This sounds like advice from an eight ball, right? Or, from some sage old monk. Funny how words of wisdom can seem profound and trite at the same time. This little nugget actually came to me from an unexpected source when I was in college. See, I’ve always had some fondness for adventure, and at the end of my junior year, I convinced two of my girlfriends to go with me on a 3 week trip through the southwest with the student Outdoor Center. The trip involved some hiking and camping, which we all loved, and a lot of rock-climbing and mountain biking, which none of us had ever done before.
My love of travel and excitement at discovering this very affordable trip were by no means going to deter me from a couple of new activities, and I must have done a damn good job of convincing my friends of this too. So, the three of us set out on this near month-long adventure with 7 male peers and 2 male guides in a 12-person van. This was quite the experience, as you might imagine. (Sometimes it’s a good thing we’re more willing to do things when we’re younger, right? :) )
In addition to barely having any alone time, spending chunks of the day participating in new-to-me activities resulted in a lot of overwhelm and vulnerability, especially as a highly sensitive person. There were times when I wanted to go hide and cry (Cry, I did. Hide, I managed not to do.), and there were other times when I experienced thrill and exhilaration at pushing myself beyond what I knew my limits to be.
During one of the hide-and-cry times, we were on a mountain biking path somewhere in southern Utah, and I realized we were going to bike down a single track switchback--meaning the path was just wide enough for a bike and cut back and forth down a mountain--with a mountain wall on one side and a very long way to fall on the other. I’m pretty sure I had a panic attack. As I started to calm down, I’ll never forget what the guide told me--
‘You have to focus your eyes on where you want the bike to go. Your eyes direct your path. If you look at the drop-off, your body will start to lean that way, and your handlebars will tilt and then your bike will follow. But, if you keep your eyes focused on the path a few feet ahead, your bike will keep moving in that direction too. You just need to look a little ahead, so you can be prepared when your bike gets there.’
His advice encouraged me to try, and I did bike down some of that path, which was a major success to me! No way was I confident or comfortable enough to tackle the whole thing on my bike, and I got a lot of practice at hike-a-bike. But, when I was pedaling--okay, mainly riding my brakes--I repeated to myself, ‘Keep your eyes on the path.’
This experience reminds me of what it’s like to be an HSP. There are so many times when my emotions tell me one thing, but my goals tell me another. If I had only listened to my feelings on that trip, I probably wouldn’t have left the tent many mornings. However, it really helped me to remember that I did want to try these things and have my adventure, even when the fear was shouting, ‘Get the hell outta here!’ Focusing on what I wanted out of the trip helped me keep going, despite the overwhelm, and I had some incredible experiences, as well as some challenging ones.
Even more, I’m just not sure I would’ve gotten to experience the incredible if there hadn’t been the challenge. In fact, after becoming utterly frustrated with rock-climbing one day, my friend and I discovered a trail to the top of a mountain peak overlooking miles of valley with hawks flying just above our heads. I still get a huge grin on my face when I remember that view, and we literally would not have done that hike if things had been going well earlier in the day.
With all my sensitive emotions, sometimes I have to work really hard to remember what my goals are. If I only listen to how I’m feeling, especially when that feeling seems to be yelling at me from a bullhorn, I may not get where I want to go. Within the course of a single day, I may bounce from enthusiasm to disappointment to frustration to happiness to despair. Making decisions or taking action based only on these emotions would have me running in circles.
Setting goals I’m clear about helps me direct my actions, whether the feelings match up or not. Goals help keep me grounded and focused, especially when the monkeys in my mind are doing somersaults over each other. The goals become the path on which to focus my eyes.
What goals do you want directing your path? Are they already in place, or do they need some tweaking? Remember, goals can remain stable, especially when our feelings don’t match up, (which is probably just a matter of time for we sensitive souls). How might focusing on your goal help you during the next challenging time?
Take good care out there!
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818