A few weeks ago, I posted an article about feeling your fear and doing it anyway. I wrote that after going months without writing a single word for my blog. I thought I wanted to write. I loved the idea of writing. But the truth is what I really loved was the idea of having written. There is a difference. I wanted the satisfaction of having a finished, polished product that made me feel as though I had accomplished something worthwhile. But I couldn’t get my heart and head into writing at all.
I told myself it was because I didn’t have the time. There were too many other things I needed to do. Too much going on. And while it was true that there my plate was quite full, it was also true that I could have made the time to write if I really tried.
In a moment of complete honesty, I realized that I was simply experiencing plain old yellow bellied fear. I was talking to a friend one day about my worry that I couldn’t write a decent article. She blinked in confusion. “But – you’ve written and published a whole book! You know how to write.” I laughed in recognition that she was right. But it didn’t matter. I was still paralyzed by doubt. And to make matters worse, I was also judging myself for being a pansy.
Have you ever done something like that?
Have you ever let your fear and doubt keep you from doing what you really need and want to do?
The longer I went without writing, the more monumental the task seemed. I just wasn’t sure I could still pull it off. And to save myself the agony of flailing and failing, I just didn’t try at all. I manufactured a bunch of other things that justified putting it on the backburner. But it continued to eat at me, haunting the edges of my mind – and so despite my attempts to avoid it, I experienced agony anyway.
One day when I just couldn’t stand sitting at my desk for another minute, I went for a run. I didn’t really want to, but I needed to get away and clear my head. It had been awhile since I went running. My body was heavy and stiff.
“Do I really want to do this?” I asked myself.
“No. But I’m gonna do it anyway.”
So I started moving my legs and ran down the street. It was not fun. I was not enjoying myself. But I kept at it because I knew that feeling wouldn’t last long. I just needed to warm up and find my zone, and then it would feel good. Maybe even great. And that’s exactly what happened. I came back refreshed, renewed, and energized.
And then it hit me. Perhaps the same approach that got me into my running zone could get me into my writing zone. Maybe all I needed was to warm up – to give myself permission to not be in my zone, but to move anyway. Every athlete worth his salt knows the importance of warming up. Broadcasters do tongue twisters before they get on the air. Some of the best actors are in character long before they get in front of the camera. Even cars and other machinery runs better when the engines are warm.
I remembered reading recommendations for writing warm-ups. I had scoffed at them before, thinking they were a complete waste of time. If I couldn’t find the time to write as way it was, why would I want to add another chunk of time onto writing something that I would end up throwing away? It seemed silly. But I tried it.
What I discovered is that a warm-up – whether for writing or anything else, doesn’t necessarily need to take a whole lot of time. Five minutes is all that was recommended. Five minutes of sitting at my computer writing a stream of consciousness, letting my fingers dance across the keyboard without stopping, and without regard for spelling, punctuation or typos. Five minutes of typing anything – even if it was “this is stupid, I don’t know why I am doing this. I don’t even know what to write about. I don’t think doing a warm-up is going to help anything. I want ice cream. Blah, blah, blah.”
The more that I typed, the more I began to express my fears and doubts. I moved into my resistance and put it right out there on the paper in black and white. I wrote about what was on my mind, what was weighing on me. What I was afraid I would do. And what I was afraid I wouldn’t do. And I began to feel lighter, less encumbered, and more fluid as my doubts began to give way to something more interesting that was waiting to break through.
Five minutes. The timer buzzed. And then I proceeded to write an article. I was amazed as what used to take hours came flying out in a matter of minutes. I let it rip, deciding not to edit myself as I went along and giving myself permission to go back and polish things up later. I put my judgment on hold and just did what I wanted and needed to do. And it was wonderful. I was enjoying the process again. And when I did, the end result took care of itself.
Later I had lunch with another friend as I shared with him my latest discovery. His kind brown eyes narrowed with intensity as he asked, “Why do we doubt ourselves?”
“Because we’re afraid we can’t do what we need to do.” I answered.
“Do you doubt that you are sitting here in front of me?” He replied.
“No,” I laughed. “Of course not.”
“Why do you not doubt that?” he asked, unphased.
“Because I can see for myself that I am sitting in front of you.” I shot back.
“Exactly!” he said. “You don’t doubt what you can see, hear and feel with your own senses.”
And then I realized why a warm-up is so very powerful. When we doubt ourselves, we begin to tell ourselves stories about how we can’t do anything all that well. And then we believe those stories and become more firmly entrenched on our backsides. We become stuck in inertia without indication that we can do anything but stay there.
