… I learned from jumping rope.

In the final few weeks of my kick ass pilates class, we were subjected to… er… privileged enough to have regular intervals of jumprope. Turned out I was not the only person in that small class who hadn’t picked up a jumprope in fifteen years, because there were a couple of us who could not keep it turning for longer than a few seconds.

The biggest problem was that we were doing it barefoot. Let me tell you, a thick plastic jumprope (or even a thin one, for that matter) smacking against your bare toes at high speeds is really unpleasant. Even worse is when it smacks you on the head on the way back up, which the shorter jumpropes did for me. Between the two, my reacquaintance with this diabolically simple (yet so very difficult!) piece of exercise equipment had a steep and very painful learning curve.

My biggest downfall on the jumprope, however, was not my bare feet. It was my brain. As usual, the anticipation of hitting my toes was far worse than the actuality of it, and tended to hasten the very event I was dreading. Just as I’d get up a good pace, I would start thinking about messing up, then thinking I shouldn’t think about it, then thinking that thinking about it would definitely bring it about, only now I was really thinking about it, and… OUCH! There goes the toes. Or the head. Or both, if I was feeling particularly talented.

The only way I could get around this trap was if I just went for it, without fearing the jumprope as it whizzed past my ears or anticipating the smack of it entangling itself in my feet. I couldn’t think about those things, I just had to do it, no thought involved. By the end of class, I was getting up towards thirty seconds at a time without flinching, and even then, I had finally learned how to lift my toes enough to deflect the punishing slap down towards the soles of my feet.

Since then, I’ve started to see how the jumprope principle applies to the rest of my life. If I let myself fear the stinging repercussions of an action, they will most likely come to pass. Witness my recent bout of insomnia — the more I anticipated not sleeping, the more likely it was that I would not be able to sleep. The brain is certainly a marvelous and insidious thing.

I thought about all this a lot yesterday, primarily while on a trail run with my brother. On the flatter portions of the trail, I could keep pace with him fairly easily. But when it came to traversing the downhills, I balked every time. I know how badly it hurts to roll my ankle, and I know that it puts me out of commission for at least a couple days afterwards. So I tend to slow way down on the descents, allowing my brother to pull far ahead of me. (I also slow down on the ascents, but that’s more to do with the fact that I can’t breathe.)

As I was picking my way down a particularly long stretch of downhill slope, it occurred to me that it was like jumping rope — the more I thought about rolling my ankle, the more likely I was to bring it about. Witness my brother, far ahead, who just throws his body down the hill and trusts his feet to find the proper footholds. Sometimes he rolls his ankle, yes, and in fact he has even been known to sprawl face down on the trail, then pick himself up and continue running. He doesn’t let the fear of falling stop him, he just barges right ahead. Why can’t I be more like that, in my running and in my life? Why do I have to be such a scaredy cat?

This issue is even more relevant than usual these days. I recently got a new job, one that scares the crap out of me with how perfect it seems to be for my life, both immediately and in the long-term. I am so excited to have this job, and yet so scared to mess it up and squander this opportunity. For a long time, I preferred to make the safer, less challenging options in my career because I knew that I had less to lose if I didn’t do the job right. But this time, the stakes are much higher. And this time, I know that I can’t let my fear of falling carry me on down the hill. My feet led me here in the first place, so I need to trust them to carry me further without incident.

So what’s the takeaway here, be it in jumping rope, sleeping, running, or working? Don’t let your head get in the way of your feet. It’ll only trip you up.

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