Inner180

Inner180 header image 1

Entries Tagged as 'fear'

Lessons from My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Wonderful Day

October 1st, 2015 · 9 Comments

ace key

It was one of those important and tightly-scheduled days where everything needed to go as smooth as silk, so of course it didn’t.

My daughter and 20-month old granddaughter were coming to visit me in Miami from New York for my birthday.  I had allowed a thirty-minute window before rush hour to get the baby’s car seat from my storage unit. Then I’d have just enough time to tidy the house, start dinner, and drive to the airport.

Lesson #1: Expect the unexpected, especially when it’s really inconvenient. We set ourselves up for stress and turmoil when we don’t allow time and space for unforeseen events.

I vaguely remembered having some confusion about the storage unit key the last time I was there, so I grabbed the box of extra keys from my desk and drove off. I congratulated myself for my brilliant foresight—every key I owned was with me.

When I got to the storage unit and couldn’t find the right key, I began to worry. In my upset and rush, only found one key that was the right size.  But it said “Ace” on it, so I assumed it was a duplicate key from the hardware store.  Since I’d never duplicated the storage key, I left without trying it in the padlock.

Lesson #2: Don’t make assumptions when you are upset or in a hurry. Your thinking isn’t as clear when you are stressed.

Lesson #3: Don’t give up without trying, especially if the effort is minimal.

On the way home, my worrying increased. I couldn’t imagine where that key was. I considered a rapid succession of possibilities–my desktop, a purse, my jewelry box, a bowl in the kitchen. I forgot to quiet my racing mind, even though I teach and practice mindfulness and stress management.

Lesson #4: We perform better and think better when we’re calm. Take de-stressing action at the first sign of upset. Disconnect from unhelpful thinking, regularize your breathing, and allow your body to relax. 

Instead, I rushed home and rummaged through every nook and cranny that could harbor a key. No luck.

My heart began to pound.  Thoughts flooded my mind: Where is the nearest baby equipment store? Do I have time to buy another car seat? What if I can’t find one nearby? Can I get one delivered by tomorrow? That will cost a fortune! What will we do in the meantime? We’ll be stuck in the house!

I caught myself and stopped the runaway train in my mind. I focused on my breath and grounded myself by feeling my body.  I began to calm down.

Lesson #5: Better late than never. 

I looked through the key box once more and picked up the Ace key.  That has to be it! I didn’t even try it! How dumb! How hard would that have been? I shouldn’t have been in such a rush! What’s wrong with me? 

Lesson #6: Let yourself be human.  Humans make mistakes. Irritation and self-scolding only drive up stress levels and make mistakes more likely.

Again I calmed myself, then drove back to the storage unit. The key fit! The door opened! Life was good!

My daughter’s plane would be landing momentarily.  I texted her that I was on my way, dragged the heavy seat down to my car, and headed for the airport. At a red light, I opened my purse to get my phone so I’d be sure to hear her text telling me where she’d be waiting.

But I couldn’t find my phone. I pulled off the road and searched purse, pockets and car. No phone.

I remembered that I’d texted her just before I took the seat to the car. Ack! I bet I left it inside the unit.

My thoughts raced more intensely than ever: I’m going to be late! The airport will be bedlam! I need my phone to know where she’ll be! I won’t be able to find her! How did people ever find each other at airports without cell phones? This is a disaster!

In an instant, my hands began to tremble and I was no longer able to think clearly. 

Lesson #7:  Stress begets stress. Cortisol—the hormone that prepares us to run or fight for our lives when we’re in fear–has a half-life of about an hour.  This means that an hour after an initial stress response, half the cortisol is still revving us up, and an hour after that, half of that half is left, and so forth. Each time we react stressfully over a short time frame, more cortisol is dumped into our systems before the prior load has dissipated. So our reactions come more quickly and more powerfully.  By this time, after multiple doses of cortisol, my reactions were swift and overwhelming.

I turned around and headed back to the storage unit for the third time. When I arrived, I raced upstairs through the warren of hallways and opened the door to my unit. The phone wasn’t there. I felt the blood drain from my face.

I remembered that a group of men were down the hallway when I’d picked up the car seat. I must have left the phone on the floor in the hallway and those men—those thieves—took it! If they get through my ridiculously simple password, they’ll have access to my bank account information. My identity will be stolen! Why didn’t I use a better password? Why did I keep information like that on my phone? The weekend is ruined!

