What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
This was the question I posed to a group of highly accomplished women, whose resume’s would knock your socks off. We joined for a weekend at the ocean to celebrate the 50th birthday of a friend. I was surprised by the answers which included—I’d learn to sing, really sing, I would leave my job and start my own company, I would trust my disabled daughter more, I would move to another country. The idea of the sharing was for each woman to say one thing so we could get to know each other, but we kept going around the circle and with each pass, more ideas were unearthed. Options and opportunities many of us hadn’t ever considered. Why? Because we were afraid to fail.
I cry every time I watch the first audition tape of Susan Boyle, because she is fearless. Even in the face of obvious doubters and even though she didn't look or act the part, she stood there and shared her gift. I cry because she spoke to my soul. The first time I saw her performance I was sitting on the edge of my seat, hoping she would NOT make a fool of herself. As the first notes slipped from her lips, I rose and cheered for her. After watching it at least ten times in a row, crying the whole time, I understood why her performance moved me so. It made me feel like I could do it too, if she could, then I could. Maybe not sing, but I could be fearless and claim my gifts.
Take a moment right now to answer that question for yourself. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Give yourself a minute and let the answer come to you, maybe there are many things you would do if you knew you could not fail. Write them down or hold them in your mind as you continue reading. Because this article is about you and me, and most of the women I know, who are incredibly accomplished and STILL they let fear stand in the way of becoming the person they want to be and living the life they deserve.
If you’re like me, you may ﬁnd that what keeps you stuck is fear. We're unwilling to change course, unsure if an idea or dream should be pursued. We live locked inside an expectation of who we should or could be. In all sorts of sneaky ways, fear becomes part of our everyday lives. So commonplace that we don’t even notice when our thoughts are hijacked.
Do you want to be fearless?
Most of us would agree that we want to be fearless, to live a life where fear doesn’t keep us from what we want most—love, peace of mind, security, a career, to travel alone, to sing, paint, write or create, deep friendships—or whatever it is that you want!
But HOW does one STOP being afraid? And if you could accomplish that feat, would it make a difference in your life? Take a moment to answer that for yourself. What would have been different in the last 24 hours of your life if you were fearless?
I’ve been practicing five simple steps to help me change the habit of letting fear rule. The fact is you can learn or unlearn ANY behavior if you PRACTICE! And I’m betting you want to change your fear habit because you’re reading this right now. Maybe you were drawn to the words, stop being afraid, which means that some part of your mind has already set it’s intent. You INTEND to be fearless, all that’s left is learning how.
Let’s start with an idea that is the driving force behind my belief that you learn fear, and therefore, can unlearn it!
If you are being physically attacked, are involved in an accident, or natural disaster, when fear is happening in order to propel you into action, triggering fight or flight—then in that case fear is more like a command than a thought—telling you to run!
We’re going to set that kind of fear aside and focus on the habitual fears that drift in and out of our minds all day long. And if you’re toying with the idea that you aren’t afraid, lets include emotions that piggyback on fear—judgement, anger and guilt.
To learn more about how your emotional state alters your life, play this game . . .
When you feel a negative emotion of any kind, ask yourself, “What is the voice of (fear, guilt, judgement, shame, abandonment) saying to me now? Then use your imagination and turn the emotion into an entity and listen to the answer. Looking at the giraffe photo, let’s say you feel guilt that you turned away and the giraffe bit your child, “What is guilt saying to me now? Maybe guilt says, “You are the worst mother, how could you not have been paying attention, she could have been really hurt, now she's going to be afraid of animals forever."
It’s important to find out what is ATTACHED to the feeling. By interacting with it, you find out how the emotion got its hooks in you.
Turn away from fear
I’m an idea person, I’ve spent years giving my kids scenarios to illustrate my claims! Read through these two examples and try to substitute a time when you felt afraid.
Event: You are hurrying out of the house, you drop your phone and the phone screen cracks.
Your thoughts can go two ways with it;
1. Fear, anger or frustration—I don’t have the money to replace the phone, mom is going to be so mad, damn this just happened last month, I won’t be able to reach anyone today.
2. Or you can choose love, peace, acceptance—I’ll figure this out, it isn’t a big deal, I think I have insurance, we all make mistakes, it will be fine.
You may be thinking, NO, I’m mad, I broke my screen, I’m not going to be all lovey dovey, peace and harmony about it!
BUT CONSIDER THIS . . .
The phone screen is already cracked. It happened, now all you can do is choose the thought that would either judge the event as terrible (which triggers fear, anger or frustration), or you can choose not to judge (which triggers love, peace or acceptance). In the moment you can breathe in peace and even gratitude.
