Thursday, June 30, 2011

Facing Fear and Finding Nemo - Part 2

"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it."
- Charles R. Swindoll

Yesterday  I revealed my irrational fear of snorkeling and my mission to conquer it.  The time and place was my recent vacation to Turks & Caicos. 

The second day on the island we were at a secluded beach on the south side.  The water was crystal clear and quite shallow.  A perfect place to get used to the mask, something that previously made me feel claustrophobic.  Sitting in water no higher than my knees, I practiced wearing the mask and mouthpiece.  Head above water, just sitting there wearing it.  Baby steps.  It's all about baby steps. 

In the same depth of water, I walked around on my hands and put my face in the water next.  Once that eerie silence of water filling your ears crept in, my gut reaction was to pull my head out of the water.  Five years ago I would've pulled the mask off and retreated to the beach.  Not this time though.  I made a promise to myself that when I felt panicked, I would take some deep breaths and evaluate the situation.  Deep breath.  Another deep breath.  It passed.  I went on to deeper water and did the same thing.  By the end of the morning I was comfortable in the mask, being in the water, and even annoyed because there were no fish to see!

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Snorkeling for the first time at Taylor Bay

The next day we went to the other end of Grace Bay, where there is a reef right off the shore.  This would be more of a challenge for me but also more rewarding since there would actually be some scenery!  I practiced in the shallow water again to make sure the previous day wasn't a fluke.  It wasn't.  Then it was time to swim out to the reef.  The first time I stuck my head down and saw how deep the water was, that familiar feeling crept in.

Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe.

It passed.

I was out there for about an hour that first time taking in all the sights.  It was beautiful!  After taking a break and a walk along the beach, I went out again for another 25 minutes.  Elated might be a good word to describe how I felt. 

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View of the reef in front of Coral Gardens resort

Later in the week we booked a snorkel tour.  Despite my previous two days of success, this would be like returning to the scene of the original crime.  Jumping off a boat.  In open waters.  With who knows what swimming beneath you.

Not going to lie, I was nervous climbing down the boat's ladder.  Before I did anything I took my deep breaths and told myself "you are OK".  Just like the previous days, I was off and keeping up with the group.

As I got into the groove, there was a bit of commotion from the group ahead of me.  I popped my head up to see what was going on.  Our tour guide was pointing to something right beneath him.  "What is it?" someone asked.  "A barracuda."

I froze for a second.  Breathe.  It was the biggest and most exciting thing I would see in my brief snorkeling history and I was not going to miss it.  Slowly, I swam closer and got a good view.  I floated above it, just watching, when it's mouth opened revealing it's set of unfriendly teeth.  It started to drift closer to the surface and toward our group.

The familiar feeling of panic tried creeping in again.  Deep breaths blocked it.  After carefully observing the barracuda, I reminded myself how he was floating around just like us.  And how his teeth are made to target fish much smaller than me.  Just like that, I was able to let go and enjoy the experience.

What was the big difference between now and 2006?  The situations were very similar.  The major difference was my reaction. 

In 2006 I reacted based on fear, therefore giving my power away.  Last week, I removed myself from the situation for a split second to see it for what it really was and chose my response.

The same holds true for any situation, especially health-related ones.

Maybe you're afraid to join your local gym or approach a personal trainer for help.  You've never exercised a day in your life and are embarrassed to admit it.  Surely, they will get frustrated trying to teach you how to do a push-up or will laugh at your lack of coordination needed to do a lunge. 

Step back for a second and think about it.  Taking no action at all means no results.  Everyone was a beginner at one point or another.  The difference is those who chose to take action progressed and became better.  And the truth is, most people who work in the fitness industry do so because they want to help people.  They expect to teach you how to do push-ups and lunge correctly.

Think about any 4th of July picnics you might be headed to this weekend.  You're faced with a dessert table of brownies, a cake iced like an American flag, a couple pies, cookies, etc.  The aroma of sugar, chocolate, butter, and more sugar surrounds you.  They all look so good and this is a celebration after all, isn't it?  Before you know it there is a small slice of everything on your plate.  How unpatriotic NOT to try the red, white, and blue flag cake!

But if you take a deep breath and think for a minute, that will count as your cheat for the week, which you hadn't planned on using so soon.  Instead, maybe the bowl of fresh cut fruit in the back corner of the table is a better option.  It will satisfy your sweet tooth and allow you to keep that cheat meal in your back pocket for another time.  That's how you make a good decision rather than letting your taste buds take you down in a sugar coma before the fireworks start.

Whether it be accomplishing a fitness goal, making a smart nutrition choice, or facing a barracuda, you have the power to choose your reaction.  Stepping back from the situation for a split second will let you logically evaluate your options rather than acting on sheer emotion or impulse.  It makes the path you're traveling far less foggy.

By the way, I never did find Nemo but I did see a whole school of Dory's!

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