I urgently felt the need for a plan, but I was so confused.  Halfway to the airport, I turned around.  I’d go home, call my daughter, and ask her to take a cab. Then I’d delete the confidential information from my laptop and hope it would sync to my phone before those thieves messed up my life.

My heart thundered as I crawled through rush hour traffic. My mind was reeling: This is taking forever! My daughter must be exhausted. I bet the baby is starving! And my phone is gone! Those thieves are laughing at my stupidity! This will take weeks to sort out!  I blinked back tears.

Lesson #8: Stress can hijack us emotionally and cognitively. By this time I was exhausted and my thinking was very compromised. Driving in this state could easily lead to an accident.

Luckily I calmed myself enough to realize that driving was my only priority at that moment.  Everything else could wait until I got home.  It wasn’t easy. But I got very present and focused on my driving.

Once again, I began to calm down. At a red light, I saw the clear purples, pinks and blues of the evening sky. I remembered the beautiful birthday gift of my daughter’s visit.  I thought about reading stories to my granddaughter.

My thinking cleared up: Everything is going to be okay. The only thing I know for sure right now, is that my daughter has to take a cab and my phone is gone. Whatever else happens can be straightened out when and if it happens.

Lesson #9: Keep things in perspective. Identify what is really at stake, not what your runaway mind is imagining.

About a block from my house, I heard a pingggggg that sounded exactly like a text coming in. A few moments later another pinggggggg. It was a text.  My phone was somewhere in the car!

I pulled into my driveway and found the phone lodged deeply under the passenger seat. I didn’t waste a moment trying to figure out why I hadn’t found it earlier. I called my daughter, apologized, and asked her to take a cab.

Tears welled up in my eyes again, and I laughed aloud at the same moment. All that for nothing! Except perhaps a good story of how not to deal with unforeseen events, stress, and upset.

Lesson #10: When all else fails, find something to laugh about, including yourself. In the School of Life, laughter always earns you extra credit.

My stories could wait. I had just enough time to shower and get dinner ready before my special guests arrived. But before I did that, I went inside to my desk and put a label on the storage unit key. That fake duplicate key would never fool me again.

Tags: fear · laughter · self-criticism · stress

Go ahead–get your hopes up!

April 20th, 2015 · No Comments

rainbow2

 

A friend and I were talking about an adventurous trip we’re both considering. We both had some reservations about it and we were discussing the pros and cons.

“I don’t want to count on it until I’m sure that I’m going,” he said. “I don’t want to get my hopes up and then get disappointed.”

“Why not?” I asked.

He couldn’t give me a reason.

The next day we spoke again. “I changed my mind about not wanting to get my hopes up,” he said. “Your question made me realize that I’m on fire about this. It would mean so much to me to do this. I want to be excited about it. I am excited about it.

“I realize that growing up, my enthusiasm was often dampened. My parents really meant well, but they always disregarded my excitement. I think they wanted to protect me from hurt, so I’d say the glass was half-full and they’d warn me it was half-empty.

“I’m ready to reclaim my natural joy towards life.”

It was a beautiful moment, and from there, the rest of our conversation was filled with our excitement about the amazing possibilities that could unfold if we took the trip, as well as some honest reflection about our hesitations.

But we don’t always realize what my friend did, do we? We often keep ourselves from getting our hopes up and stop there.  We stop short of getting excited about possible new adventures, opportunities, or good news. Whether we’re contemplating taking a trip, getting a promotion, or finding our dream home, we so often temper it with, “I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

This robs us of the joy that’s available in the anticipation, deliberations, and decision-making.

That joy and excitement is like rocket fuel, and propels us with the energy, focus, and drive to take the steps we need to move forward. It enhances our motivation and performance. And it feels great, too.

We do the same thing when bad news is on the horizon. When waiting for results from a medical test, for example, how often we prepare ourselves for the worst, not wanting to get our hopes up. And then we wait in dread and terror.

I challenge you to ask yourself why–why shouldn’t you get your hopes up? Can you find a single valid reason to dampen your enthusiasm, optimism, or joy?

We think that we’ll be better prepared by not getting our hopes up. We fear that it will hurt worse later if we’re optimistic and then don’t’ get what we want.

But the truth is this: disappointment now does not prepare us for disappointment later. It doesn’t protect us from hurt later, either. It only generates negative feelings right now. If bad news comes, we’ll still feel crappy later.

I once told a client that she might as well go slam her hand in a car door right now, just in case she might slam her hand in the door next month.

