During my most recent ski holiday I achieved a significant breakthrough. Having learned to ski as an adult, my goals had always been about becoming better, faster, and more fearless. This year I changed my intention.
The first time I tried to ski was on a high school field trip. I expected a lot of fun because the enthusiastic anticipation of my classmates was infectious, but I ended up walking to the bottom of the run with the skis over my shoulder. Skiing is not something you just learn in one afternoon. Despite this rather disappointing first experience, the potential for enjoyment on a mountain remained in my mind. So when the opportunity to revisit the sport presented itself with my children, I pounced. They were signed up for ski school and I was squared away with a private instructor in short order. Winter wonderland dreams of snowy mountains and sleek runs appeared to be within reach.
That is not how it has turned out. It is difficult for adult novices to be comfortable sliding downhill with two planks attached to their feet, while being fully aware of the risks of falling. It is terrifying. By contrast, my children are fearless speed demons who out-ski me every year. The few times I met up with them, they would race to the bottom, and then wait impatiently for me to catch up. I was so hopeless that my 8-year old son refused to ski with me last week. He desperately wanted to join his brother on off-piste runs. When I picked him up from his hot chocolate break with ski school, he tearfully asked, “Why are you so bad?”
My instructor has unequivocally assured me that I have had the ability to ski any black diamond run for some time now, if only I could stop being afraid. I knew that he was right, but I did not know how to overcome my fear. I would faithfully chant that “I can do it” into my fleece neck warmer, as I concentrated on my descent. Despite my incantation, I continued to turn abruptly in a sharp zigzag, bracing myself against the mountain. I muscled every move. My thighs were on fire and my jaw was clenched; it was exhausting.
Clearly it was time for a change. Giving up on becoming more advanced, I muttered: “trust yourself.” I acknowledged myself as I was – not as I hoped to be – and mysteriously connected with my hard-won skills. Muscle memory took over. Suddenly I was skiing twice as fast as before, and tackling steeper terrain with ease. Instead of white knuckling it down the mountain, I was flowing in the long, curved tracks of my instructor. I created a virtuous cycle for improvement when I experienced confidence at the top of each turn. My skis no longer seemed to run away from underneath me. I discovered the paradox of having more control by letting go of being controlling.
Trusting that I have the resources and the skills to deal with a potential problem gave me the opportunity to overcome my fear. I felt empowered and in control. Just as in skiing, so it is in our daily lives. Though it may seem counterintuitive, trust yourself with whatever it is you are struggling with right now. Take a leap towards a better future.
Mila Atmos is a columnist whose work has been featured by The Huffington Post, Quartz, and Medium.
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