Many beginners who start swimming lessons subconsciously have ominous music – like the Jaws theme – playing in the back of their minds. It’s accompanied by a feeling of worry or fear, often for reasons they can’t quite pinpoint. Psychologists, Cooper, Hoffman & Powell have coined the term for this: shark music.
In a recent conversation with a friend who also works as a family psychologist, she described it a bit better for me.
Imagine that I play a video clip for you that shows someone walking down a path leading to the beach and then the ocean. In the background there is a bright, happy song playing. Watching this, you feel relaxed and open to what comes next.
Now, imagine I play the same video clip for you, but this time the theme song from Jaws plays in the background. How do you feel now?
Joan went on to explain that due to our conditioning (upbringing and experiences) we develop certain filters (ways of seeing) or “theme music” for certain situations. In the case of situations in which we somehow feel threatened, we develop shark music. When we find ourselves in the same situation again it triggers similar feelings and thought patterns, and we stop being present (listening and responding) to the situation at hand.
When an adult beginner finally makes the choice to tackle their fear of water and learn to swim, I see them wrestle and deal with their shark music in 3 ways:
- They come to recognize that they DO have shark music filtering their experience of the water. Just becoming conscious of their fearful thoughts, feelings and their physiological reaction to their anxiety about the water gives a beginner a place to start on their journey of learning to swim.
- In the beginning, they consciously need to work with their mind to “turn down the volume” of their shark music. Even just enough that it gives them a little mental space to be open to experiencing the water differently and practicing a few swim skills.
- Finally, with dedication to practicing their new swim skills and learning about how the water works, they actually begin to change their theme music from shark music to music that is hopeful and even enjoyable!
Though most commonly used in parenting and child psychology, shark music is a helpful concept in lots of other contexts. Overcoming fears or discomfort with situations can be rewarding and enable us to live the fullest iterations of our lives.
Good luck as you set off to silence your shark music and turn up the volume on a happier tune!