I never learned how to swim growing up like most of my friends did. I was always that awkward kid (then adult) that hung out in the shallow end of the pool afraid to venture deeper in, afraid to play water polo or any other kind of water sport, afraid to let loose in any capacity at all. As I got older, I developed a different kind of fear – FOMO (fear of missing out). I’d watch my friends go snorkeling on our beach vacations and hear their awesome stories of the beautiful creatures at the bottom of the ocean floor.
The FOMO hit me so hard that I once tried to go kayaking with friends in Malibu. They’d convinced me that all I needed was a life vest and I’d be safe if I fell into the ocean. Not long after we’d pushed off the shore, a huge wave towered over us. I’d never been more scared of the water than at that moment – knowing I’d be emptied out of my kayak and that we were deep enough into the ocean that my feet couldn’t touch the ground.
I didn’t just survive that incident. I came out of the water that day determined to not be crippled by my fears anymore. Here’s how I achieved that goal.
Face your fears head-on
In order to understand a fear you wish to overcome, you first must expose yourself to it. I put off swimming lessons for so long. I was always too busy – working or traveling or some other excuse I’d make up as to why I couldn’t do it. These truly are just all excuses. I’ve found that I’m never ever too busy to do things I actually want to do – and neither are you. Extra motivation can come from finding a friend to face it with you, or consulting a professional. In my case, I found a certified swimming instructor that worked with me at my pace.
Make a mental “5 Why’s” diagram
I like to think of my fears as being 3 dimensional – they aren’t flat and they have some depth to them. I use the 5 Why’s technique to peek beneath the surface of my fears and potentially get to the root cause. I truly used to believe that I was afraid of the water itself until I began taking swimming lessons. We’d been doing breathing exercises for some time, and my instructor decided that it was time to teach us how to float. This is where there fear kicked in! I began to ask myself why I was so scared. Here’s what that process looked like:
Why don’t I want to float as instructed? Because I’m afraid of the water.
Why? Because I could drown.
Why? Because anything can happen to me when I’m in water.
Why? Because the water is more powerful than I am.
Why? Because I can’t control it.
I learned from this analysis that my true fear wasn’t of the water itself – but of the lack of control I had when submerged. This was a huge deal for me! If I were to have stopped my analysis at the first why, I would have been completely paralyzed. There’s no way to conquer something so abstract as “I’m afraid of the water”. Understanding that a deeper fear was not knowing how to manipulate the water around me gave me my first actionable step: learn techniques that make me feel like I have more control when I’m in water.
Do NOT give up – ever!
If there’s one thing I can guarantee, it’s that you will want to give up. Facing your fears is difficult – it will not be a walk in the park. As you continue to brave down this path and dig deeper, you might discover deeper or even scarier fears at the root of your surface level fear. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to quit swimming lessons. It was difficult, I cried, and at times I even felt like a loser for being so scared of something “everyone else” knew how to do. I never gave up, and I’m the better for it.