But when we start moving in a direction – any direction – we begin to have even the smallest shred of evidence to contradict the doubt. And once we start moving, we gain momentum that allows us to carry on. Even if we are moving in the wrong direction, that momentum gives us what we need to turn things around and go another way.
So I started doing writing warm ups in the morning before I begin doing anything, whether it is writing or anything else. And I challenge you to do the same. Think of it as a bit of stretching and some light calisthenics for the mind and the spirit. Allow yourself a few minutes (even if it is just five) of not judging yourself – write whatever the hell you want. You might be surprised at what comes out – and what letting it rip allows you to do that you may not have ever realized you had in you.
“As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.”
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Every day when I pull into my garage, my headlights illuminate a box of solar garden lanterns my father bought for me for Christmas a few years ago. Every time I see them I am reminded that I need to set them up. But something stops me. I don’t know what it is, really. Maybe I feel like I don’t have the time to do it. Part of me is unsure exactly where to put them. But I have to admit that I also worry it will be too complicated. That I won’t be able to figure it out quickly. That I’ll get bogged down with it. And so these beautiful lights are still sitting in the box in our garage.
A couple of shelves over from the solar lights are bags of palm tree supplements and fertilizers. I bought them a few months ago with the good intention of trying to give our trees an extra leg up in the scorching summer heat. Every weekend, I see on my list of weekend projects, “fertilize palm trees”. But the bags are still sitting on the shelf. They are heavy and stinky. And it’s hot outside. Admittedly it is not at the top of my list of priorities. But really, why have I let them sit for so long? When I’m totally honest with myself, I realize it’s because I’m anxious about whether or not I’ll figure out the right ratios and the right way to spread the stuff around the dirt – whether I’ll have to dig or sprinkle, and then I just figure there’s something more pressing that needs to get done.
Silly, stupid stuff, right? Maybe. Maybe not. The other day it hit me that these things I let sit in the garage may be indicative of a larger, more significant pattern in my life. One that is keeping me stuck and jamming up my creative energy. You see, I haven’t written in a very long time. I love to write. It frees me. It feeds me. And yet I haven’t allowed myself to do it. Why?
I got hung up in my head. Silly decisions that I kept putting off. Little complications that I allowed to fester and grow. What to write about? Should I do an article or a video? Where should I post it, now that I have a couple of different websites and a column that I contribute to? When should I write? What if I can’t get it all done in the time I have? What if I start and then I can’t finish? I go around and around in my head until I become incredibly irritated with myself.
And then I go find something else to do. Something safe. Something clean and easy to check the box on. And I have a few seconds of a very fleeting and artificial sense of accomplishment that slowly fades into a nagging, unsettling feeling. Over the last few weeks, I’ve developed an irritating muscle cramp that has become so painful I am having trouble moving in certain ways. Whether it is related or not, it is the perfect physical equivalent to what is going on in my mind.
And this morning it hit me. The dynamic that keeps me from tackling the boxes and bags in the garage is the same dynamic that has blocked my writing. I’m in fear. And I’m doubting myself. I’m worrying about all the things that could go wrong. That could make things hard. And I’m creating all kinds of distractions and complications to keep myself from doing what I really need to do most. And it is becoming painful.
The last box that I let sit for months was a printer we got over the summer for my kids to use for their school projects. I could tell you it sat in the box because they didn’t really need it until school started. But the truth is, it stayed in the box because I didn’t want to deal with it. In my mind it was a complicated endeavor that would have me confused and take hours of time. After school started again, I realized I had to muscle up and get the darn thing plugged in.
I know some of you are probably laughing right now. Really? How hard can it be to set up a printer? When I finally tore open the box and started following the directions I was laughing at myself too. It really wasn’t that hard. Until we flipped the switch and got an error message that the carriage was jammed before we ever even put paper in it. I spent the next forty minutes talking to technical support and then finally boxing up the printer to send back to the manufacturer (I had waited too long to be able to just bring it back to the store.)
My fear was validated in the same way that it was validated the last time I tried to assemble a piece of furniture only to find that when I thought I was almost done I had to completely disassemble everything and put it back together again following instructions written in really bad English and accompanied by pictures that didn’t look anything like the parts I had.
This morning I realized it’s not that my fear isn’t justified.
It’s just that I can’t let it stop me.
I almost let this fear keep me from coaching my daughter’s volleyball team. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. But I hesitated because my daughter has never actually played volleyball and I have never coached any sport at all. What if I couldn’t remember how the game goes, what the positions are, how the players rotate? What if I let the girls (or their parents) down? What if it becomes apparent that I haven’t the slightest idea what I’m doing?
