Whatever your personal feelings might be for the polar-bear-random, time-shifting awesomeness that was Lost (clearly I was a fan), it was a show that explored many deep philosophical and moral issues. You could draw any number of lessons and personal revelations from each episode.
But lately, it’s actually a short little clip from the very first episode that’s been significantly changing the way I approach my life. And whether or not you’re the kind that can still recite The Numbers by heart, it’s a concept I’d like to share with you, because I think it could help you, too.
Jack’s 5-Second Free-Fall Policy
In the very first episode, Dr. Jack Shepard realizes he has a wound from the crash of Flight 815 that he can’t reach to stitch up himself. Seeing total-stranger Kate coming through the forest, he implores her to help him. Kate is less than eager, but she grits her teeth and gets to it.
To help calm her nerves while she’s working, Jack (who’s already proven himself to be a rock in a crisis) shares with Kate his secret for dealing with fear:
“Fear’s sort of an odd thing. When I was in residency, my first solo procedure was a spinal surgery on a 16-year-old kid, a girl. And at the end, after 13 hours, I was closing her up and I—I accidentally ripped her dural sac, shredded the base of the spine where all the nerves come together—membrane as thin as tissue. And so it ripped open and the nerves just spilled out of her like angel hair pasta, spinal fluid flowing out of her, and I…the terror was just so crazy. So real. And I knew I had to deal with it. So I just made a choice. I’d let the fear in, let it take over, let it do its thing—but only for five seconds; that’s all I was going to give it. So I started to count: One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Then it was gone. I went back to work, sewed her up, and she was fine.”
~Jack Shephard (“Pilot, Part 1“)
Kate uses Jack’s 5-second technique to deal with her fear later in the episode when she’s cornered by the island’s mysterious “smoke monster.” But it can apply to any monster, J.J.-Abrams-created or no.
Some of my own personal monsters have been rearing up pretty hard against me the past few weeks: social anxiety, performance anxiety, doubting my abilities, stressing over the future. And one day, out of the blue, Jack’s 5-second trick came to mind, so I gave it a try.
And I have to say, I think the good doc was on to something.
The Benefits of Wallowing (Momentarily)
Too often, we feel like we have to fight our negative emotions. We think we should be able to get past them, get over them, be stronger than them—so we spend all our energy and effort trying to make it so.
We shout at ourselves like boot camp sergeants. We give ourselves pep talks or tell ourselves to “be reasonable.” We squinch our eyes shut, clench our fists tight, and try to will ourselves to be totally impervious to feelings we’re obviously feeling quite strongly.
It doesn’t really work. If anything, it makes them eat away at us even more.
Because trying to pretend we can just ignore or “get over” negative emotions only wears down our energy and keeps our focus right smack on the emotions. What if instead of fighting them, we acknowledged them, let them happen, and then learned to keep moving in spite of them?
That’s what I’ve been trying to do lately, and I’ve been pretty surprised by the results.
Learning to be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
I suffer from some pretty fierce social anxiety (a post in itself that I’m working on)—which means I can get stuck in a paralysis of fear before any party, dinner, or even casual coffee with a friend.
I’ve tried to shake myself out of this every way I can think of. I remind myself that this happens all the time and things always turn out o.k. I try to think of all the fun I’ll have and the great new people I’ll meet. I berate myself. I tell myself I’m being ridiculous. I try to force the anxiety to go away, but it doesn’t. Because I know all of these things in my head, but fear is a powerful thing. It sweeps right over logic. It grabs a hold of you and overshadows everything else.
Fighting it did nothing but make me feel even more anxious, plus incredibly frustrated with myself for not being able to “just get over it.”
So, instead, I’ve been applying a variation of Jack’s 5-second technique.
When a social anxiety attack hits, I let myself feel it. Instead of trying to ignore or fight the fear, I let myself picture every awful, embarrassing, or awkward thing that could possibly happen at the event I’m going to. I let myself reside in the worry until I begin to realize it can exist without killing me, I can feel it without being paralyzed by it. Once I come to that realization, I can effectively tell myself, “Yep, this sucks, but once you get there and start talking to everyone, you’ll wind up having a good time. You always do. In the meantime, just do the best you can to bear with the discomfort. It’ll all be over soon.”
Do I stop feeling nervous? Nope. But I’m o.k. with feeling nervous. I’m able to ride out the anxiety and get myself to the event in spite of it.
I can’t reach this state by trying to fight the fear or argue against it. I can reach it by acknowledging the fact that the fear is real, it has a hold on me, but it doesn’t have to control me. Oddly enough, dwelling in the fear (for a little while) helps me step outside of it. It lets me say, “O.k., so I’ve done the worrying bit—now what?”
Embrace the Smoke Monster
Whatever monster is threatening to overwhelm you, sometimes the best way to fight it is not to fight it.
Instead, try letting yourself acknowledge the fact that what you’re feeling is real. Let yourself really live in it for a measured while—no struggling, no resisting, no judging yourself.
Then, call “time!” on yourself, and keep moving.
It may still be there, but it will be easier to push ahead in spite of it.
Give it a try some time. It’s doctor-recommended.
Image: WCM 1111 / Flickr
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