dealing with fear


I once said in an interview:

“The more that you deal with fear, the less often fear will show up at the beginning of the journey. Instead of “I don’t even think I can start this,” it becomes, “What if I don’t finish this?” When you deal with fear, it morphs and changes how it shows up; you encounter it at a different point in the process.”

When you’re new to dealing with fear (or self-doubt, hesitation, whatever you call it), those feelings of fear can be what stops you from even starting.

Later, as you start to see that fear is full of capital-S Stories (fancy cognitive-behavioral term: “Cognitive distortions”), and as you see that really, you ultimately call the shots, how you deal with fear changes.

As you learn about your fear/self-doubt/hesitation, it suddenly does an about-face and changes. for instance, once it’s no longer stopping you at the outset, you’ll probably start to see big fear come up later in the process, perhaps after you’ve made the first significant investment towards what you want.

Then you start practicing courage with fear in its new form, but then perhaps the fear changes again–maybe it shows up as sudden doldrums and boredom. You might suddenly feel as if all the gas has left you. The resistance can be huge.

So you recognize that that resistance and loss of motivation is just more fear–so you start practicing courage with that fear. You start to parse out when it’s truly boredom because the project no longer interests you, versus when it’s the boredom-as-resistance.

How you deal with fear shape shifts and morphs. When you’re put into similar circumstances next time, it’ll move and show up at a different point in the timeline. When you encounter something wholly new and unfamiliar, maybe the fear starts right at the beginning again, at that familiar place of feeling like it’s hard to get started–and again, the more you deal with fear, the more it changes.

The good news? The more you deal with fear, the less intimidating it gets every time it shows up.

Bottom line? If you’re savvy about how fear shape shifts and morphs, then you can deal with fear when it arises. You’ve got this.

The fear will continue to show up. Just let it. Again, if you can recognize what it’s doing, then you’ve got this.

How you deal with fear will change, but as you get more and more equipped to recognize when it’s showing up, you’ll deal with fear better–and start stepping into being your most courageous self.

who would you "have to" be?


There was a session when my coach/counselor/mentor Matthew looked at me really directly, straight in the eye, and said:

“You realize that if you embrace this kind of work, you’re stepping into a whole different way of being in the world.”

The power of that statement was full body sizzling resonance.

At at the same time, Fear said, “No. Absolutely not.”

Yes–something in me deeply wanted change.

Yes–something else in me sincerely wanted to stick with what I’d grown comfortable and accustomed to doing, even as I knew that it wasn’t serving me.


What No One Tells You

Here’s the thing–if you truly take it to the core, 99% of personal growth work absolutely sucks.

It’s not uncommon for me to be on the phone with a client who clearly articulates what she wants–and then as soon as we start to really dismantle the old belief structure, she’s angry. Pissed. She’s either turning her fear inward, or she’s projecting it outward (sometimes, onto me).

When clients are in that space, I get it. We’re just human, and at the end of the day, we prefer our routines over something new. Do enough deep personal growth work–go full-on with courage–and you’ll eventually get cornered.

There won’t be anywhere to hide out when you’re into the truth-truth-truth.


The Question We Fear

There’s a question that we fear asking, buried in all of this:

“Who would you ‘have to’ be in order to step into living the kind of courageous life that you actually want to live?”

It’s a potentially terrifying question if you have a long-standing way of being, and a lot of belief systems that you’re incapable, and suddenly you’re contemplating this idea that you actually can–and have no idea who that person is who “can,” or what her life is like.

Also, change is hard and you might have good reasons for doing all that you’ve spent years doing. For example:

Are you a Yeller? Well, then–you probably have some great reasons for yelling. You want to stop yelling, but–what would you put in its place? How else would you handle anger when it courses through your veins?

Are you an Avoider? You also have great reasons for Avoiding, reasons that have to do with how you survived your childhood, or how you make it through your job or your marriage, how you handle stress or fear. You can know that you want to change it–but until you know what you’ll replace it with, until you know who you would “have to” be and are comfortable with that, it’s hard to give up Avoiding and become pro-active.

When Matthew told me that I’d walk the world differently, here’s who I was afraid I would “have to” be if I stepped up my game:

a.) perfect,
b.) chipper,
c.) cheerful,
d.) having all the answers,
e.) someone who would be made fun of because she was “too happy”,
f.) someone who would be isolated from others because they’d be intimidated by her happiness.

I believed that I would “have to” become a walking posterboard for empowerment and holding space and always being 100% being nice. I was intimidated by that vision.

The way it actually turned out was that courageous living wasn’t going to be perfectionism. It was going to be integration and acceptance of all the parts that weren’t perfect.