I didn’t see it as a lucky thing at the time, but it turned out that the only way my daughter and her friends could be on the same team was if I became their coach. So I did. Reluctantly at first – and somewhat begrudgingly. Then I realized that despite my reservations, it’s really a lot of fun. And I don’t have to have all the answers. Others are happy to help me fill in the gaps, tell me what I don’t know, give me ideas, and offer support. And the look on the girls’ faces when they do something they couldn’t do before is priceless. Thank God I didn’t let my silly doubts and fears keep me from this amazing experience.
Funny how little things like solar lanterns and palm tree fertilizer can provoke such powerful insights. The irony that I am a coach who helps others get out of their fear and into their zones isn’t lost on me. But I get it. I understand why it’s so hard. And I also know why it is so very important. That’s why I wanted to share with you my own inner struggles – because we all have them. The only thing that really matters is what we do about it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some palm trees to fertilize.
Photo credit: David Castillo Domenici, Free Digital Photos
“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
When was the last time you stretched yourself? I mean literally, physically stretched yourself?
It wasn’t that long ago that I had trouble touching my toes. I started doing yoga, and in one of the classes I attended we were asked to bend our bodies in a somewhat unusual way. The instructor effortlessly folded herself in half while I leaned slightly forward and came to an abrupt halt. It wasn’t really pain that I experienced as much as plain old discomfort. I wanted this part of the class to be over.
We were told to relax and breathe. Everything inside of me resisted even the idea of this crazy position that was the furthest thing from what I thought I or any other reasonable human being would consider restful. My muscles were tense and my body felt like it was in a knot. But I did my best to follow the directions – relax and breathe into it.
And as I did, a funny thing happened. After a short time, my muscles seemed to soften in spite of themselves, and I found myself gradually dropping more deeply into the stretch. The longer I held it, the (dare I say?) better it felt, until I was actually kind of enjoying this strange new sensation.
And then the thought occurred to me that this whole process is analogous to doing something – anything – that takes us out of our comfort zone.
We see something that beckons, perhaps something that we know will be good for us, and yet we resist. Often we move tentatively into it and then hit a wall of discomfort. In this discomfort a myriad of unsettling thoughts and fears barrage us – “I’m no good at this…,” “this was a bad idea…” “I’m wasting my time…” and on and on. And the resistance itself seems to intensify the discomfort. We tighten up, literally and figuratively, and block ourselves from moving into the experience.
But if we can remain patient and open – if we can allow ourselves this initial period of discomfort and stay present with it, relaxing into it and breathing through it, we might be surprised at the results we experience. Think of the last time you tried something really different – something new and exciting and kind of terrifying all at the same time. If you stayed with it despite your initial resistance, chances are that over time the discomfort gave way to exhilaration and over more time, perhaps deep gratification. And the longer you kept at it, the easier and more satisfying it became.
We are all capable of so much more than we realize, and I believe now more than ever we are beginning to see that that it is time for us to stand taller, to reach higher, and to be willing to open ourselves up to allow our greatest work to emerge. Do not be fooled into thinking that going outside of your comfort zone is merely a self serving exercise that can wait until you have more confidence or time. In fact, there is no better way to increase your confidence than by taking this kind of action in spite of your fear and discomfort. This kind of courageous exploration enriches not only ourselves, but everyone around us who will surely benefit from the gifts we uncover and give form to. When we shrink, we cheat more than just ourselves. And when we expand, we allow ourselves to truly lead – in whatever form that leadership will take.
As leaders, we cannot expect others to stretch themselves if we are not willing to do it first. We must allow ourselves to be humbled and vulnerable so that we can identify with and understand the experiences we ask others to participate in. And we need to be patient and supportive with them as they encounter and work through their own forms of resistance.
What can you do today to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone? And how can you apply what you learn to make you a stronger, more influential and transformational leader?
The above article contains excerpts from my book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Photo by Ambro.
Well, I made it through my karate belt test on Saturday. I actually really enjoyed my belt test. Yes, it’s true.
In last week’s blog post, Overcoming the Illusion of Fear, I wrote about the anxiety I experienced after my last karate belt test that led me to fear and dread the next one. And I also wrote about what helped me get into a mindset that would allow me to finally feel ready to stand in the fear and do the thing I was afraid of. If you would have asked me a year or two ago what victory would have been, I would have told you it was making it through the test without getting hit in the face. And I didn’t get hit in the face, but that’s not what I feel most victorious about.
You would have thought from reading last week’s article that the whole test was sparring and grappling. In fact, I’m told it only lasted a total of four minutes (though it feels like an eternity when you’re in it). The actual belt test in its entirety was five and a half hours long. Yes, that’s right – 95% of my anxiety and fear was about a four minute portion of a five and a half hour test, a fact that was pointed out to me and other karate students in class two days before the test. It was a startling realization. As I reflected on it, I became aware that it’s not the first time I’ve gotten so worked up over something that I poured more of my energy into worry and anxiety than anything else.
