Great and small challenges…and breaking them down
June 17, 2020
Swimmers in the Great East Swim


June 17, 2020

This weekend would have been the Great East Swim, (20 June) which would have been in partnership with Suffolk Mind.

Back in January, I rather rashly declared on live radio that I would take part myself!

Being pretty unfit, a little squeamish about bugs and fish and squelchy mud between the toes, I regretted making the commitment straight away. But I had made that commitment, both to myself and in public, so I knew I had to face the fear.

I started researching what it would be like, recruited some family members to do it with me, and found out I’d need to wear a wetsuit and, thus, would be a bit shielded from the beasties in the water.

Doing the swim would have been a massive achievement for me. So I knew I had to break it down into smaller chunks in order to deal with the mild anxiety the prospect was creating.

Step 1 would have been to improve my overall fitness. I used to run occasionally, I’ve done parkruns (slowly) in the past, so I planned to start running more often again to get fitter.

Step 2 would have been to try open water swimming before the big day. I have friends elsewhere who do it often, so I had an opportunity to give it a go.

Step 3 was to make sure I had the right equipment. We approached a local business to see if they could lend me a wetsuit and try it on and they were pleased to help out.


Business message Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 written with chalk on wooden mini blackboard labels, defocused chalkboard and wood table in background

There are a number of Emotional Needs that are met through these steps. Firstly, I felt more in control. There were things I could do that would help ease the anxiety of doing something I had never done before in an environment I really wasn’t relishing.

They also helped to take away the element of the unknown – helping to meet the Emotional Need for Security. A shop is a safe environment in which to try on a wetsuit for the first time. Popping into open water with friends, with no pressure to swim a particular distance, is a good way to get familiar with the sensation. All these steps and experiences create memories and patterns in the brain that help take away the anxiety.

Why am I sharing how I felt about the challenge of the Great East Swim, from the safety of my front room in the knowledge that, sadly, it isn’t going ahead? I suppose it’s to encourage everyone to accept a challenge, however big or small, and make a commitment to yourself, and maybe those around you, to meet that challenge. Then break it down into manageable chunks to help you achieve it.

Once you’ve achieved one thing you didn’t really want to do, you’ll be able to face other challenges that might usually bring out those anxious feelings because of the unknown.

Jon Neal
CEO, Suffolk Mind.


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