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In the moment of that first breath where a bolt runs through you, “Ohhhhhh holdupholdupholdup I don’t know that doesn’t seem like a good idea wait a second,” there’s this simultaneous opportunity to develop more courage.
Most of the time, we pass over this little opportunity because fear patterns are running on auto-pilot. We run fear on a cue-routine-reward loop. Cue: fear. Routine: All the things we do to alleviate it (people-please, perfectionism, lashing out, etc.). Reward: Temporary alleviation of the fear.
Fear cues start as a direct, felt experience. It’s most obvious when it’s an elevator-dropping sensation in your stomach. It’s less obvious, but also there, when you know you have your next big idea but you “just can’t concentrate.”
And always, riding on the wild back of fear, risking being bucked off, there’s Courage.
Courage says: Maybe just give it a little try. See what happens. Push a little harder.
The fallacy is that if you miss the opportunity the first time, fear wins. But Courage is always there. She’s the mistress of power and she can always be counted upon when backed into a corner (in fact, those are the moments when she gets downright feral).
If you want to develop more courage or create courage as a habit, you’ve got to do four specific things: access the body, listen without attachment, reframe limiting stories, and take action.
Develop More Courage : The Courage Habit
Access the body. It’s all coming up, again—your boss is being sarcastic; your partner is resistant to having a discussion with you that could forever alter your sense of intimacy with each other; your hand is raised to share that idea—and your body starts ringing the alarm bells.
Notice that your body rings those alarm bells, every time. Notice that you are where you are—in the chair, or on the phone, or in Missoula, MT.
Breathe with this sentence: “Ah, yes. Fear is coming up, again.”
Listen Without attachment. What is Fear telling you? “You can’t do it” or “So-and-so already did it better”? Listen. Most of us turn away, trying not to hear what’s there. When you decide to listen, but listen without attachment, listen without getting hooked, you will learn. When you learn and understand, you’re in a position to change fear’s game. Maybe you’ll realize that it isn’t speaking the truth. Maybe you’ll realize that it always says the exact same three things. Listen without attachment to get the wisdom that you need.
Reframe Limiting Stories. Connect with your voice and everything that has transpired for this moment to happen where you can speak up. Connect to the wild, liberated feeling of unleashing your courage. Connect to what your heart really wants.
This is about getting intentional. This is not a time to play it from the cheap seats of compromise. This is where your body might be shaking but you still own it: “I want this. I desire this.”
Take action. You claim your space. You claim your voice. You say, “This isn’t right.” You push away from the table and leave the room. You set your boundaries.
The moment will reveal what needs to be claimed, the action to be taken. Sometimes, in the face of someone else’s chaos, the action we’ll choose is silence. Sometimes, what we claim is saying firmly, “I’m not taking any more shit.” Claiming your power isn’t about oppression or enacting “power over” (which isn’t really power, anyway).
There is always another moment
We think that if we don’t work on our fear once, we’ll be defeated by it, forever.
There is always another moment. There is always another space in time where life will ask you to breathe and access the body; where your highest self will be able to powerfully listen without attachment; where everything that is healthy in you will decide to reframe limitations, and where everything that is powerful in you will decide to take action
Treat yourself with ease! Be gentle with yourself! Give yourself self-care! Practice compassion!
Okay, got it. I’m down with that.
And also? With those places in your life where change is most necessary?
Lean. The fuck. In. Put a little grit into it. Make it a personal mission not to let yourself off the hook on a regular basis.
Why? Because behavior patterns can be addictive, and one of the things that supports any addiction is when someone doesn’t really put some ooomph behind changing.
Alcoholics can’t say, “Well, it’s been a hard day—I’ll let myself off the hook and have a drink.” That’s the addiction talking.
When it comes to our most dysfunctional behavior patterns, I believe that telling ourselves one too many times, “Well, I’ll just take it easy” is one of the deceptive, illusory ways that old habits stay squarely in place.
All of those self-help articles telling you to take it easy? Or that if it isn’t easy, it’s some kind of sign that you’re not on the right track?
Yes, sometimes they’re spot on. But when it comes to the stuff that just ain’t working in your life, it’s time to cut the shit, and get committed to shifting.
Addictive Behavior Patterns
Addictive behavior is behavior that you don’t feel you have much control over.
Like a chemical addiction, at first a person isn’t really aware that they’re turning to the same behavior, over and over and over, until a serious problem emerges.
For instance, handling conflict in your marriage in the same way, over and over and over, is something many people aren’t aware of until serious fissures in the marriage appear.
Once those cracks appear, most people at least initially think, “I’d like to change this.” Awesome. But the next time a disagreement happens, the same patterns run and an argument happens—again, just as the alcoholic might decide to drink less—but then, they end up drinking more than they’d thought they would.
For most people caught in an addictive cycle, this is going to play out, multiple times, until the person truly sees the cost of her addiction, decides to get sober, and puts all of her effort into recovery.
For the person immersed in an addictive behavior? She’s got to truly see the costs of her behavior, decide to stop, and put all her effort into changing.
The Shame of Seeing
We don’t change because we’re afraid of the shame we’ll feel when we truly see.
Confession: I used to be one of those “bad-ass” people who would tell people exactly what I thought of them when I was upset. If you crossed me? I was going to put you in your place and let you have it. I didn’t “take any shit.”