“I’ll feel so much better when that presentation is behind me.”
“I just want to get that project done so I can relax.”
“I won’t be able to enjoy myself until I have that dreaded conversation.”
Do you ever say things like that to yourself? Check the box, and then feel grateful for having checked another box. The trouble with that mentality is that it leads us to withdraw ourselves from the very things that we need to be most present for. We get so attached to the outcomes that we cheat ourselves of the experiences and the real gifts they offer. Sure they’re uncomfortable. Of course we look forward to having them over with. But the real victory is not in winning the trophy, it’s in having played our best game. And to do that, we must be fully present – while the game is being played.
We can prepare all we want. We can rehearse. We can plan and practice. And all of that is good. But really, the outcome of any of these things that spin us into a frenzy is directly linked to what we do during the experience itself. We have to detach ourselves from our plans and carefully rehearsed versions of whatever is about to unfold. Because the reality is that we can never fully anticipate what is about to happen. We need to be in the moment, tuning into the people we are with, the things that are being said and done and what we are being moved to do in response that may not have anything to do with what we rehearsed. We need to trust in that part of ourselves that will direct us in just the way we need to go in the moment.
The key benefit of practice and preparation is that we get our minds around the fact that we have everything we need to rise up to any challenge we will be confronted with. In short, we must believe in ourselves and our ability to respond to whatever is taking place even if we’ve never experienced it before.
Merriam Webster defines “victory” as 1: the overcoming of an enemy or antagonist, and 2: the achievement of mastery or success in a struggle or endeavor against odds or difficulties. The true enemy/antagonist in my battle was the part of me that didn’t believe I could handle the karate test, or any test for that matter – the one that just wanted to get it behind me so that I could go onto easier, more enjoyable things. This is the enemy that created the greatest odds and the most horrendous difficulties.
The biggest thing standing in the way of our ability to achieve whatever we endeavor to do is the part of us that keeps us believing we cannot pull it off. True mastery and success will occur for each one of us as we endeavor to rise up in the midst of this opposition and do what is ours to do. And as we do, we will create something we can be truly grateful for – the experience of discovering and unearthing that part of ourselves that can remain calm in the face of any opposition and access the best possible solution in the moment – any moment. This victory is the only kind that is lasting. And each victory of this kind builds on the one that came before.
A toast, to victory! And to every experience, for better or worse, that gives us the opportunity to truly experience it.
I would like to personally thank the Center for Humane Living and every person who is a part of it for enriching my life, and that of others in so many profound ways.
For more on achieving Victory:
Checklist image by Rawich.
Jumping silhouette by Biansho.
Almost exactly two years ago, I had a karate belt test that pushed me beyond my limits. I wrote an article called Tapping Your Reserves that captured what took place as well as the lessons I learned as a result. But reflecting back on that experience now, I realize that in the months that passed, I ended up learning more than I initially realized.
Here’s an excerpt of that article, depicting that experience:
Waiting outside the dojo adjusting my mouthpiece like a horse trying to acclimate to its first bit, I quietly prepared myself, breathing slowly and deeply. After my name was called, I was ushered into a circle of black belts standing around a plastic red padded floor until I stood face to face with my opponent – one of the toughest, most intense sensei’s I have encountered as a martial arts student. Our heads were swallowed up by the protective foam of our sparring gear, exposing only eyes, cheeks, noses and lips.
After bowing to each other, we began to spar. I threw a few of the punches I’d practiced every week in karate class and managed to get some kicks in. But for every strike I made, it seemed my sensei threw at least three more. I continued to circle, launching a few more tentative jabs here and there. The black belts surrounding us were shouting encouragement, their voices merging into chords of indistinguishable tones. And then I felt a sharp blow to my face. I instinctively curled toward my stomach and felt a burst of fluid that was not yet visible. When the blood appeared, the sparring session was stopped and a hand appeared with a wad of Kleenex in it.
As I cautiously dabbed at my nose and wiped my eyes, someone asked me if I wanted to continue. I heard myself say yes. Squinting through the sweat that was dripping from my forehead and feeling my heart beating in my face, I raised my gloved fists higher and took a few more shots. Before I knew it, I was taken to the ground. I was vaguely aware that there was at least one, maybe two other black belts in the sparring match now. As I grappled on the ground, fatigue set in. I struggled to escape the choke hold, forgetting everything I had learned and feeling like a spider’s prey wriggling and writhing to escape while the grip became tighter. And then, thankfully, that part of the test was over.
