Stop Paddling Like Crazy Under the Water to Create the Illusion of Calm on Top of It
Life is busy, right? Commutes are long, work is all-encompassing, kids (if you have them) need to be ferried around, social events and people demand time.
There are endless deadlines, time-pressures, and activity.
This was brought into relief for me over Christmas, when everyone I spoke to was clamouring to tie up loose ends before the new year, seeing friends and family, going to parties, buying all the stuff, doing all the things.
It’s a lot. And it doesn’t just happen at Christmas time. Now that we are into the new year, there’s the inevitable talk of goals and resolutions.
Many of us find ourselves in a constant struggle to maintain an appearance of calm.
But, like swans, we are paddling furiously beneath the surface, whilst desperately trying to create the illusion of serenity above the water.
True peace, however, comes from dropping the façade.
We can stop the frantic paddling. We can find contentment. By embracing our values and authenticity we can achieve genuine calmness and contentment.
The Illusion of Calm Keeps You Stuck in a Stressful Cycle
You know that thing you do? Where you think that you can’t do anything to change your situation? That how life is today, is how it always has to be? It’s not true.
Life often presents challenges and obstacles that can feel overwhelming.
In response, we may adopt a strategy of appearing composed even if the reality is more chaotic.
We mask our struggles, fears, and anxieties behind a serene exterior, believing that this façade will protect us from judgment or vulnerability.
And before you know it, you are that person: the swan paddling furiously beneath the water's surface (repressing and suppressing) whilst maintaining a composed unruffled demeanour above it.
The Hidden Costs of Acting Unruffled
While the illusion of calm may seem like a good coping mechanism, it comes with hidden costs.
The energy expended in maintaining the charade can lead to burnout, anxiety, and a sense of disconnection. The more you dismiss your genuine experience, the further you drift from your authentic emotions and experiences.
It becomes a cycle of repression, preventing you from addressing the root causes of your dissatisfaction.
To make change happen the way you want, if you want to and contentment, you have to understand yourself.
Embracing Authenticity as a Tool for Finding Contentment
Breaking free from the cycle of illusion requires some work.
Some people enjoy the self-discovery required. Others would rather skip to the part where things have changed, and get on with their new way of living.
Either way, the latter can’t happen (in any meaningful or lasting way) without the former.
If you want to change your patterns of behaviour, and therefore your sense of contentment, you have to first know what you are doing now, and what you need to do instead.
You need to experiment, to practice, to fail, to learn, to repeat. Until you find what works best for you as a unique individual with individual preferences.
To make change happen we must acknowledge and embrace our authentic selves. This involves being honest about our emotions, vulnerabilities, and challenges.
Rather than frantically paddling to maintain a superficial calmness, we should allow ourselves to express the full range of human experiences.
This vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but a testament to our strength and resilience.
The Courage of Vulnerability
I worked with a wonderful client a few years ago who was completely overloaded and burned out.
She had suffered a recent bereavement, was overcommitting to work and family, and dreaded the day ahead every day.
She said that when her teenage son came into the room with a question, it felt easier to retreat into scrolling social media than to add another task to her load.
She didn’t want this, she wanted to be present for him. She wanted to connect with him. But she was scared.
It's a horrible place to be when you feel compelled to run from the things that bring you the greatest joy and are most meaningful to you.
It’s a vulnerable and courageous thing to admit to, but through the act of recognising the pattern, saying it aloud, coming up with simple solutions (committing to putting the phone down when her son spoke to her) she transformed her relationship and connection with him.
But the thing that made the biggest difference by far was that she deeply examined and prioritised what was valuable to her and started letting go of the stuff that had become a constant cause of stress.
She created boundaries around work.
She created space in her life by changing her habits and thought processes.
She put her deep connections at the top of her list, and she ensured that she did things for herself.
The old cliches are true: you cannot pour from an empty cup.
None of that is easy to do. It is brave. It’s brave to name the problem. It’s brave to make the changes.
My heart always sinks a little when a coaching client comes to me looking to me to offer some sage life-changing-advice that they can act on and be transformed by.
They won’t get it.
From me or from anybody.
Much as I'd like to think my great wisdom and insight can magically change someone’s life, nobody has, nor should they have, that power. It’s a bit creepy to think otherwise.
Change comes from within.
Transformational coaching provides tools, frameworks and reflection. It is for people that want to stop paddling and to start living the life they really want.
Learning to be vulnerable is part of that.
In moments like those with my client I feel honoured to be entrusted with people’s stories, their deepest fears and vulnerabilities.
The Power of Vulnerability
Brene Brown, renowned researcher on vulnerability, emphasizes its transformative power.
Opening up about our fears, insecurities, and struggles not only fosters connection with others but also allows us to connect more deeply with ourselves.
By acknowledging our vulnerabilities, we make space for change, self-compassion, and authentic relationships.
5 Practical Tips to Ditch Overwhelm and Find Contentment:
1. Self-Reflection: Take time to reflect on your emotions and identify areas where you might be suppressing your true feelings.
Dig into your values.
Do more of what expresses those values and work on gradually cutting out the things that don’t.
2. Seek Support: Opening up to trusted loved ones can be cathartic and can provide valuable perspectives.
Therapy will help you to reflect on and process emotions. Coaching will help you with self-discovery and practical change.
3. Mindfulness Practices: Engage in mindfulness techniques.
Ground yourself in the present moment by paying closer attention to your internal state and your external surroundings.
4. Set Boundaries: Learn to say no and establish healthy boundaries in your personal and professional life.
Avoid overcommitting and taking on more than you can handle.
5. Make time to do the things that bring you joy (even if you can only manage 5 minutes a day at first).
The illusion of calm is a tempting facade, but it comes at a great cost to our well-being.
Instead of paddling wildly under the water, embrace vulnerability and authenticity.
By doing so, you can create a foundation for genuine calm, resilience, and a more fulfilling life.
And remember, it's also okay to stop paddling and simply float, allowing the currents of life to support you through new and different experiences.