Waters hotel, where we had the course.
If you’ve ever read The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, you’ll be familiar with the concept of seeking and travelling a long way to then discover that what you were looking for was right under your nose! It was a bit like that, AND I was glad I had such an adventure far away from home to discover it (and re-discover it this time).
Stretching my comfort zone
‘Comfort’ was a theme that came up quite a bit before and during this programme, in how I acted and how I spoke about my learning outcomes. Sue challenged me on it – and I’m glad she did – because it had become a blind spot for me in various aspects of life. Perhaps (at least partly) because of living in limbo with the pandemic, and especially having long-covid on-and-off for over two years, I found ways to just accept things as they were at the time (settle, maybe?).
It feels important to challenge and update my beliefs around my health, as well as what I’m capable of as a professional. I have become a little too comfortable with my natural style which is soft and gentle. It does work well and my clients find they can go deep with exploring and understanding themselves… However, I can flex my coaching muscles and benefit clients by being more provocative and challenging, at times!
I believe that where there is discomfort, there is learning, and I have felt the benefit through this training programme, once again.
“I am STRONG”
One of the a-ha moments was when I noticed a tangible, visceral shift from believing “I am resilient” to “I am STRONG”. This feels so different for me, because resilience implies that there are things to be resilient against. Being strong is about a way of being in the world, from the inside-out, and is not dependent on a set of external conditions. It’s about getting myself – and any stories I might be telling myself – out of the way.
This has been a revelation for me, and I am now exploring what that means in my life as it is now. And the more I pay attention to it and say it to myself, the stronger I feel.
That’s the beauty of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming): it’s about studying subjective experience, learning and doing ‘what works’… and sustaining it, too. Through almost 100 days of training (so far!) I have gained a treasure trove of skills and techniques.
And, most of all, I have found a way home to myself.
“Wherever you go, there you are.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
How to feel at home wherever you are
I couldn’t possibly do justice to this in a short paragraph, however here are the key components I have discovered which help me to feel at home, wherever I am in the world…
Be curious about people you meet, customs, food, and culture. Ask questions – most people love talking about themselves and where they come from, and enjoy welcoming people from other places, especially when they can learn from each other and form a bond in the process.
Notice what you have in common. The first time I was in India I noticed very quickly that the people I was with had all travelled a distance to be there too. So we were all fellow travellers! I find that a useful metaphor for life in general.
Tune in to your senses. You are probably starting to notice that I say this a lot. And it works! Right now I’m imagining the sand under my feet, the rustling of the palms above my head, and the vibrant flowers which seem to inspire a colourful palette for everything from clothes to buses to road signs! It can be very grounding and calming, and brings you to the present moment when you go through the senses one by one. When you are connecting with people, notice their expressions, what makes them laugh, and tune in to that (in a very genuine way).
Talking about humour, it’s a wonderful way to break the ice and get rid of any tension or formality. I can think of many examples of potentially daunting experiences which ended up being highlights because of the laughter and banter in the room!
Most of all, trust your instincts and remember the people who are great at this. If I ever feel like a fish out of water, for example in a state of confusion when travelling, I think about intrepid explorers who have far less information and resources than I do. And I also think “What would they do?” and “How would they be?”
*Anchoring is a technique where we can bring about a desired state – or way of being – by choice. For example you might want to bring about calmness, playfulness, or confidence, by choosing and activating a signal to ‘switch it on’. It really works!
Working with metaphors has been life-changing for me, and for many people I have worked with.
A metaphor is a way of expressing something that conveys a variety of meaningful attributes, in the form of something else.
You might hear people say things like…
“It’s as if I’m on a treadmill and I can’t keep up”
“I went for a walk to blow away the cobwebs”
“You’re a star”
None of these are literal statements – not usually anyway! – but they mean something beyond the surface structure of the words to the person who’s saying them. In other words, what we mean goes deeper than what we say, and a metaphor is a sign that there is more to discover in the unconscious aspects of our experience.
Where it gets really interesting, I find, is when the person is having some kind of embodied experience in the form of a metaphor, for example…
“I can see red mist, I’m so angry”
“There’s a tightness in my throat when I talk about it”
“I just know. I can feel it in my gut… heavy like a stone”
“I can feel a buzz of positive energy”
Or it could be pointing emphatically to a particular point in the space around them, a or sound (like ‘whoosh’ or ‘bang’).