I wrote the Tapping Your Reserves article to process that experience and make the most of it. Ironically, despite the insights I gained, in the months that followed I found myself feeling far more fear about what happened than I did on the day that I got punched in the nose. The experience became exaggerated in my mind, a horribly warped version much like the image reflected by a fun house mirror. The sense of accomplishment I enjoyed after having completed the test was replaced by a fixation on what it felt like to be trapped with no recollection of how to escape. I felt the blow to my face over and over again as I replayed the events in my mind. And it was far more painful in my memory than it was in reality.
What is amusing to me is that often fear like this comes before an event – as I see in my mind’s eye all manner of things that could go wrong and then magnify it until it becomes a mental picture so horrid that I would do anything to avoid it. But this time, I was using a somewhat fictional account of an actual event to work myself into a frenzy that led me to avoid the future based on a past that was more imaginary than real. After all, when given the choice on the day of the test, I decided to jump back in and keep going after getting hit. My hesitance about the whole thing didn’t really set in until after it was over.
As my kids’ team practices and dance rehearsals began to conflict with karate classes, I was secretly a little grateful that shuttling them from school to field to court to studio prevented me from attending with the regularity I once did. God forbid I would be asked to test again – to spar again. No, not an experience I was eager to repeat. Every time anyone referenced sparring in karate class, I felt a shudder go down my spine. The idea of even putting protective gear on made me nauseous. I became overly concerned with playing safe – doing whatever I could to avoid getting hit again. But I knew at some point I would need to get over it and get back in the game.
Gradually I got tired of being scared, of holding myself back, of playing in the shadows. I was still afraid, but found myself growing more and more eager to face those fears and step into them. I began to pay careful attention in the strategy sessions that were being offered. I started to envision a different scenario than the one I was previously playing out in my head. And I even attended a special open sparring class just so that I could put myself in the experience of facing an opponent and replacing my fear with the tiniest shred of confidence I could muster.
A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to test again. I accepted. The test is this Saturday.
I’m nervous. I’d like to be a little more prepared, and I realize that no matter how much I practice, the fear will still be there. But I don’t need to give into it. I just need to stand in its presence without letting it grip and control me. And I think no matter what happens in this test – even if I get knocked out cold or do something incredibly embarrassing, I will be victorious. Because the real battle I am fighting is with myself. And it’s not just a sparring match. It is a metaphor for overcoming resistance (and the illusion it creates) that keeps me from doing what I really want to do in all areas of my life.
In the end, the pain of holding out and playing small became far greater than the physical pain I can recall from the event that provoked the fear in the first place – perhaps far greater than any fear my little mind can conjure up. Enough already. I’m ready to play.
Bring it on, baby.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important.” ~ Ambrose Redmoon
For more on Overcoming the Illusion of Fear:
Karate image by Kriss Szkurlatowski.
Fire head image by Salvatore Vuono.
Ever notice that just when you get comfortable, life has a way of shaking things up? Some people seem to enjoy change more than others. Most of us prefer to be the ones doing the changing – it brings newness along with a sense of control – we are at the helms, steadfastly steering our ships. But imagine if you will, that a massive wave summoned by a hurricane has ripped the captain’s wheel right off the ship and you are left clinging to something that no longer has any power. The tighter you grip it, the less energy you have to deal with your circumstances in a way that will truly serve you (and everyone around you as well).
At times like these, we often pray for the storm to pass – for things to revert back to the way they were – or for a specific course of events that we believe would be life’s perfect solution. These solutions are based on what we think we know – which is largely a product of what we have already seen and experienced. And relying upon the patterns and strategies that worked for us in the past is often inadequate for our present and emerging challenges.
The world is changing and so are we.
We tend to strive for comfort and familiarity, even when what’s comfortable isn’t necessarily effective or even satisfying anymore. We wish and pray that the chaos be removed and order be restored. But often life’s little disturbances are exactly what we need to reach our true potential and escape complacency. Perhaps as Eckhardt Tolle wrote in The Power of Now, “…what’s appears to be in the way IS the way.”
Stormy seas (and life’s sudden surprises) have a way of testing our resolve and our resiliency. Pressure brings out our extremes – for better or worse. And fear does funny things to people. At its worst, it produces panic – a physical state that literally disables the brain’s ability to think clearly. At one extreme a person is frozen by fear and at the other he will thrash about like a drowning victim who pulls his rescuers under the water with him. The key to surviving a seeming assault of this kind is learning to relax and stay calmly aware of our surroundings so that we can identify and creatively utilize the resources at our disposal.