REMEMBER THE PHONE IS ALREADY BROKEN. What happens after it breaks is completely in your mind. This is such an important point so I’m going to repeat it. The phone is already broken. Your anger isn’t going to fix it, none of your negative thoughts will do anything but make you feel worse! But if you choose not to judge (it’s not bad, it’s not good, it just is) the phone is still broken, but you have the energy to solve the problem and you still feel okay.
NOW YOU TRY IT. Think of something that happened in the past 24 hours that brought up fear, anger or judgement. List the event. Draw two lines up in a V, those are your two paths. Remember, when it comes to thoughts, you’re dealing with habits and patterns of responding that can be deeply ingrained. It will take practice, daily practice, that includes replacing a familiar response with a new way. It can be something as simple as taking three breaths when you are upset, angry, afraid and judging a situation. It’s the break in the immediate response pattern that allows your mind the opportunity to choose a different response.
Here’s an example when you’re afraid of a future event or responsibility.
Event: Giving a toast at a wedding
Fear that you will fail, be nervous, let your friend down, say the wrong thing, or forget your speech.
The event is going to happen—unless you cancel—it’s going to happen. You really don't want to carry that fear until you utter the last word of your speech. Can you SEE how fear of a future event hinders your life, how it doesn’t help, or change a situation. Your rational mind might even step in and you say to yourself, “this is ridiculous, I’m going to do great, why am I letting this keep me awake, I just can’t wait until it’s over!” But it doesn’t help, you’re still afraid. Think of ALL the emotional energy and time you spend on this thought. Remember the event is going to happen, you are giving the toast. And it’s ONLY in your mind. That's where the seed of fear is planted, takes root and grows. It is a THOUGHT.
Let’s look at your other option. You agreed to give a wedding toast. You do all the same preparation, you might be a little nervous, but you are working on banishing fear from your life, so every time an idea pops into your mind that includes being afraid, you’re going to reject it, you might even say “no” out loud. Then you replace the fear or judgement thought with a loving, peaceful, accepting thought. I am honored and so excited to make this toast and tell the world how much my friend means to me. Because I love my friend anything I say will be welcomed. The fearful future event then turns into an opportunity instead of a responsibility or chore.
In every situation in your life when you feel a negative emotion, that emotion can usually be traced back to fear of some kind. In the instant it’s happening, you have two choices. One—to fear or judge. Two—to accept it (it’s not bad, it’s not good, it just is). It happened, now you get to choose the path (thought) of fear or love.
Now that you’ve read through my examples and thought about negative emotions you've felt over the last 24 hours, are you ready to take the crucial steps? Are you willing to change a habit and to train your mind to stop being afraid?
Notice when a negative feeling or thought enters your mind. Feel the feeling—don’t deny your feelings, but don’t linger too long. You might say, “I do not like what I feel now and I’m open to another way of looking at this.”
Choose an action that takes one second—like a deep breath, clapping your hands, saying a funny word. The idea is to pick something you can do every time a fearful thought pops up. This is how you break the habit. Event happens, you notice the feeling and DO something right away.
Be willing NOT to judge. “It’s not bad, it’s not good, it just is.”
Reject the fear, say NO to it. Remind yourself that whatever emotion you feel it’s just a thought. (Imagine a salesman coming to your front door, you open it, he offers you fear, you say NO thank you and shut the door!)
Choose a different response. Accept what happened and move on. Choose a thought that brings you peace or makes you feel better.
Some say that it takes 30 days to change a habit. It took me A LOT longer than that! The hardest step for me was STEP THREE, be willing not to judge. I hadn’t considered myself judgmental until I started this practice. That’s when I found out that I judged everything practically all the time—people, situations and emotions—and I soon found out how deeply fear influenced that judgement.
These steps have changed my life and I believe they’ve influenced those who witness my choices. Recently when my daughter was doing a training at work she was asked, “Who inspires you to be the best version of yourself?” She chose ME, she said it was my ability to effortlessly shift perspectives.
She said, “When I told my mom about Zika and the amount of children born affected by it, she actually said, “At least they will have each other and a community to grow up with.” When I asked my mom how she dealt with having a disabled child she said, "I'm grateful my son was given a mother like me and that I got to take on this challenge. I've learned so much."
My daughter used the word effortlessly, which is not true. It took so much practice. But it started with the smallest steps and the realization that when I refused to judge or invite the fear, when I chose the thought that was love, I felt at ease, full of strength and purpose. I promise you, the result is worth the practice!
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