Deep Water, Shallow Thoughts — V.1

It’s 6:27am, I am staring at my toes as they grip the edge of the boat, the rest of my field of view is dominated by the icy blackness of the ocean below. In the periphery I can hear my two year-old Zelda, counting down like some pint-sized executioner. I dread the plunge, despite the certain knowledge that just on the other side is some of the cleanest-burning day-making exhilaration to be found. F%#K it, JUMP.

Good Morning Maine!

How is it possible that I am perpetually terrified by one of my favorite parts of the day? It is so confusing, and on the other hand it is not. After all, the ocean in Maine greets you with a searing slurpee-headache type of cold. Every morning since our arrival two weeks ago, I’ve coaxed myself into taking a swim. Ok, “swim” might be generous; mostly I just leap in, shriek and thrash my way back to the boat, and scramble to the relative safety of yesterday’s still damp towel. But I love it.

The jump is truly one of my favorite parts of the day, and I believe it sets the tone for a more mentally and physically adventurous outlook. But if I attribute so much immediate and follow-on goodness to this practice, how is it possible that I am still so terrified of it? Every morning I procrastinate and doddle my way to it, and I feel the fingers of fear and discomfort creeping over my brain just before I walk my favorite plank.

Alfred Hitchcock said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” As soon as I hit the water I feel fine — amazing actually. It’s like the reluctant gym-goer who upon breaking that first sweat feels like a fleet-footed athlete. It’s like the nervous public speaker who suddenly hits her stride with the crowd and revels in the power and engagement of the experience. This threshold between anticipation and action, between fear and growth, is a magic moment; so instantaneous, and yet so powerful and empowering. So how do we get to our magic moments undeterred by nervous anticipation? How do we harness that anticipation to serve us, or brush it aside when it tries to ride along uninvited on our adventures?

The Mini-Judge gave it a 4.3

This is the question I’ve been wrestling with the past few days as I contemplate my leap and the soaking cold that awaits. I’d love to share a few observations and hear your thoughts on the subject.

1/ Ask yourself: “What’s the worst that can happen?” I love this tool; it works for everything from investing to assessing that sketchy rope swing in the Dominican Republic. More often than not the answer just isn’t all that scary.

2/ Commit. By committing you force yourself to stop fretting over “what if” and start planning “how.” By committing you cross the point of no return, beyond which there is nothing to do but prepare, and nothing calms the nerves like preparation.

3/ Bring a Friend. Peer pressure is a powerful thing, use it to your advantage by enlisting people close to you to share the experience or hold you accountable to your goals. Not only are you more likely to follow through, you’ll have way more fun doing it together. And if you need a rescue…

4/ Practice Discomfort. This doesn’t have to be super intense, just consistent. Talk to that stranger, turn the shower all the way to cold for one whole minute, climb a tree, give an impromptu toast, eat the fried scorpion. Acclimatizing to routine discomfort makes surprise discomfort way less adrenaline-spiking and you’ll be blown away by the incremental growth (and funny stories) you create along the way.

Two weeks ago my ocean hops were just that, a procrastinated and weak-hearted jump followed by a panicked beeline for the back step and my towel. This morning it was a disorganized backflip and 17 laps around the boat. And just like day one, that first lap is always the hardest.