Prior to this moment, I had just been tinkering away, doing my thing. Compared to my previous competition life (when even the slightest hint of competition sent my stomach churning and my head spinning) I was genuinely feeling good about the whole experience.
As I drove down the motorway towards the arena, however, I noticed a couple of things playing out in my body. My left shoulder suddenly felt really tight. I haven’t had tight shoulders in ages (although they used to be very much a feature).
My stomach moved into a familiar squirminess that I would previously have associated with nerves and anxiety.
Huh, I thought to myself. That’s so interesting.
My emotional brain has some strong associations with competition, honed through many years as I competitive rider. So, as I drove and felt a squirm, it would have been easy to fall into the story. It would have been easy to label that as “my anxiety” and for the labels to trigger my flight/fight brain, leaving me at the mercy of reflexive responses (the only ones available to us when our sympathetic nervous system is activated).
But instead, I just observed. These patterns, I reminded myself, are the motor patterns connected to thoughts that the old Jane held onto. There are a set of stories that obviously live in my left shoulder and another that triggers my gut.
All of our thoughts and emotions have corresponding motor patterns. Our brain can also map in sensation, meaning that as soon as we have a thought or bodily experience that we recognize as familiar in some way, it’s easy to set off the chain reaction of events that play out in our physical and emotional experience. We are designed this way for efficiency, but the system can go a little pear-shaped when our survival mechanisms are being triggered when they are really not needed.
Decoupling the emotional effect from the experience is multi-faceted but it begins by dropping the story. And by recognizing that the space and time you occupy can exist as a very separate one to the version of you that existed before.