So Ask Yourself

One of the reasons that we don’t make the shifts that we know we need to make is because our behavior is habituated and we don’t know what habits we’d replace the old stuff with.

Your most courageous self knows who you’d be if you stepped up your game. That’s part of what’s so intimidating. Swap “have to” for “get to” and there’s an even more exciting question:

Who would you get to be if you lived a full-on courageous life?

Yes, that’s the question that sparks movements, innovates industries, and brings leaders into the limelight–but more importantly, that’s a question that can be life-changing for the likes of you and me, the ordinary women who are living our lives, wanting good things for the people we love, and hoping that we can impact our small corners of the world.

Who would you get to be if you lived a full-on courageous life? That’s what you get to decide.

How to create courageous habits

Confession: for the past year, I’ve been totally geeking out on habit-formation. And seriously, you want to read this, because what I’ve learned about habit-formation and how we create courageous habits ? The realizations have been game-changers in my life.

When we think of habit-formation, we usually think of how to stop doing something that isn’t so good for us, like downing a bottle of wine every night, or how to start doing something that is better for us, like exercise regularly. More flossing, more meditation. Less paying bills late, less losing entire nights to social media.

Four Game-Changing Realizations About Habits

Realization #1: Habit-formation goes much deeper than isolated actions. We talk about habits as isolated to-do list tasks, when in fact habits form much of how we behave in our daily lives. Habits inform how we think, how we respond to stressful situations, how we communicate.

Thinking: Your framing of a problem? Probably habitual. You’ve made it into a habit to either look on the bright side, or see everything as a challenge.

Responses: How you handle stress? Probably habitual. You turn to ice-cream and checking out or you turn to frustration and adrenal overload or you start trying to control everything in your path.

Communication: Tired of that same old argument with your partner? Your patterns of arguing are probably habitual. She/he does or says this, so you do or say that, and before you know it, you’re just acting out the same (habitual) patterns in an argument, playing your same roles.

Realization #2: Habits are trip-wired by cues that are often unconscious and somatic. Meaning, the cues that cause you to go into ice-cream and checking out when you’re stressed are often unconscious–you’re doing them without conscious, rational, logical thinking (if such thinking can be said to exist). Or that argument that you’ve had a million times with your partner? There’s a somatic–bodily–cue there, where you feel stress in your body and that cue trip-wires all the stuff that you say, next.

Realization #3: Habits run on a loop of cue-routine-reward. Again, we so often think of “creating good habits” as involving isolated incidents, so we don’t realize just how subtle the cues can be (see above: unconscious and somatic). And so often, cues involve feelings of anxiety or fear, routines involve the behaviors that are intended to get the fear to go away (e.g., checking out, or frustration, or trying to control things), and the reward is a lessening of anxiety.

Realization #4: Often, we don’t look beyond “lessening of anxiety.” That’s why so many “bad” habits perpetuate! In our desperation to get to a place where we don’t feel fear or self-doubt, we just do whatever the thing is that will get us to the “reward” of less anxiety. The largely unconscious and somatic cues of feeling stress in the body quickly morph into the largely unconscious behaviors of [checking out, over-work, trying to control everything] because then we’ll get that little hit of a reward. “Ah, I checked out for a bit, now I don’t feel so anxious” or “Ah, I threw down with some boundaries and now I feel much better.” That little hit of the “reward”, though? It’s just temporary.

Create Courageous Habits

So here’s a provocative question for you: What if your fear is just…a habit?

Rather than fear being this “thing that happens to you,” which is how fear, self-doubt, worry, anxiety, uncertainty, or lack of confidence often feel, what if…what if it’s just a habit?

And as I geeked out on habit-formation, I came to understand that this is exactly what’s going on.

When someone is stuck in fear, their fear has become a (negative) habit. They feel the cue of fear or lack of confidence or anxiety or insecurity–however the fear shows up. They respond to that cue with a particular routine: people-pleasing martyrdom, becoming a victim, sabotaging their own best efforts, or turning to perfectionism are the most common. Those routines reap rewards. Again, those rewards are temporary–the fear or worry always comes back, with this system–but there will be a lessening of stress when someone turns to their old, familiar fear routine.

To create courageous habits , we need to do something different: respond to the cues, differently.

Instead of responding to feelings of fear or anxiety with fear-based routines such as perfectionism or people-pleasing martyrdom, we need to respond to those fear-based routines with courageous habits.

What’s even better? To create courageous habits , the research is pretty clear that there are four steps that you need to take. Put together, these four steps create more psychological resilience, aka, “feeling more courageous in your life.”

I’ll be talking about these four steps, which I think of as the backbone to create courageous habits , in another post. For now, consider asking yourself: Where do you see the four realizations that I listed above, playing out in your life?