I sighed and felt a tightness in my throat as I struggled to stay calm.
The voice in my head screamed “WHY DOES HE KEEP STOPPING? WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIM? I WANT HIM TO KEEP GOING!”
Ox wasn’t an actual ox, but rather a horse I was working with during a recent session of equus coaching.
Equus coaching is using a horse to help you understand how you are communicating on a nonverbal level.
Horses are very perceptive, so they pick up on the nonverbal signals in your body language — the vibe or energy — that you transmit along with any verbal command you are give them.
If there is any conflict between what you say you want and your non verbal energy, the horse will mirror that back to you in their behavior.
In this case, I had an 1100 lb, brown and hairy mirror showing me that my non verbal energy was saying “Stop”.
Things with Ox had started well. I quickly figured out how to give a command so he would start walking around the pen.
But for the third time in a row, he had stopped after walking about 10 seconds after he started.
My coach yelled, “Why do you think he is stopping?”
I paused for a moment and said, “I’m sure that it’s something I’m doing but I can’t figure out what it is.”
She asked, “What’s happening inside of you when he starts moving?”
“Well, when he starts walking I get excited. And that feeling is immediately followed by a fear that I’m not going to be able to keep this going. I’m really afraid that I’m going to fail.”
My coach listened and said, ”Connect to how you feel at the moment he starts moving. Then keep focusing on that feeling, rather than letting your thoughts drift toward ‘what if I fail’.”
I stood there, trying to find that feeling inside. It was probably a minute, although it felt like ten.
Then I took a deep breath and said, “Ox, let’s go.”
Ox started walking. And he kept walking….all the way around the pen (twice!) until I signaled him to stop.
A huge goofy grin crept onto my face.
That. Was. Awesome.
My session with Ox was a powerful reminder to me of how fear can stop our progress just as my fear stopped Ox. .
Fear triggers a physical response in our bodies that locks us into one of three behavioral responses: Fight, Flee, or Freeze.
In this case, my fear was causing me to freeze up inside and that response was mirrored in the action (or rather inaction) of Ox as he stopped moving.
If you are feeling stuck in your job or life in general, fear may be preventing you from moving forward.
The steps I used to help get “unfrozen” from fear when I worked with Ox are the same ones you can use to get unstuck in your life.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of what I did:
Step 1: Connect with what you want
Ask yourself: What is it that I truly want to happen? What is the goal I am aiming for?
As you imagine this, focus on how you will feel when your goal happens. Include as many different types of sensory images as you can.
When I was trying to get Ox to walk (and stay walking), the first thing I did was picture him walking all of the way around the pen.
Then I imagined how I would feel inside as I saw him walking around the pen.
Next, I imagined how I would move my body in response to his continued movements.
For you, if what you want is something like a new job, imagine the ideal location of your job, what your office will look like, and how you will feel when you are in your new role.
Take a mental snapshot of all of those feelings and keep this picture in mind as you move on to the next step.
Step 2: Say out loud “I’m doing this” or “This is really mine” and note any thoughts or feelings that come up.
If there is any fear that is blocking you from receiving what you want, saying one of these statements out loud will trigger the fear to show up in your thoughts or how you feel in your body.
When I did this, the thought that came up was “Yeah, right” followed by a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Those two things together helped me recognize I had a fear of failure.
Other common thoughts include “That’s not true” or “Things like that never work out for you”.
Additional physical sensations to watch for are things like tightness in your chest or churning in the pit of your stomach.
Step 3: Acknowledge and be present to the thoughts and physical sensations that come up around the fear.
Most people, myself included, don’t like to acknowledge fear. Feeling fear goes against our natural self-protective instincts.
But when you don’t acknowledge fear when it is there, it hangs around and stays with you like spinach in your teeth. The spinach is obvious to everyone but you….and you can’t get rid of it until you look in a mirror.
With Ox’s actions mirroring my fear, I couldn’t hide from or explain away what was keeping me stuck.
By acknowledging my fear, I was able to start resolving the “freeze” response and start moving forward again.
Step 4: Reconnect with the good feelings from your “mental snapshot” and then say the phrase, “What if it’s possible that this really could happen for me?”
When my coach suggested letting go of the fear, I allowed myself to consider the possibility that I could actually succeed.
Holding success as a possibility, rather than forcing myself to believe the thought “I will succeed”, made it easier for me to connect with the mental snapshot I had of Ox walking.
Thinking of this possibility lowered my stress, and made pursuing my goal feel like a fun game.
When you allow yourself to pursue your goal with a sense of possibility and play, you are much less likely to “freeze” or get stuck because the spirit of the game drives away the fear.
If you are feeling stuck and frustrated in an area of your life, using these 4 steps can help you get things moving forward and restore an element of play that makes it more likely you will achieve your goals.
PS- If you know someone who has been feeling stuck personally or professionally, I’d love to help! Would you pass this blog along to them or have them email me at firstname.lastname@example.org?