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I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series of books. Not only for the enormous amount of escapist fun they offer but also for their life coaching tips.
‘Eh? What on earth does Harry Potter have to do with life coaching?’ you may ask. Well, as it happens, quite a lot. There are a number of spells, characters, tools and events in the books which, with a bit of adaptation for real life, work like a charm (sorry).
So this is post one in an occasional series of Magic for Muggles. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the books (actually, DO worry – you’ve missed out on a treat) as I will outline what you need to know. Oh, and by the way, the number one thing you need to know is that Muggles are non-magical folk.
The Riddikulus Charm
This spell first appears in the third book of the series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, when Remus Lupin, the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, instructs the class on how to deal with Boggarts.
A Boggart, we learn, is a relatively harmless but annoying creature that likes to make its home in dark, confined spaces like cupboards or wardrobes. Its defence mechanism is sinister though, for as soon as it is seen, it takes on the form of the observer’s worst fear. The Boggart in the book, for example, becomes a huge spider when Ron sees it, a full moon for Professor Lupin (who is a werewolf) and the looming form of the scary Professor Snape when it’s Neville’s turn.
The way to defeat a Boggart is laughter, as it immediately stops their ability to terrorise. Therefore, Professor Lupin asks the class to prepare themselves for what might appear to them when he opens the wardrobe. Step one – be aware of your fear.
The children are asked to turn their fear into something funny. Thus, Ron’s enormous spider struggles to stand up as each of its eight feet are encased in roller boots, Professor Lupin’s full moon becomes a rapidly deflating, rude sound-producing white balloon, and Professor Snape emerges from the wardrobe wearing Neville’s nan’s eccentric hat and handbag. Step two – having visualised your fear, visualise a funny variation.
Lupin shows his class how to wave their wand and incant ‘Riddikulus’ whilst visualising the funny version of the Boggart. The Boggart loses its power and retreats immediately. Step three – DO something about it as well as visualising.
So what can we Muggles learn from this?
Fear in itself is not dangerous, but can stop us from having a clear perspective of a situation.
Even though a Boggart is harmless, the fear of the shape it assumes often renders its attackers unable to fight. How often have you backed away from something that scares you simply because you fear it, not necessarily because it would do you harm? I’m talking things like public speaking, going for that job or asking that person out – although gigantic spiders would be a common enough real life fear too.
Recognising and naming your fear is the first step to defeating it.
Often, people don’t actually know what it is they are scared of. Identifying what the actual fear is around can lessen its power greatly. When I went abseiling and was terrified, I recognised that one of the fears I had was an old one of everyone laughing at me (this was rooted in an experience as a young girl). Once I’d realised this, I knew that the chances of it happening were extremely low and that, even if it did happen, I’d be able to handle it in an adult way. Thus, my Boggart’s power was greatly diminished.
Laugh at your fear
Probably if anyone had laughed at me that day, I would have turned it into a joke. Humour, as anyone who has ever been bullied will testify, is one of the hardest things to summon up when you are frightened, yet one of the best ways of neutralising a scary situation in an instant. In the book, the class were told to visualise their biggest fear turning into something funny. Nervous public speakers often use the trick of visualising their audience in their underwear. How could you laugh at your fears?
Do something about it
We may not have wands and incantations (sigh) but backing up visualisation with action packs a pretty powerful punch. If you have a phobia, call an NLP specialist or hypnotist and get it sorted. If you are worried that person you’ve fancied for ages will reject you, do something other than asking them out – make them a cup of tea, get chatting about a programme you both watch. Do something, even if it’s not the thing you’re most scared of.
Do it once. Do it again. And again, and again, and again. Fear (and Boggarts) are defeated when they are laughed at, but finding the courage to laugh in the face of a fear takes time and practice. The more you can face your fears and find laughter in the darkest of situations, the less dark the next ones seem.
Here’s the scene from the film:
What would your Boggart look like? How can you laugh at it? Do leave a comment and let me know.