Again, none of these are literal but there is clearly some deeper meaning, and other insights to be found if we have a chance to explore.
Understanding your metaphors can create profound shifts, often bringing about new metaphors which change the whole outlook.
In the photo on this post, I show an example of a metaphor I held at the start of my transformational journey with #NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) – a scraggy old onion with lots of layers to peel back and discover. Through NLP tools and techniques, this then transformed into a beautiful lotus flower, with the petals gracefully unfolding with ease, representing the thinking and beliefs I now hold about how I learn and develop at my best.
And once you begin to understand metaphors you begin to develop a landscape of understanding, how things connect and relate to each other, and find solutions and choices you never even knew existed!
You can probably tell I’m passionate about this… I could go on for hours, but I won’t!
As I sit looking out over the silvery shimmer of the Arabian sea, I feel the warm, golden sun on my face. It turns to a deep, rich red as it slowly sinks into the tropical haze on the horizon.
It’s been a day of discovery and learning, feeling unsettled with new realisations coming to the surface and also knowing and trusting that this is right for me at this exact moment. I sense that it’s time to let go of limiting beliefs and embrace all the possibilities of new beginnings.
Sitting here bathed in sunlight, I become aware of the ebb and flow of the waves, noticing they’re louder than before, hypnotic in their rhythm. With each new wave washing in, the one before it fades away and disappears, and yet the wisdom remains.
With each wave I feel lighter, as if the things I’ve been unconsciously carrying are sinking into the ocean and fresh moments are arriving, making perfect sense yet I’m not ‘thinking’ about anything, just being present with what is happening right now.
Hypnotised by the steady rhythm, as each wave bubbles up onto the shore I hear the words ‘begin again’, over and over. There’s a comfort in knowing that I can always start from the present moment in anything I want to achieve and that I have everything I need to be successful.
As the sun disappears completely I come back into awareness, feeling the sand between my toes and taking a cool drink of water. As I set it down I have a strong sense of purpose building within me, feeling ready to take the next steps forward into my full potential, to live my life’s purpose like never before. It’s time for new beginnings.
I am filled with gratitude for the warm welcome to this beautiful place, for new friendships, love and laughter, learning and experiences that will stay with me forever.
A couple of years ago I visited Kelvingrove Museum with my daughter to see an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s work. I was intrigued to see the brushstrokes and pencil drawings in person, imagining him creating them all that time ago… little did I know it would spark my curiosity way beyond that.
There are many similarities in the style and form of his work, but these two stood out when I realised what’s different and unique about them.
The first is an anatomically correct study of a human spine, with every vertebra meticulously studied and set out on the page. Nothing like this had ever been done before, yet look at how the shape and form is precise, with structured notes and uniformity. Imagine the tenacity and attention to detail which went into such a piece of work, and how this helped physicians and scientists at the time.
The other picture is a map of an area in Italy which was entirely created through studying from ground level and IMAGINING what the aerial view would be. There was no aerial photography, no means of flying (yet… although he was a pioneer in that too), and yet he was able to create a map which is representative of the real landscape.
The mind which created these fascinates me, and especially the belief and determination which he must have had to boldly go where – literally – no one had gone before.
“The most important places on a map are the places we haven’t been yet.” ~ Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
During a planning meeting last week, Carolyn and I were talking about ‘maps of the world’. It’s an expression used in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and it helps to describe how we each have a unique perception of the world which shapes our experiences. In metaphorical terms, this internal representation could be likened to a ‘map’, with all the features set according to what we have experienced, our beliefs, values, memories, conditioning… and everything we have taken in through our senses. And yet this internal map which us humans have is only a representation – it’s not the whole truth, it’s not factual, and it has missing bits!
Just like Leonardo da Vinci we have created a map based on a sub-set of information, although perhaps less consciously.
As one of the Beliefs of Excellence (or pre-suppositions) in NLP says:
“The map is not the territory.”
What this is saying, in human terms, is that we have our map imprinted and integrated with all we know and have experienced, and yet there is no single version of the truth. We filter from subjective experience, which is essentially what NLP is about – the study of subjective experience, focusing on excellence and ‘doing what works’. Even having been in the same place at the same time as someone, there will be two versions of events. I am a twin and my sister and I recall different things from the same situations sometimes, either remembering different things or describing the same thing but not in the same way.