One of the most critical resources in our control when all else seems beyond it is our perspective. The way in which we view things determines the story we tell ourselves about what’s happening, which directly influences the responses we will have. If we believe we are helpless victims at the mercy of something that seeks to destroy us, we will become bitter, resentful and apathetic. In this state our true power remains dormant. We collude with our view of reality to create a condition that validates our doomsday stories and sink even deeper into the abyss. Those who try to rescue us from our self imposed paralysis risk being dragged beneath the current created by our own negativity.
If, however, we view our predicaments as adventures and see them as opportunities to give things all we’ve got, we reach deeply within ourselves and tap reserves of courage, wisdom and ingenuity we never realized we had. In the proverbial belly of the whale we find our inner grit and creatively rise up to life’s challenges in ways that transform us and everyone around us as well. We become the heroes of our own stories.
Regardless of who you are and what you do, there will come a time when the plateau you have been walking upon takes a steep turn in one direction or the other and you will be required to do something that stretches you beyond your usual way of doing things.
Perhaps it will be in your career. The work that fulfilled you at one point in your life may no longer be enough. You might find yourself doing something very well but suddenly devoid of the gusto you once did it with. It could be the company you keep – people who at one time shared your interests and passions but who you suddenly find yourself no longer wanting to spend a lot of time with. Maybe it will be your lifestyle. The objects and material possessions you that once gave you joy could one day feel more like clutter or distractions. These things become like shells that the hermit crab has outgrown. The crab must release its previous home and step bravely and vulnerably into the unknown in order to find something more spacious.
The quest for a new shell and even the new shell itself may feel daunting, clumsy and overwhelming. But the act of letting go of the old to make room for the new allows us to evolve and realize our true potential. Anything less will ultimately become imprisoning. When we allow ourselves room to grow, life’s little and big disturbances are not so daunting. We know there is more to us than meets the eye and finally step into our own greatness. And as we do this for ourselves, we model the way for others to do the same.
The above article contains excerpts from my new book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
For more on Navigating Sudden Change:
Ship photo by 1971yes from Bigstock.com.
Hermit crab photo by porbital from FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you suddenly realized you were in way over your head? Maybe you weren’t sure you were ever going to get through it and had no idea what to do. This week’s video post is about an experience I had like that – on the ski slopes. It’s something I remember whenever I find myself in a jam, or consumed by fear or worry. I hope you enjoy it!
Here’s what I said in the video:
A few years ago I had the opportunity to go snow skiing, which I love to do and hadn’t done in years. I couldn’t wait to hit the slopes, and I knew I needed to start slowly because it had been a really long time. So I started off with easy runs and it wasn’t long before I said, “The heck with this, I’m going straight for the black run.”
I picked a run and got to the top of the hill. After pushing myself off and getting about a third of the way down I realized, “Oh my God, this is SO over my head!” There were moguls everywhere. I’m talking about three foot in diameter and about three foot high little hills — all next to each other.
To make things worse the slope of the hill was almost vertical. It was awful. I got about a third of the way down the hill and realized this was a mistake. I looked up and knew I couldn’t climb back to the top. And just at that moment this fog rolled in — fog so thick I felt like I could grab it and hold it in my hand. I couldn’t see more than three feet in front of me.
I panicked. All I wanted to do was get down the mountain. So I thought, “OK. I’m just going to go for it.” I pushed off and plop, came smacking down to the ground, skis flying in different directions. And then it took me 20 minutes to find them because I couldn’t see anything. I finally got my skis back on and tried it again and thwhap — same thing.
I thought, “I just have to figure this out from where I’m at.” I realized just about all I could see was the mogul in front of me and if I could just ski around the edge of the mogul and bend my legs in such a way that they absorbed the shock, I was able to get around that mogul and stop. Then I could look at the next mogul, ski around the edge of that and stop. I was making some progress. And then I looked down toward the end of the mountain and guess what? Totally wiped out again.
I realized, “If I’m ever going to make it down this mountain I’m going to have to forget about reaching the bottom and take one mogul at a time and trust that I’m going to know exactly what I need to know how to make it — one mogul at a time.”
What I learned from that is to get out of fear you can’t go back into the past, and you can’t get preoccupied with what needs to happen in the future. You have to stay right in the moment and take it one moment at a time. And when you do, you will have everything you need to get through it.
You have everything you need in this moment.
You’ll have everything you need in the next moment too.
BE where you are.
Mountain photo by Sarah Nicholl from Dreamstime.com.
What if the only thing standing in your way of perfect peace, true productivity and the satisfaction of living a life of purpose – was your thinking?