Because that’s exactly what we do when we don’t let ourselves get our hopes up, isn’t it? We generate pain and negativity right now when the event we dread may never happen.

Disappointment about what might happen feels heavy right now. And it’s totally useless. If we get what we want, we’ve felt terrible unnecessarily, and if we don’t get what we want, we’ve felt terrible leading up to the bad news.

And in doing so, we deny ourselves moments, days, weeks, lifetimes of excitement and enthusiasm. We rob ourselves of the very stuff that energizes us and propels us towards rich and fulfilled lives.

So how about it? What joy or enthusiasm are you holding back from? What bad news are you suffering about before you get it? What possibility are you failing to celebrate?

Then, ask yourself why. Why not get your hopes up? Why not imagine yourself in the situation you dream of? Why not imagine the best possible outcome?

The only thing you’ve got to lose is today’s pessimism, anxiety, and pain. If you don’t believe me, you can always try the car door test.

Tags: desire · fear · happiness

Life Begins at the Edge of Your Comfort Zone

May 13th, 2013 · 11 Comments

Buddy and me

Within an hour of my arrival at summer camp in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains the summer I was ten, I was hunched up in a puddle of tears.  A group of returning campers had introduced me to  Camp Mount Mitchell’s initiation ritual—they knocked me to the ground, pulled off my sneakers, and tossed them onto our cabin roof.  Those sneakers may as well have been on the moon.  I was so frightened of heights, the thought of having to climb up to that roof left me inconsolable and weeping. 

That fear of heights stayed with me.  Amusement park rides, steep mountain trails, even ladders—all sent me into a panic.  Flying on commercial planes was fine, but the nausea and shakes I had during an afternoon in a small plane left me swearing that I’d never get in one again.  

Which is exactly why I jumped at the chance to take a flying lesson in a small, open cockpit 1929 vintage biplane recently.

Because I’ve been on a mission to overcome my fear of heights.  It’s part of a larger goal to deal with all of my irrational fears.  One of the things I’ve learned about fear in the last few years is that it can be provoked by real or imagined danger.

And like many people, I have a wonderful imagination when it comes to scaring myself silly.  But when imagined fears are in charge, our lives stay small and pallid. We avoid adventures large and small and retreat from opening our hearts to love, speaking our truth, and going for our dreams.  Fear overtakes common sense, and even worse, it drowns out desire and passion.

Yes, fear drowns out our desires and passions–those delicious yearnings and stirrings inside us that pull on us and guide us towards lives of pleasure, passion, and deep connection.

In short, we can imagine ourselves out of the very adventure of being alive.

So here’s what I’ve done to change the pattern:

I examined my thinking.  I identified the thoughts fueling my fears and gently questioned them, looking for the truth.

Is it true I’m going to fall, get stuck, trip, loose my footing, crash, die?

What would this experience be like without the belief that I’m going to get hurt or die?

Can I think of instances where I or others did these things safely?

I worked through my scary stories just like that, one by one.  The truth was always safer and kinder than my imagination was.

I calmed myself with mind-body tools.  I did my heartbreathing exercise until I could imagine myself in a situation involving heights and then gently and efficiently bring myself back to a calm state.  I breathed consciously in moments of challenge.  I visualized myself being calm and confident in scary situations.  I grounded myself over and over.  (email Support@TerryDeMeo.com if you want an mp3 and a worksheet guiding you through the exercise.)

I felt the fear and did it anyway. I remembered what Darren Taylor, a/k/a Professor Splash a professional stunt diver, once told me about his fear of diving off an 80-foot platform into a tiny, shallow vat of water.  “Hell, yes, I’m afraid.  I just do it anyway.”

I gradually challenged myself in the real world.  I did this in ways that were fun and engaging.  I put no pressure on myself.  I did it because I wanted to, not because there was a voice in my head scolding or berating me.

Climbing at Bandelier

A couple of summers ago, I climbed 140 feet up a series of four ladders to Alcove House, an archeological site of the Ancestral Pueblo people in New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument.  I had to consciously breathe the whole way, but I did it.  And I was also so elated that when I got back down to the canyon floor, I climbed right back to the top again.  Guess what?  The second time was a snap!

Ziplining in Barbados

I went ziplining in the rain forest in Barbados, attached by a harness to a thin cable hundreds of feet above the ground.  I coached and calmed myself, and before you know it, I was standing on a platform in the jungle, all hooked up and ready to soar.  Lifting my feet off the first platform took some “feel the fear and do it anyway” self-coaching.  But by the time I arrived at the end of the course, I was elated–no shakes at all!  It was fun flying through the air!

