Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Just Fake It

Sometimes, you just have to fake it.

I sat down to dinner with my family on the outdoor patio of a restaurant in Austin.  As the waitress took our drink orders, I noticed a movement with my peripheral vision.  I looked over.  A spider had just made its way onto the wall next to me.  Enter arachnophobia.

I am terrified of spiders, and I don't know why.  Logically, I know that (most) spiders have no power to hurt me.  I appreciate the fact that spiders can help with insect control and make beautiful, intricate webs.  The mechanical properties of their silk is coveted by engineers and is even used for tissue engineering applications.  Yet, I still cannot convince myself that spiders are not freaky little creatures.  I'm even too afraid to kill a spider, and if nobody is around to kill it for me, I tend to freeze in place and stare at it.  (I'm letting you in; please don't use this against me.)  

Then, the second spider joined the first.  Both were black with bulbous butts.  They weren't directly on the wall itself but instead on a disjointed web connected to the wall.  Unlike the first spider, which had its back towards me, the second spider was on the other side of the web so that its legs faced me.  For whatever reason, this freaked me out even more.

My mom sat across from me, and I gave her the stare down and glanced over at the spiders so she knew about them.  I sat silent.  My dad and sister had no clue what was going on.  Thank God.  My sister, who screams if just a moth gets near her, had already been complaining that we chose to sit outside.  Mistake.  I knew that if I said anything, she would cause a scene.  While I tend to freeze in place when scared by a spider, she tends to scream-- not good for being in a public place. 

My mom asked if I wanted to move to a new table.  I said no.  I didn't want to be "that person."  My sister overheard and started fussing about why we would switch tables and how that wouldn't be a kind thing to do to the waitress.  We dropped it.

I wanted to cry.  I sucked it up.

"Just pretend the spiders don't exist," I told myself.  I took a sip of my beer, looked the other direction, and re-engaged in the family conversation.  

The I-am-about-to-cry knot in my throat melted away.  "Psh, I'm not afraid of spiders," I comforted myself.

I bravely made it through the dinner.  As we were waiting for our bill, I got up to use the bathroom and told my family I would meet them up front.  As I stood up, my mom asked if I had looked up above me.  I said no and scurried away without looking.  Apparently, 4 other spiders were hanging over my head through the whole dinner, zipping around, making their web.  Ignorance really is bliss.  

As they got up to leave, my mom showed my sister and dad the spiders.  Needless to say, we chose to sit inside for dinner during the rest of the vacation.  I surprised myself by being able to make it through dinner without a major meltdown.  I'll admit that I had a mini internal meltdown, but nowhere near what it could have been.  

The spiders were just to my left.  Notice how I'm leaning in a ridiculous amount.

Sometimes, you just have to fake it, and eventually you'll fake it so well that you'll convince yourself that your fear does not exist.  And when you think your fear does not exist, then it actually does not exist; fear only exists in our heads.

This lesson was also reinforced during the challenge course.  Yes, in addition to my fear of spiders, I have a mild fear of heights.  (Double whammy!)  The fear of heights isn't nearly as bad as spiders, but I do get pretty uncomfortable.  

My dad and I did the challenge course together.  He was nervous and let everyone know.  I was a little nervous and let no one know.  About 3/4 of the way up the net climb, I started to feel my heart begin to beat a little faster as I realized that I was getting out of my height comfort zone.  

"Just don't look down," I reminded myself.  

The worst part was the double tight rope.  I faked away my fear like I used to have to do in gymnastics.  "Psh, just like gymnastics," I comforted myself.  Except our balance beam was 4 inches wide and 4 feet off the ground, not half an inch wide and a few stories off the ground.  I didn't need to remind myself of that at the moment, though.

This was the scariest part for me!

Everyone in our group (my dad and me included) made it through the challenge course with no tears or meltdowns.  Success!  There was even a guy who admitted he had a huge fear of heights.  He did great.  

All of us made it!

These two experiences solidified the lesson taught to me by all of my previous gymnastics coaches (Meg, Coach Christa, Coach Jen and Brian, Erin-- I'm referring to you!): if you can't beat 'em, fake it.  During a gymnastics competition, confidence is key.  You've done the skills enough times that your body knows how to do them correctly, but your mind is the tougher muscle to exercise.  Sometimes, your mind forgets that you know what you're doing, and you begin to doubt.  My coaches used to remind us that nobody can tell if you're pretending to be confident.  They said just fake it.  Get out there on the floor and pretend like you're having the best time of your life.  Fly on those bars like a monkey and know that your hands won't slip.  Run as fast as you can toward that stationary object (honestly, who in their right mind other than a gymnast would do such a thing?), and conquer the vault with as much power as you can muster.  And jump, leap, and spring over that 4 inch piece of suede-covered wood as if you were still on the ground.  While I learned these lessons through gymnastics, I can apply them to daily life.

The beauty of fear is that you create it, which also means that you have the power to destroy it.  With a little self-encouragement, you can conquer your fears.  Start by faking your confidence, and your confidence will grow.  The beauty of confidence is that it is a positive feedback loop; the more you have, the more you get.

When's the last time you've had to fake it?  Have you experienced your "pretending" turning into "reality?"   

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