Luther, exhausted, had become separated from his team on a Bolivian jungle trek.
He soon found himself in the unrelenting grasp of quicksand. Stuck in the fragile, wet earth that pulled him in further with every panicked kick, he faced a choice that would change his life forever.
He could keep floundering and eventually starve and die, or he could make the composed, slow movements he needed to survive.
He chose the latter.
Consciously slowing his breathing, he ceased any sudden movements. Then he lay back on his walking stick. He could cover more surface area, and his hips would stay upright.
He inched backward until he felt for the thick stem of a plant.
Now he could pull his way out to safety.
The grand old journey of life often presents us with suffocating quagmires that feel impossible to slide free from.
An alarming number of us don’t make it. And yet there are ways to do what Luther did: taking composed and tiny steps.
When we’re in hell, we don’t need a complex strategy. We just need to get back on firm ground.
From there, we can think with a little more clarity, lifted by that spark of belief that we can make it.
That’s all it takes.
Here’s what I’ve done to regain a stronghold when I’ve faced life’s quicksand:
Breathing seems so trivial. We do it 24/7 without thinking. Why care about doing it now?
Shallow breathing causes anxiety. Anxiety also causes us to breathe less. We must break this cycle.
Panic is killing us. If we are to survive, we must breathe first.
We need calm and clarity of mind as a matter of urgency, or else we ruminate into a downward spiral.
Breathe now. Deep, hungry, happy breaths. Do more than what you’d consider ‘normal.’
Do this until you feel calmer.
Feel your whole biochemistry move into a new gear, and notice how your mindset morphs too.
Your fear loses its edge; your mood lifts.
Breathe like this through the day, but also in dedicated, timed sessions of five minutes or more.
Make it a daily thing.
Include sweaty, more-intense-than-usual exercise in your routine every day for a week (at least) — as a priority. 30 minutes or more.
Do what is just outside of what you are comfortable with, but make sure you sweat. Sweat like a swine daily, even twice daily. Lose the dirty chemicals that are poisoning body and mind.
Often toxins are making you feel awful — screaming to be released.
Without fail, after every sweaty exercise session, I feel ten times better.
A week or more of decent daily sweating is the time you need for your mind and mood to stay elevated to the extent that you begin to think of yourself as different: healthier, happier.
Mark this in your diary, and set reminders. Make sure this gets done. If you are disabled, do what you can. Deep breathing is the best substitute.
3. Tiny Change
With the first two incorporated into your day, commit now to making a change in the area that matters the most to you.
The calmer state you will be in from the first two tasks makes this much easier…
Think about the most obvious source of your present despair.
What is it about your circumstances or character that contributed the most to your recent trouble?
You most likely have to look inward here and be honest with yourself.
Free-writing or daydreaming for as long as it takes to find out the sources of your most pressing problems can be extremely useful here.
Figure out the very first, and smallest step you need to take to improve your current situation.
“We are kept from our goal, not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” ~Robert Brault
For at least the next fourteen days, you must incorporate at least one step forward starting with the simplest. With each new day, you must aim to expand that step a tiny bit further.
If the next task proves too challenging, return to the prior one until you can master it. Just make sure at least one step happens every day.
No days off for two weeks.
You can draw up your own program of steps.
If you’re struggling with money, the first step could be in brainstorming and listing out all the ways you can feasibly earn money within a couple of weeks, before committing to improving this situation in further small steps like sending an email to thirty people.
If you lack social confidence, the first ‘challenge’ might be to make eye contact with people you walk past in the street.
A couple of years ago, I undertook a self-designed desensitisation program like this, doing small and increasingly more challenging social challenges to improve my confidence and feel more at ease with strangers. Starting conversations; asking for directions; high fives, and so on.
Yes, I felt tremendously weird doing all of those little exercises.
But it was one of the most powerful things I could have done for my social anxiety because repeatedly being exposed to what one fears in small increments just works.
The bare minimum is doing one step per day, but you can do more. Go at your own pace. Write a journal on all your experiences if you can. This in itself will help you release stress.
The simple act of committing to daily action will help you believe in yourself and bolster your sense of responsibility and self-leadership.
Feel the despair fade, and a glint of hope emerge.
Now you’re back on solid ground.