Feeling Uncomfortable? People Don’t – You Do!


Every Friday I go swimming, half an hour of cool water early in the morning. Often with a pool to myself, sometimes fighting for space. With little pattern to the amount of people I never know where I am going to find myself. There is however a pattern to my swim routine, fifty lengths. Ten breaststroke, front crawl and butterfly, ten kicking and ten pulling.


There is something uncomfortable about swimming butterfly. I feel that its difficult when I swim it, despite swimming regularly for my whole life I do not find the double over arm action comes naturally. Since taking up Les Mills Body Pump classes I realise that a lot comes from the shoulder blades. If I squeeze my shoulder blades together in the lesson a lot more happens … at bit like squeezing the glutes during a squat! I notice that when I squeeze my shoulder blades together during the butterfly swim everything comes together a little more crisply.


However, every Friday the same thing happens. I plough through the front crawl. The breaststroke is a welcome relief. Pulling is easy and I often think that I swim better and faster without my legs involved at all. Kicking, well right now without the float (covid restrictions would you believe) I look like a drowning dolphin, but I get through it. Then comes butterfly and the feeling comes over me, it is the same feeling I experience when walking into a room of people – not a crowded room where no one will notice – a room with that perfect combination of numbers and people that know each other. Everyone in conversation, some of it private, not all small talk. I walk in and feel the disturbed qi. Everyone looks up and I must decide whose conversation I break. That feeling!



My Uncomfortable


I feel uncomfortable with attention. I generally do not have a fear of what others think of me, but I do not like attention. Based on my terrible hosting skills perhaps there is a fear of judgement. I love a party at my house, some of the best parties I have been to were at my own home. Once the party starts in my head it is someone else’s house. I am in the thick of it but do not expect me to offer you a drink, welcome you at the door or wave you goodbye down the street. I am a leave the back gate open with a sign telling you to help yourself to drinks kind of host.


Thankfully for our guests my partner is the opposite. I wonder if this is because I am lazy, enjoy partying too much or have a fear of judgement. When I host you might judge – perhaps.


Regardless of my (lack of) hosting skills, when it comes to swimming the butterfly, I feel uncomfortable. I have a feel the fear and do it anyway attitude, so it does not stop me but as an analyst of human thoughts I spend much of my swimming time reflecting. This week I questioned why I feel the way I do. My initial thought was “because people stare at you when you swim butterfly”. Apparently, some people do not have an internal monologue. Researchers investigating The Phenomena of Inner Experience found that


“the experience of thinking without inner speaking or any other symbols (i.e., unsymbolized thinking) is actually quite common.” (Heavy, 2007)


So common that the overall frequency was 22% but half of the participants in the study experienced it in at least a quarter of their samples. With a continual internal monologue, I really struggle to comprehend this, though I do accept it.


The Switch


When I considered my thought “people stare at you when you swim butterfly” I intuitively knew to pull myself up on it. Thank goodness another thought came to me as I did. The therapist in me spoke loudly. It said no they do not, switch the people and the you(s). You stare at people when people swim butterfly. Yes, I do. When I see someone else swim that stroke, I do stare. I want to observe the technique, notice the things they do differently which I might be able to take on board so that it feels easier for me. Instantly I recognise that the uncomfortable feeling I experience when I swim up and down the pool every Friday, for those ten lengths of butterfly is a fear of drawing attention to myself.


When I open the door to the area, I scan the pool only to see where I can slip myself in without causing too much damage to myself or others (it isn’t unusual for me to kick someone in the lane next to me, or whack arms as I fling mine over my head!) Whenever my eyes catch someone swimming butterfly I will look. However, this is me. It is not anyone else. I doubt many other people have the same intrigue in the same specific aspect of swimming. I do not need to feel any concern about drawing any attention to myself. In future I will always remember to flip around the you and people in my sentences. After all, how can I ever know what ‘people’ do because I am not them and what a generalisation anyway! When you feel uncomfortable, or fear something hold the mirror up.


People don’t – you do!


Heavey, C. L., & Hurlburt, R. T. (2008). The phenomena of inner experience. Consciousness and cognition17(3), 798-810.




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