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Entries from April 2011

How to Stop Yourself from Chickening Out

April 25th, 2011 · 14 Comments

Have you ever chickened out from pursuing a dream?  Some of my coaching students are having some fears about blogging.  They asked if I had any fears when I began.

It brought back some funny memories.

I started my own blog when I was in training to be a coach.  I had no idea what I was doing.  (I’m still not sure that I do.)  I didn’t read blogs and didn’t realize that the web itself was a virtual classroom about blogging.  One of my coaching instructors just encouraged me to “start a blog as a way to let people know you.”

So I did.

I read a few posts by my instructor and began writing.  I wrote about why I became a coach.  It was like a memoir, rather than something to inspire or help people solve a problem.  I posted it with a trembling hand.  Arggh!!  What if no one reads it?  Or worse, what if people do read it?  Yikes!  They’ll all laugh and ridicule me, I was certain.

But I simply wouldn’t let myself chicken out.  Why?  I’d already learned this: the humiliation of doing something imperfectly and even foolishly is far less painful than the humiliation and frustration of living a small, contained life where dreams and opportunities wither away from neglect and fearful thinking.

I learned that painful lesson, once and for all, at a workshop with Martha Beck when I began coach training.  There were twelve women in our group, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we all, ahem, hero-worshipped her. On the second day, Martha asked us all to gather on one side our classroom–the spacious living room of a large hotel suite.  Martha instructed us to cross the room in a unique way, a way no one else had done.  She crawled across the wide floor on her hands and knees to demonstrate.  One by one, we hopped, skipped, and arm flapped our way across the room.  “Again!” she commanded.  We went backwards, rolled, and spun in circles.  “Again!” she instructed, over and over, until we began to run out of ideas.

I thought about climbing over the furniture to make a new route to the other side of the room.  But I didn’t do it.  I stood frozen like a six-year-old on the first day of school, afraid I’d look awkward and foolish launching myself over the sofa.

Soon, our group gave up.  We’d run out of ideas.

Martha chastised us.  “You guys gave up way too soon. You could have done all kinds of other things. Who said you had to just use the same part of the room I did?  Why didn’t anyone climb over the furniture?” she demanded, demonstrating exactly what I’d thought of doing. My stomach clenched.

“I thought about it,” I said weakly, hoping to get a small tidbit of praise from her for my creative thinking.

“You THOUGHT about it?  Why didn’t you DO it?” Martha practically shrieked, pointedly and very loudly.  You have to DO IT. Good ideas don’t count unless you USE THEM.” I felt like I’d been filleted, skewered, and roasted over hot coals.  I don’t think I heard another word she said that day.

I made a promise to myself that I have kept to this day.  I would not let my fear of looking foolish hold me back ever again.  The humiliation of looking foolish is nothing compared to the pain of staying small, safe, and stuck.

Now, posting my writing is easy.  My posts are much better, too, because I’ve done dozens of them.  And along the way, I read many excellent blogs and listened to what my friend and blogger extraordinaire Pam Slim and other experts have to say about it.  I educated myself as I went along.

But did I need to know a lot or be good before getting started?  Absolutely not.  I just needed to start.  That alone propelled me to learn more and to do better.

Here are some questions to ask yourself, if fear of embarrassment is clucking and squawking inside you, tempting you to chicken out and abandon your dreams.

1.  Imagine that you do the thing you resist and you are embarrassed, humiliated or shamed. Close your eyes and feel it in your body.  What is the felt sense you have in your body?   Where is it, how big is it, and what kind of movement is it doing?  Can you tolerate it?

2.  If you pay attention to that felt sense with curiosity, what happens to it?  Does it weaken or strengthen?

3.  What do you believe it will mean about you if you flop?  Is that a reasonable, intelligent conclusion?

4.  Who are the specific people you fear will judge you?  Is impressing them or getting their approval worth giving up your dreams?

5.  If you fail, could you find a way to learn from it or to do a better job next time?  Is this a skill that gets better with practice?

6.  Can you absolutely know you’ll flop or that you’ll be ridiculed?

7.  Is there a way to minimize the risk of failure and still do it within a reasonable time frame and budget?

8.  What would you rather live with, the embarrassment of a failure along the way, or life without your dream?

9.  Who inspires you?  Do you think that person has ever failed at something?  Do they ever feel fear? (Hint—if they are alive and breathing, they feel fear.)  Do you think that person lets their fears or failures stop them?

10.  Visualize doing the thing you want to do without feeling afraid.  Imagine having fun and doing it brilliantly and confidently, that it’s well received, that you achieve your goal, and that you move closer to your dream.  How does that feel?  Breathe into that feeling.  Memorize it.  Call it up whenever you are tempted to chicken out.

Now, take that feeling along with you, and just go do it.  And be sure to let me know how it turns out.

You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that chickening out serves chickens way better than it serves humans who want to live their dreams.

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