How many friends did I lose, from this behavior? Um, a lot. It was awhile before I finally understood—if this behavior didn’t change, I was going to lose more people I cared about.
As soon as I saw that cost, and as soon as I truly saw what my behavior was doing to my relationships, what rose up next?
Incredible, crippling shame. I decided to walk through that shame because I saw that every other time, I’d run scurrying away.
When the costs and rewards are great, you’ve got to fucking double-down on change.
The Path of Most Resistance
When you really get that a behavior pattern isn’t working—when your relationships, your career, your finances, your health, your kids, your sense of self-worth—is at stake, you’ve got to pony up and commit to change the way an alcoholic has got to commit to recovery.
This is not the “path of least resistance.” It’s the path of most resistance. Your resistance is going to rise up, strong, and it’s going to be gnarly.
For awhile, when you are changing an addiction, all the thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and triggers that propped it up are going to show up. For an alcoholic, it’s the thought, “A drink would be nice” and the belief “Drinking would solve this problem” and the behavior of habitually grabbing that extra bottle of wine or the trigger of piling on too much work.
For behavior addiction—let’s use the example of people-pleasing—it’s the thought, “I don’t want her to be mad at me,” and the belief “Good people always help out when asked” and the behavior of saying “yes” without thinking first, or the trigger of noticing that someone seems upset with you.
This shit is hard. It’s the path of most resistance. This is not the time to listen to the self-help sing-song of “Choose ease.”
You Can Do Both
At the same time that you’re deciding to really commit to change, you can still be kind.
You do not have to become a drill sergeant, to get yourself to change.
You can be absolutely ruthless in drawing a firm boundary with yourself—“I’m aware of this behavior pattern, and I am absolutely committed to changing it”—while also being kind towards yourself when you inevitably stumble or falter.
Abusing yourself only perpetuates patterns.
Also? Excusing yourself only perpetuates patterns.
The day of reckoning is a hard one, for most people. Scurrying away because it’s hard doesn’t make it any easier. Your life will always, eventually, present its bill—the sum total of all of those choices, both the choices to change as well as the choice not to.
Today, you get to decide.
There’s a part of me that is gleeful in sharing with the trainees in our life coach certification that I spent something like two years working with my own coach, Matthew, being resistant. I argued with my coach. I paid money to come to sessions and then didn’t do any of the work that he was suggesting. I was what the industry would have defined as “uncoachable.”
And then things changed, in that way that you can have a series of a-ha moments that stack themselves up with one another in a short succession of time. Or perhaps it’s as Oprah is wont to say, that first life throws a pebble, then a brick, and then the walls come crashing down.
I got it. Shit needed to change, and shit needed to change—now. I was not fucking around with my life, anymore.
So I got devoted. I became devoted to the work.
I booked more sessions. I did the work he was suggesting, all of it, no cutting corners, absolutely every single day.
For a year or so, I was absolutely rigorous about “using my tools,” Matthew’s phrase for the work he’d suggested I undertake between our sessions. After a year, “using my tools” wasn’t some life coach-ey series of exercises that I was trying to allot time for, each day. Those tools were just the way that I lived my life.
Flipping the Devotion Switch
We spend a lot of time wrangling with whether or not we will be devoted.
In my experience, once someone has been turned on to devotion, once they realize how hot it is, there’s a shift in their entire being. There are the people who get it—who have had the switch flipped, so to speak—and the people who don’t.
Most of the time, I’m interested in talking to the people who know that they don’t get it—but wow, do they WANT to. They really, really want to flip the switch and get devoted.
I’ve come to understand that whether it’s something as basic as a yoga practice or something as important as a marriage, devotion is the doorway.
When I stopped skipping the yoga poses that I didn’t like—when the devotion switch flipped—I began to get more out of yoga than I ever had, in more than a decade of practice.
When I decided that I was devoted to my husband, that I didn’t just love him but that I was also devoted to him and to the partnership that we had created, it forever altered our marriage.
When I stopped mis-trusting the coaching support that I was paying for, my entire life changed, and radically.
What’s funny is that actual devotion, the being-ness of being devoted, isn’t nearly as tough as is everything that comes before it. What comes before devotion is the questioning of the devotion and the commitment.
Will I do this? Will I really, really do this, this time? Am I actually going to (for real) be devoted, and (for real) follow through?
That back-and-forth wondering if you really (truly) will be devoted takes far more energy than the actual commitment.
In yoga, it takes more energy for me to debate with myself about skipping the hard poses than it does to do the hard poses. In my business, it takes more energy for me to debate with myself about whether or not to work on a task where I’m resistant, than it does to just get the task over n’ done with. In my marriage, it takes more energy for me to debate with myself (or my husband), than to take a breath and ask in a non-pissy voice, “Okay. I’m sorry. Let’s talk about this.”
And in personal growth, I’m glad that I finally came to understand that if I devoted myself to any practice intended to nurture me, that’s exactly what it would do.
Perhaps that’s the good news: that any practice intended to nurture you will qualify. You don’t need to go seeking new ones. Just stop, breathe, and look around at your life. What are the practices that you’ve already been offered? The ones that you’ve resisted or discounted?
That’s where the juice is. That’s where the greatest return on the reward of devotion will reside.