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Do things that terrify you

This September has been like “back to school” for me for the first time in literally a decade! I started a new position as a staff therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern on the Tuesday after Labor Day complete with new supplies (no ruler or calculator this time, but lots of steno pads), and some new clothes just like the old school days. (You can check out my new staff listing at the Family Institute here:

That same week I also swam a 2.5 km event in Lake Michigan called the Big Shoulders classic. I was absolutely terrified of swimming – not only in Lake Michigan, but also swimming that far and that long. I had been training for it all summer both in the pool and in the lake, but had not swam that distance continuously in the training workouts, and of course, lake conditions are unpredictable. I both wanted to do it, and didn’t want to do it……it was one of those things that if it had been canceled due to a storm or lightning, I wouldn’t have minded. In fact, that morning before starting to get ready to go, I checked my email first just to make sure that some cautious park district employee had not, in fact, judged the water conditions too choppy or dangerous for Big Shoulders to be held that day. No email…, I got ready and went down to the beach…..And it was great! While I was swimming, it was challenging (the water was really choppy that day it turned out) but I tried to remind myself, “you are doing it!” while also noticing the thoughts along the theme of “I wish this were over”. When it was over, however, I was so thrilled to have directly taken on my fear of open water swimming, and so proud of myself for completing the swim. I felt happy, and still do whenever I think about it.

Of course, happiness has been a frequent topic on this blog – what is it? how do we get it? what does it mean? Today I saw a post on the Huffington Post called “How to Be Happy” with 12 ideas on creating a mind set of happiness. One of their ideas was “Do something that terrifies you” in which they commented that, “Depression is an inherently ironic state: You are too sad or afraid to act, when a simple action will produce the content you need to be happy in the first place. So break the cycle.”

Because our brains are wired for survival, neuroscientists say that when it comes to threat, our brains are more likely to see threat when there is no threat….just in case. Basically our brains are wired for false positives when it comes to danger, that way we are more likely to stay alive. However, we aren’t necessarily going to be more happy this way. Re-wiring our brains for quality of life means taking on challenges that make us anxious so that we learn through experience that something that seems scary is actually quite do-able. So, if something scares you initially, rather than avoid it, consider looking at it more closely. I was so afraid of swimming, but I wanted to do a triathlon and avoided the whole thing for years, and then slowly but surely signed up for swimming lessons and fast forward 2 years have done two triathlons, and now Big Shoulders!

So, commit to looking more closely at the things that terrify you. You may find a challenge within those things that can unleash your potential and lead to greater joy and fulfillment!

Thanks for reading!

To read the post on How to Be Happy by Elite Daily on the Huffington Post click here:

For more information on The Family Institute and its services click here:

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