Many of us are experiencing a great deal of pressure, anxiety and sudden change. Jobs are tenuous, organizations are restructuring, and it might feel as though life itself is turning upside down. Frustration and turmoil is a common response to this kind of uncertainty and disorientation. It can lead to exhaustion and hopelessness. But consider this as you think about the things in your life and career that may feel as though they are spinning out of control…
What if everything is perfect just the way it is?
No, I haven’t gone off the deep end. Bear with me here… One of the key attributes embodied by extraordinary leaders in all walks of life is encapsulated in the word “responsibility” – not just in a moral or ethical sense of being accountable for our actions, but also – and perhaps just as essential in times of change and chaos – remembering that there is wisdom in recognizing that we have the ability to choose our response – and that the response we choose will have a resounding impact on ourselves and everyone around us.
The greatest of change agents start by recognizing what they have to work with before they can create change that will be sustained. They assess their environment to determine what the best entry point for that change is before they make their move. They don’t waste their time worrying about things that are truly out of their control, like changing the weather. Instead, they focus their attention and energy on those things that they do have the ability to influence and start there. The greatest of leaders know that the most powerful and sustainable change must start from within themselves.
The thing that fascinates me about a seemingly chaotic state of affairs is not so much what is happening, but the stories we are telling ourselves about what it means and the impact those stories are having on the way we are responding to it. When we react to things with fear, we end up amplifying that which we are afraid of and adding to the anxiety. Our fears drive us to act in ways that keep us from acting on our intuition and finding the answers that will truly serve us. Sometimes, we end up behaving in ways that make our fictional stories become real.
As an example, when you tell yourself a story about what is happening that leaves you feeling threatened, you may find yourself closing up and treating others with suspicion and mistrust. The way you are behaving toward people may well provoke a response in them that appears to validate your fearful story. However, in this scenario, it is very likely that their behavior is more of a reaction to the actions your story led you to take than anything else.
Our fearful stories are like the viruses we protect our computers from. These nasty viruses are often embedded in emails that pique our curiosity or rouse our fear. When we unwittingly activate them, they spread often uncontrollably and we risk passing them to the computer of our friends, associates and countless others. The viruses corrupt our systems until they no longer function effectively. Like computer viruses, our stories have a way of spinning us out of control and interfering with our ability to rise up to our challenges to find the opportunity that is always there waiting for us to discover and leverage it.
Our rational minds want answers and security. They need to figure everything out and almost automatically occupy themselves with trying to sort through data to arrive at conclusions. The problem is that our minds are plugging imaginary variables into the equation that end up further exacerbating the anxiety we are already experiencing. When they are done with one variable, they plug in another and the churning continues, leaving us with an uneasiness that keeps us on edge.
In the grip of this madness, sometimes the best thing you can do is indulge your mind with a variable that will allow it to do its thing. Go ahead and plug in the worst case scenario. If the worst possible thing happened, what would you do? Alloy yourself to sit with that question for awhile. Let the fear move through you and keep asking the question, what would I do that would allow everything to be OK? If you sit long enough with your question, you will arrive at some workable alternatives and reconnect with that part of yourself that is strong, resourceful and resilient.
Armed with the knowledge that you will be OK even if the worst possible thing happens, you can come back into the present and recognize your fearful thoughts for what they are – fearful thoughts. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, which I pass along frequently is don’t believe everything you think.
In the present moment, devoid of your stories about variables that are truly unknown, you are OK. And when new events begin to unfold, if you stay in the moment and access your inner wisdom, you will know exactly what you need to do – or not to do – to be OK then too. And as you go about your daily life in this way, your calm resolve will permeate your interactions with others and through your example, you will help others to rise up to their challenges in ways that unearth the greatness in themselves as well.
The above article contains excerpts from my new book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
For more on Surviving and Thriving in Change and Chaos:
This week’s post features a video that I initially didn’t equate with getting out of fear. In fact, I originally titled the video From Self Absorbed to Self Empowered. But after writing last week’s post, A New Way to Look at Fear, I realized that this video is actually a demonstration of one of the best ways I know to get out of fear. It’s simple, easy and powerful. I hope you enjoy it. And I encourage you try it for yourself. Let me know how it goes, will you?
Here’s what I said in the video:
One of the things I’ve found that helps me get out of my self – meaning out of my head – out of my self-absorbed preoccupation with worrying about how I look, how I come across, whether or not I can do something is to think about what I want to experience.
So one day I was playing with this affirmation or intention of what it was that I wanted. It started with “Let me see love.” Wouldn’t that be great to see love everywhere you look? That if even when the face of things don’t seem very lovely that I could see love.
Then I thought what would be even better is if I could feel love. So I could say “Let me feel love.” And how great is that? That I could relax in this comfort and feeling of just love everywhere.
