Last night, as I was laying down with my six-year-old daughter Maggie in her bed, she said to me, “I wish this week would never end.” I was trying to think of what was special about the past few days when she continued: “Next week, I’m moving up to a new swim class and it’s in the deep end.”
I didn’t realise she was nervous about this. She has always loved the water but her lessons have been getting tougher. I could have asked her what exactly she was afraid of, but that would have probably just sent her into an anxiety spiral. So I simply said this: “That sounds exciting!”
The idea came from a mental trick taught by motivational speaker and author Mel Robbins. In a video where she’s getting ready to give a talk in front of a big audience, Robbins explains how she re-channels her nerves into excitement:
“When I start to sweat, when I start to have butterflies, when I start to have my heart race, I say I’m excited. I’m excited to get out there. I’m excited to talk to these people. [...] What that does is it sends a message to my brain that tells my brain why my body’s all agitated and excited. And that way, I don’t feel afraid.”
In our bodies, Robbins explains, excitement and fear feel the same. Our brains get to determine which one it is. I’ve used the “I’m excited” technique in my life - before job interviews and as I was handed a microphone to give a toast at my sister’s wedding - and it works. The moment I told my daughter that moving up to a new swim level sounded exciting, her mind went with it. Her voice changed immediately.
“The teacher just stands against the wall and doesn’t follow you,” she said (she has seen the class before). “You have to swim all by yourself!”
“Whoa, that’s crazy!” I said. “How fun.”
She stopped to think, and then added: “When I get to be a good swimmer, I can help teach Max how to swim.” (Max is her baby brother.)
It was a simple phrase that shifted her outlook. Next week suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.