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What I learn while going downhill

Photo by Arlene Anderson

An icy wind whips through my gloves, causing me to swallow hard and grip my cross-country ski poles even tighter.  A few minutes earlier my companions easily navigated the steep trail and are now at the bottom, looking up at me expectantly.

I stand alone at the top of the hill having the following conversation with myself: “This isn’t going to go well. My friends are much better skiers than I am and I’ll probably crash into the snowbank. Oh, this will be so embarrassing.” My stomach feels queasy and my shoulder muscles tighten. The video of this terrible scene flashes vividly across my mental screen.

Then I catch myself and switch gears. “Hold on. Why predict disaster? I’ve got this.” My muscles relax and a slow smile comes to my lips. Deeeep breath.

I push off from the snow and start the long glide down. For a few seconds everything is going well. Then my thoughts again turn to catastrophe. “Don’t land in the snowbank!” I tell myself. But with the word “snowbank” my skis seem to automatically point themselves there. The menacing pile of white powder looms closer.

“No. You can do this!” I hear myself argue. My skis respond and make a gentle swerve back in the right direction.

I carry on this two-sided internal argument while careening down the hill. Sorry to say my snowbank thoughts win out this time and I land in a spectacular puff of white. I just learned a powerful lesson about self-talk.

Does this sound at all familiar? We make comments to ourselves all day long. “I’m so forgetful.”  “This will never work.” “This isn’t good enough.” These judgments show up as uninvited guests and try to make themselves at home.

When we talk to ourselves our whole body listens. Sometimes the effect of what we say to ourselves is drastic and immediate like in my ski experience. But much of the time what we say to ourselves takes its toll over many years. “You don’t deserve something that nice” or “Why try? You won’t make it” become personal mantras or a way of life.

Why do many of us struggle with negative thoughts that seem to pop up from nowhere? As we evolved it was necessary to scan the horizon for possible threats. Anything unsettling or dangerous caught our attention and this was useful for survival.

But these days, most of us are not facing imminent physical danger from tigers or quicksand. Instead, our attention latches onto internal threats such as regrets, negative emotions or fears. We dwell on negative feedback naturally but need cues to focus on the positive.

Have you seen signs that ask us to THINK: “Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Needed? Is it Kind?” They are meant to remind us to speak positively to others, and it is just as important to give the same consideration to ourselves.

It can be a slippery slope out there but a sign seen on I-35 this week says it well: “Snow happens. Crashes don’t have to.”

Arlene Anderson

Arlene J. Anderson is a Twin Ports native turned writer, teacher, traveler and speaker on resilience and leadership. She is currently working on her memoir to be released next summer. She believes there is always more music to play and dancing to do.

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