“Time doesn’t heal emotional pain, you need to learn how to let go.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
During my adolescence, I was bullied relentlessly for over two years.
It was one of the most challenging periods of my life. I was at boarding school at the time. Halfway across the world from my parents. I felt isolated and alone. So, I withdrew.
That was how I defended myself.
Fast forward several years, long after the bullying stopped, those defences turned into a prison. The more I struggled against them, the stronger the walls became. Eventually, that prison became a fortress, and I found myself in a deep depression that lasted over a decade.
It wasn’t until I came home from work one day that something changed.
I found my son playing on the living room floor. All he wanted was to play with his dada. I remember looking at him without feeling anything – not a shred of joy. I wanted nothing to do with him. At that moment the shame was too much. I went to my room, closed the door, and began to cry.
The walls came crashing down.
Then, something remarkable happened. I found the bottom of the pool. I recall looking around the room with such clarity. It was like I was using my eyes for the first time. And I knew what I had to do. Something I’d been putting off for years. This time I didn’t hesitate.
I picked up the phone and called for professional help.
The Mistake I Made
Now, I’d like to say the rest was history. But that’s not how this story ends. Rather, it’s how it started.
A big mistake I made was thinking that waking up would happen instantaneously. Like my alarm going off in the morning.
That somehow the grand cosmic reason for my being would become apparent, and I would live happily ever after. (What a dope.)
The brutal reality is that letting go is a slow, arduous process. (On second thought, it’s just like my alarm going off in the morning!) It’s a process we must practice over and over again.
We first recognise that we’re struggling, and then we let go – we sink into our emotions. Once we find our feet again in the present – once we find the clarity and perspective we need – we push off the pool floor and rise to the surface.
We then take a much-needed breather before repeating the whole process over again.
A Stall Recovery Guide for Life
Of course, this is far easier said than done – especially if you have been clinging to your defences for a long time.
So, we need a roadmap – a set of steps we can follow to help us do that – to first shed our defences and then find the strength to pick up our swords and fight for the life we want.
This brings me full circle to the stall recovery pilots employ in real life. I believe the series of steps they take provide a useful framework that we can use to recover whenever we suffer from a loss of lift in life. Happily, it follows an easy-to-remember acronym I made up called RAPID, which stands for:
- Recognise (take the autopilot out)
- Accept (let go of the controls)
- Push the nose down (come back to earth)
- Increase thrust (protect your energy)
- Do it again (climb away/pitch back up.)
This RAPID framework also provides a neat structure for my high-flying book. I plan to do a deep dive into each of these sections over the coming months as I go about researching/writing it.
For now, I want to give you a brief outline of each section so you can get a good idea of where this flight is headed. (And as a way to wrap up this initial series on stalling.)
Anyway, here it is.
Step 1: Recognise (Taking the autopilot out)
We can’t solve a problem we’re not aware of. If we don’t know we’re stalling, what hope do we have of recovering from it? We first need clarity before we can take appropriate action.
We need to understand what our stall warning alarm is really telling us (whether that alarm is grounded in reality or not). To do that, we need to build self-awareness.
How do we build self-awareness? By taking the autopilot out. This is step 1.
Step 2: Accept (Letting go of the controls)
The point of increasing self-awareness is not self-improvement but self-acceptance. (The paradox here is that self-acceptance leads to genuine change.)
This is the equivalent of letting go of the controls.
We must accept where and who we are – whether we like it or not – to regain control of our lives. A significant part of this section will explore the shedding of the defences we use to protect us from feeling vulnerable.
I’ll briefly highlight this point for now: Letting go is defined by a willingness to feel vulnerable.
Step 3: Point the nose down (Coming back to earth)
The paradox of vulnerability is courage. We derive true strength from our willingness to shed our armour and show who we really are. This gives us the courage to take action.
Not any old action – an action grounded in reality based on a set of intrinsic values.
Invariably this means we must sacrifice something – just like a pilot must sacrifice height for lift, we must do the same. We must give up what we want to do and instead come back to earth to do what we should.
That means prioritising people over productivity, and our values over validation.
Step 4: Increase thrust (Protecting your energy)
The other thing we must prioritise is our health and well-being.
In aviation, we have a saying: Energy is life. Without it, we cannot maintain lift. So it is with us. This is why we must protect/prioritise our own health above all else.
This section will look at how we do that. It will also explore time management – how we can protect not only our energy but our attention as well.
Step 5: Do it again (Climbing away)
The final step is a reminder that letting go is a practice we must repeat. To help us remain grounded as we return to our lives and chase our goals and ambitions.
A significant threat when recovering from a stall is re-entry – pitching too fast too soon before we’ve gained the energy and lift to sustain us over the long haul.
So this final section will look at life balance – how to balance the four forces of life – to help us stay grounded when we’re flying high, whenever we encounter some of life’s inevitable turbulence.
In a nutshell – this is my 5-step guide for regaining lift in life.
Just in case you think I’m pulling all of this out of my pilot’s hat, well, I am. But, after some research, I release that these steps closely follow the methods used in ACT, CBT, and DBT. Quote, “Three of the most effective methods to improve anxiety, mood and self-confidence.”
To land this post, I want to make a final point.
I’ve defined stalling as a loss of meaning (lift). Stalling is inevitable because change is inevitable – because loss and heartbreak are inevitable. That’s why I think it’s wrong to think in terms of trying to avoid stalling.
The major issue we have isn’t a loss of meaning. It’s an inability to accept and process that loss of lift.
That, ultimately, is the whole point of letting go: so we can move on for the purpose of rebuilding the meaning of our lives. Hopefully this guide will help you do exactly that.
This is part six of a series of posts on the subject of stalling in life.
Part 1: Stalling: The Aerodynamics of Life
Part 2: Stalling: Why We Lose Lift
Part 3: Stalling: Why We Lose Lift (2)
Part 4: Stalling: The Paradox of Meaning
Part 5: Stalling: Why Letting Go is the Key to Regaining Lift
You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com
You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com