>Lines and Squares


Whenever I walk in a London street,

I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;

And I keep in the squares.

And the masses of bears,

Who wait at the corners all ready to eat

The sillies who tread on the lines of the street,

Go back to their lairs

And I say to them “Bears,

Just look how I’m walking in all the squares!”


My mum used to read me that when I was little. It’s from a small book by A. A. Milne called “When we were very young“, which also had “They’re changing the guard at Buckingham Palace”, and “John had Great Big Waterproof Boots on”, and “Christopher Robin is saying his prayers”, and plenty more little gems. I’m sure it wasn’t mum’s intention at the time, but “Lines and Squares” left me with a long term, strongly held superstition about where I could walk. Once I was in a fair bit of strife (only about 10 years ago, I’m ashamed to admit), and I figured it would all come out right if I didn’t walk on any lines on the way to the station each morning. The problem was, the route to the station took me through the local school and across the playground. It was painted with basketball, netball and handball courts, all on top of each other. To get across the playground, I felt, and probably looked, like I was playing hopscotch.

I’ve been trying to kick the lines-and-squares affliction. At its root, like many afflictions, is probably fear. My friend Sarah Friis says: “Fear is our belief in our own inability to deal with an action or its consequences.” Walking in the squares has been a tangible way for me to deal with that belief, I guess. The trouble is, it doesn’t do anything to change the belief.

I’ve spent too much of my life thinking maybe I’m just a bit of a coward. Too much time being paralysed and not dealing with the thing feared. Through some hard lessons, I have found four things which help me with fear.

Recognise it

It really helps me to know when it is fear that is driving whatever current emotion I am trying to deal with. Upsetting emotions can come from sadness, grief, hurt at the plight of others – they are things you can sit with in a different way than being afraid of something. Recognising fear as the driver at any given time can almost be a relief, because then I know what I have to deal with.

Name it

It’s really useful to me to be able to identify exactly what the fear is. It is not always immediately apparent, and some investigation is often needed. I spent time chasing down and articulating one fear, which I found out deep down to be the fear of being left alone. When I can name it, I can face it a whole lot more confidently.

Don’t beat yourself up about it

I’ve done plenty of that, proclaiming myself to be a bit of a coward in the face of various fears. It doesn’t help with the resolve needed to deal with the fear. I’m not alone in being afraid, and it doesn’t make me less worthwhile. It just is, like being happy or feeling grief. I remind myself just to accept it as part of life.

Do something, anything

The most destructive part of fear for me is the paralysis it brings. If I have been able to recognise and name a fear, and not beat myself up about it, the final bit for me is to do something to address it. Often the smallest step I can take is the best step, perhaps because it’s the easiest. Open and read that email I haven’t really wanted to read. Create a document and save the file and write a heading even if I can’t write the whole document just yet. Just doing one little thing usually helps to shake me out of the paralysis.

Recognising, naming, doing something – the most usual result I get is a validation of the well-worn statistic that 80% of what you fear never happens. And the other 20% – well, at least I’m not crumbling in front of it. So I’m sorry Christopher Robin, but I just want to say: “Bugger you, bears, I’m walking on the lines.”


1 Response to “>Lines and Squares”

  1. 1 Belinda November 24, 2010 at 6:13 am

    >I can vouch for this approach- I deployed it a couple of weeks ago to great effect.

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