And then I thought, “Well, how about if I give love? So let me give love.” How much better would that be because if I’m giving love, surely I’m feeling it! And if I’m feeling it, surely I’m seeing it.
And then it hit me that what I really want more than anything else is to be love. Let me BE love.
And I think with that intention, there’s probably nothing I can’t do.
For more on overcoming fear:
Photograph by Fritz Langmann from http://www.dreamstime.com/free-stock-image-young-woman-appalled-rimagefree1828966-resi3423159.
I went up to Prescott, AZ over Labor Day weekend with my mother and my young daughter. There was an art festival in the town square, so the place was dotted with people and their dogs, meandering from booth to booth, admiring the wares and taking it all in. White tents and tall, willowy trees sheltered artisans and their customers from the bright sun and intense heat.
There was a lot of jewelry, handmade signs with clever quotes, t-shirts for people and their dogs, hand crafted furniture, blankets, tablecloths, framed photography, bird houses. If you could think of something that could be artfully designed and hand crafted, there was probably a booth for it in the Prescott square last weekend.
Some of my favorite booths were the ones with food in them. Freshly dipped caramel apples rolled in peanuts or toffee, kettle corn popped in large copper drums, homemade tamales, chocolate dipped cheesecake. And, oh, the best freshly squeezed lemonade ever, made with generous portions of sugar and large juicy lemons whose rinds floated in the clear plastic dispensers.
I was standing in a rather long line for one of those lemonades when I became acutely aware of the presence of swarms of bees flying around me and everyone else, hovering over people’s cups and food, and even landing on shoulders, arms, and clothing. People squirmed in their shoes, swatted them away, and some ran out of the line altogether.
Look at all these bees! I said to my daughter. A low, gravelly voice from behind me rose above the clamor. “Don’t be afraid,” it said.
I turned to see an older man with a closely trimmed white beard and long white eyebrows. His eyes twinkled and dimples appeared below his cheeks as he smiled. I looked at him and smiled back. “Don’t be afraid,” he continued. “Bees only sting when they sense fear.” He rocked back and forth on his feet, with his fingers wrapped comfortably around the straps of his faded overalls. “It’s true!” He insisted.
Hmmn. What an interesting thought. Is it true? I don’t know. I wouldn’t doubt it.
It got me thinking about fear in general, and the correlation it often has with unfortunate circumstances. Fear is widely considered to be the effect of an unpleasant and often painful stimulus. But the cause?
Could it be true that fear itself brings about some of the unfortunate circumstances that we are often most afraid of?
I think it’s entirely possible. When we are afraid, we get consumed with thinking we need to protect ourselves, have the last word, save face. We become far more occupied with getting than giving. A fearful response is often an overly aggressive one – one that can create more problems than it solves, and one that might otherwise be deemed as unnecessary. We say and do things we later regret. We can panic and engage in irrational and even hurtful behavior. And we cut ourselves off from the wisdom and insights we would otherwise be able to tap to constructively resolve our differences and creatively rise up to our challenges. Our solutions tend to be half baked and often unsatisfying – as well as short lived.
But how do you override that somewhat instinctive and often knee jerk, fear filled response to what you believe could hurt you?
“Don’t be afraid,” the white haired man said. Easy for you to say, buddy. He obviously sees bees differently than I do, or at least have in the past.
And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe it’s about learning to see things differently. Maybe it’s about questioning what we’ve come to believe and learning a different response – one that is more grounded, centered, and thoughtful. Perhaps it’s about trying something we’ve never had the presence of mind to consider.
The woman behind the counter handed me my lemonade and a single bee came along for the ride. It followed us throughout the square, from booth to booth, hovering around the large waxy cup that contained the sweet, refreshing liquid we waited in line for over ten minutes to receive. At one point, it landed on my shirt sleeve. I felt my blood pressure rise and took a deep breath. What if I get stung? I tried not to think about it. It flew away and came back a few seconds later.
We couldn’t help ourselves. We shooed it away with our napkins. It kept flying back. We tried hard to stay brave and calm, but we kept our napkins unfurled and continued to flap them around whenever the bee got too close.
We made it home without any bee stings. But the wheels in my mind are still turning at the thought that perhaps there is a different response available in every fear filled situation – one that will gently reveal itself to us when we learn to reframe what we see in such a way that it is no longer a threat. Is it possible?
One thing is for sure: the next time I begin to feel that familiar rush of adrenaline, I’ll think back to that white-haired man in his frayed overalls, with a large grin on his face and a quiet wisdom in those sparkling eyes. “Don’t be afraid. They only sting when they sense fear.”
For more on Redefining Fear:
Bee image by alle from BigstockPhoto.com.