Moving from "I can't" to "Well, maybe...."

Yesterday morning as I was driving James (my five year old) to his day care, I mentioned to him our plan to go ice skating the coming Saturday. It will be his first time.

"I can't Mommy. I don't know how to ice skate", he whined.

"Well of course honey, because you never did it before. You'll practice and learn, just like you learned how to ride your scooter", I reassured.

"But I'll fall," he whined again.

"Maybe. And then you'll get up and start again," I stated.

"But it will hurt", he whimpered.

"Well, it might. But then you'll get up and keep going like you always do".

This volleying between us went on just a bit longer until it got to a point where James's initial fear and trepidation waned, and I could tell from his silence and far away look that he was thinking about the possibility of maybe actually ice skating.

I have come to recognize and know intimately this same "I can't - But - Well maybe..." dynamic in myself when I"m facing a fear. This showed up big time when I began to have the thought of writing this very blog.  The immediate thoughts "I'm not a good writer"; "I don't have anything relevant to say"; "What if it SUCKS!?" automatically arose when I gave the tiniest consideration to blog writing. "I don't blog". "I'm not a blogger". The automatic, unfiltered thoughts continued. These thoughts gave rise to a blast of fear: heart palpitations, a clenching tension throughout my body and a mild nausea in my gut. I continued to ruminate on the above thoughts, and new ones joined in: "People will think I'm a loser" and Everyone will HATE me!" and, "I'll die!" The fear ballooned inside of me. More nausea. This is a familiar cycle and pattern that escalates as it continues. In no time flat I'm in a state of paralysis. Oftentimes when this happens I bail out - I cower back to my couch, grab the Ben and Jerry's and self-soothe. This oh so familiar fear response and deeply-rooted habit of avoidance and self-soothing has on so many occasions completely derailed me from taking action towards what I want. And it sucks.

I have come to know this pattern in me, and I recognize it when it arises (more often than I used to, but not always). Over the past year, through the process of coaching others and being coached hundreds of times, I have observed how similar innate fear responses also show up in others. In the Martha Beck coaching community there is an often touted, much revered catch phrase: "BE WILLING TO SUCK". And it is this mantra in the minds of myself and others that is employed as a gentle reminder and support as we begin the process of moving toward fear rather than away from it. 

The specific situations can vary widely, but the pattern of beginning to baby-step toward the fear and the desired end goal is always made up with this basic structure: "I Can't-But-Well Maybe...". Oftentimes (because it's so scary) it's a ridiculously slow process that involves a zillion teeny tiny baby steps in the direction of fear and toward "Well maybe...". There is a lot of hand-holding. There's cheerleading and various forms of encouragment. And most often the baby steps in the direction of fear are taken. And with this action, something unexpected happens: the fear begins to lose power, and what begins to emerge is possibility. It's in the "well maybe..." that something else becomes possible, and sometimes that something else gives birth to exactly what we want. 

With regard to writing this blog, my first baby step (after recognizing the thoughts above) was acknowledging (with support) that there is actually some writing I do that I actually don't hate, and that I even kind of like. One thing I noticed is that I can banter back and forth via text one liners with my friends forever. I have a zillion one liners people! One liner-writing doesn't intimidate me, and it's fun.  Another example of writing that I don't hate, is that I also write a ton of copy in my work. When the writing is not personal it comes much easier to me and isn't so scary at all. And ha - just like that I arrived at two examples of my writing that at the very least "doesn't suck". These realizations relax the grip of fear a little bit. And this encourages me to be a little more open. Hmm...I begin to consider what it might be like a little more easily. I continue to baby step into "Well maybe...".

The Liminal Space

Some time during this past year, I learned the term liminal space from Martha Beck, one of my mentors. Liminal is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a place where one life form begins to be alchemized into another". This liminal space is where I am currently with writing. While there remains some bits of fear residue, there is also a curiosity to write and to see what happens. With this new-found curiosity, ideas arise. I woke up at 4 something am this morning with ideas. I came downstairs to jot them down before I forgot. The ideas became an outline. I decided (what the heck) to add them to this draft post. And here I am writing this at 6:13am, because I wanted to follow the idea thread and see where it landed. I have momentum.

So this is where i am now, no longer so in the grips of a fear-paralysis, and not exactly in the thick of the joy of writing. I invite you to join me in this liminal space and see what will be revealed. I have ideas people!

With love,

Mara Wai2 Comments