Business Lessons from Inside a Cold Pool (part 1 of 2)

The fact is that you won’t get much of a work-out by staying dry and walking around the edge of a pool contemplating whether to swim or not to swim. 

The same goes for work – to make things happen and to call your shots, you just gotta jump in.

And a lot can be learned from jumping in, especially if the pool is un-heated.

Swimming lesson #1: Tackle your fears head on

For someone like me who grew up in the tropics in hot and humid weather ( 32C all year round), cold water is, in Andy Warhol’s words: a threat to my existence (actually he said that about nudity, but you get my point).  Regardless of my feelings of dread, for the past three years, my husband and I have been going for a swim every Sunday morning at a local un-heated public pool.  And without fail, for close to three years, every Thursday I’d start to have second thoughts about our Sunday swim.  (I know, most pathetic!) And by Sunday I could ramble off a long list of ‘valid’ reasons as to why we shouldn’t go swimming. Things like ‘the pool’s dirty’, ‘we’ll have to share a lane’, ‘we’ll get a cold’, ‘we’ll get fungi on our feet’ and on and on and on.  Even though I managed to get myself to go, I really struggled and only did it because ‘it was good for me’ not because it felt good.

That was until one day I decided to tackle my fear head on. 

By tuning into the little voice inside my head, I noticed that come Thursday, driven by the most irrational panic, my little voice (which sounded like Woody Allen’s), would fixate on the initial shock that my body would feel when it hit the water.  Aha! No wonder I felt like a lamb would when being taken to the slaughter-house! When I picked up on that, I started to question the validity of those thoughts.  Sure I would feel very cold as soon as I got into the pool, but how long would that last, especially if I swam fast?  Maybe 30 seconds at most?  And how long after I got out of the pool would I feel great? All Sunday long? Most definitely!  And really, how bad is it to feel shock? Sure, it’s not pleasant, but it’s not the end of the world. Besides, what won’t kill me will make me stronger.

I can’t say that I’ve gotten over my feelings of dread towards the cold water, but now I look forward to our Sunday ritual, despite the cold water.  Instead of rambling off a list of excuses, I now have a list of reasons for going.

The same principles apply to work.  Bad things don’t last long.  Okay, that also means that good things don’t either, but you get my point.  Nothing is the end of the world. And anticipation is certainly always worse than the actual event. 

In other words, when you’re faced with something you fear or dread, don’t avoid it.  Instead ask yourself, what are you telling yourself about it that is making you feel like you have to flee or fight? Are you saying to yourself that it will last forever, or that it’s temporary? Are you thinking that it’s the end of the world, or that nothing really is? And are you surrendering all control or are you taking responsibility?  To get into the seat of power, learn to tell yourself that nothing lasts forever, that whatever happens, it’s not the end of the world and that you can control the most important thing – you can choose how you feel.

Next time that you’re faced with a challenging situation, like for example making cold calls to find new business or contributing at a meeting, instead of fleeing from it or fighting against it, tune into your little voice and turn it around by disputing it.  Notice how energised you feel afterwards.

To confront my fears, one of the most powerful things that I’ve learned comes from Susan Jeffers PhD in her book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.  Whenever I face a challenge, I tell myself that whatever happens I can handle it.  To make it work for you, think of the most dreaded and feared situations in your work life and then say to yourself, “I can handle it”. Try it. I’d love to hear if it makes a difference for you.

Most definitely, in the pool, at work and in life, risk-takers risk failing, non-risk-takers risk nothing at all.  (Ouch!)  What separates the do-ers from the look-ers is do-ers jump in even if they feel the fear. From past experiences they realise that the anticipation is really worse than death itself. They also know that starting something is probably one of the hardest parts of most endeavours. After they’ve started and are doing something, the only way is forward.  It’s impossible to find possibilities and solutions when you’re just looking (circling the edges of the pool contemplating whether to jump in or not).   Also, there’s some truth in the common saying: “You either swim or you sink.”  That only applies when you’re inside the pool.  Sure there’s the possibility that when you’re in the pool you can sink – something that is not possible when you’re playing it safe by the pool-side.  But if you’re not in the pool, you don’t have the chance of swimming, either.  And if you’re in the pool and you sink, well, you’ve learned lessons, which will carry you over to the next experience.  And that’s worth every stroke.

What fear will you confront today? I’d love to know.

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