My friend Matt had an anxiety attack on a plane once, years before I met him. By the time we became friends, he wouldn’t get on one. His work is very meaningful, and not getting on planes was limiting the number of people he could serve. That was reason enough for him to tackle the task of overcoming whatever his story was about planes and anxiety attacks.
He proceeded to do his own internal work to get to the root of his fear -phobia almost – hypnotherapy, breathwork, mindset shift…
Finally, a few months later, he booked an early morning flight, and I was on call for last-minute encouragement. About to board, he called to say he couldn’t do it. Ok. Could he get up? Yep. Could he grab his bag? Yes. Could he take one step towards the attendant? Another? Yeah. We stayed on the phone until take-off, breaking down each next action to be so small that his body was able to come along with our plan.
Right before the pandemic, he planned a 16-city book tour. Flying is no longer in the way of his mission.
Sometimes, we don’t accomplish really big things, because we’re stuck on really little ones. To identify what’s in the way, break it down into such small acts that it defuses the resistance.
Years ago, I ran a consulting firm and we had a ‘robin hood’ approach to business. Our clients who could pay, paid handsomely so we could take on pro-bono work that inspired us. In that context, I coached the founder of a very large philanthropic organization. She’d done such influential work in Southern Africa that she was invited to meet Nelson Mandela. Similar to the Matt rescue, I was on call again. For different reasons. She was about to meet an iconic human and her long-time hero. The chance of panic was high. She also called early morning [why do those always occur in what feels like the middle of the night]? She’d just landed in Johannesburg and her meeting was in 4 hours. Her voice was muffled, and her breathing was faster than you’d want in that moment. She’d locked herself in a bathroom stall at the airport, saying ‘I can’t do it on repeat.
She’d dialed the phone, so I knew she had enough wit about her that we could work through it. Could she breathe a couple of times a little slower, a little deeper the Heart Math way? Yes. Could she put her right shoe back on? Absolutely. Left? Yeah. Could she get up? Yep. Could she wash her face? We broke it down all the way till she gave her name to the security guy in Mandela’s office building. Once there, she knew what to do and how to be. Breaking down the very next steps in such a way that she could not – in good conscience – tell me she couldn’t do them.
That is the key. Small. Some days, just get out of bed. Heck, put your right foot on the ground. The left one. Brush your teeth. Keep going. One mini little one at a time.