Treading Water

There’s a junior lifeguard camp down the beach from where we are vacationing. Each morning a swarm of preadolescent kids are led through runs, drills, and calisthenics on the hot beach. It brings back foggy memories of earning my own junior lifesaving badge. I grew up going to a neighborhood swim club and the training took place in the deep end of the chlorinated pool. I don’t remember much about it except that it culminated in treading water for some ungodly amount of time – fully dressed. It looked like fun when the other kids jumped in the pool in their jeans and tee shirts, but I can attest that treading water is harder than it looks. It requires keeping your head above water by moving your arms and legs. It demands a great deal of work to not make forward progress and stay vertical. 

Treading water is one thing when trying to earn a badge, but quite another when we are attempting to make a change in a behavior or situation-when progress towards reaching a goal seems elusive despite all our efforts and hard work. “I’m doing everything I can and just not getting anywhere” is a common refrain from clients who are feeling stuck.

It seems counterintuitive but the best way to become unstuck is to accept where you are in the moment. Surrender to what is and stop thrashing about trying to muscle your way through a problem. Using our heads to think our way through problems requires a great deal of mental energy. Our brains flit and flutter and instead of discovering a resolution, we feel overwhelmed and defeated. On the other hand, acceptance can bring clarity and peace, which opens the space for progress to be made. Perhaps the period of “treading water” is not stagnation but an active process that allows us to recalibrate- recommit to our goals, seek a slightly different way, or change course all together. 

The truth is treading water can be just what we need at times. Moments when we are forced to keep our eyes on the horizon, quiet our busy minds and surrender to the way out that exists within ourselves.