And then, a few weeks ago, I was invited to the grandest adventure yet—a chance to fly a very special small airplane.  The very idea triggered the same old responses–sweaty palms, fearful thoughts, racing heart and legs like jelly.

Several friends gave me “you’d better be careful” and “I would never do that” messages.  My very vivid imagination got carried away more than once.

But I trusted the tools and processes that have worked for me and for so many clients.  And I used them.  (I’ve learned that the best coaching tools in the world don’t work unless you use them!)

And I climbed into the front seat of Buddy, a 1929 vintage Stearman Model 4 open-cockpit bi-wing airplane, one of only seven still existing in the world.

I was a little afraid as I was getting settled into the leather cockpit seat when the shoulder straps repeatedly slid off my shoulders.   Can I fall out if we tip over too far? But I realized that was just a predictable little protest from my lizard brain, and immediately diverted myself with some gentle breathing .  And once we began taxiing, fascination and excitement took over.

Sarah and me, up in the air

My fabulous instructor, Sarah Wilson, sat in a compartment just behind me; we wore headsets and talked to each other the entire trip.  She gave me clear concise instructions, and before long, I was steering the plane, guiding it up and down, left and right, and even into a figure “8.” Sarah’s ebullient energy and deep love of what she does encouraged me to engage and have fun, and made the day even more special.

Elephants and Buddy’s wing.

We flew high and we flew so low we could smell the orange groves beneath us.  We saw elephants in a field at the Ringling Circus Center for Elephant Conservation.  We saw cows and flocks of birds and highways and farms.

And when we landed, I realized that I hadn’t had one single frightening thought, my heart never raced, and I didn’t have to remember to consciously breathe.  I had so much fun and it was so interesting that I forgot to be afraid.

Will my irrational fears return?  Who knows?  It doesn’t matter.  If they do, I’ll just keep chipping away at them.

But this I do know: when we intelligently and consistently confront the things that hold us back from our dreams, we find the places where we come fully alive and where we soar.  And in that place, the sky is the limit.

Tags: fear · risk · truth

How ignoring my Inner Nag got me to Africa.

September 17th, 2009 · 9 Comments

Does she have an Inner Nag?

Does she have an Inner Nag?

Over and over, I’ve been asked the same thing about my recent trip to Africa: what was the best part, the most important thing I learned, my biggest “aha”?  The people, the animals, the landscape, the country, and the African STAR workshop enriched my life in so many ways.  Did one thing stand out?

I puzzled over this, and then it hit me.

The biggest lesson for me was this–I went.  I didn’t take the advice of the whiney chorus of nagging, nay-saying voices in my head intoning “NO-O-O-O. Don’t go.  You shouldn’t do this,” somber as a criminal court judge handing down a life sentence without possibility of parole.

“You don’t have the time,” the clockwatcher crisply noted.  “You don’t have the money,” begged the voice of lack, convinced it’s the only thing between me and a life spent living under a bridge with my worldly belongings in a shopping cart.  “You didn’t plan this far enough in advance,” clucked the practical one as she studied the lists on her clipboard. “The long plane ride will wipe you out,” implored the hand-wringer that thinks danger and injury lurk around every corner.  “Everyone will think it’s foolish/be jealous/won’t like you,” pleaded the approval-junkie that desperately wants to get along well with others.

Is she looking for approval?

Is she looking for approval?

I’d heard them all before, cautioning me not to seize other opportunities in my life.  I’ve listened to their advice many times.  This time, I realized they were just the voices of limiting thoughts that weren’t true.   So I thanked them for their efforts.  And I ignored them.

Oh my stomach still did loops when I gave the airline agent my credit card information.  But I knew my feelings were coming from thoughts fueled by my Inner Nags.  So I bought the ticket.

And I had a fantastic trip with absolutely no regrets.  I was enchanted.  I learned.  I grew.  I shared amazing sights and transformative insights with fabulous people.  I had an adventure.  It felt light and airy and magical and free.  And it still does.

He doesn't seem to be worried about his future.

He doesn't seem to be worried about his future.

The Buddha taught that you can always know the sea because it always tastes of salt and you can always know enlightenment because it always tastes like freedom.

I can recall so many adventures that I’ve passed up because I chose to believe that chorus of hyper-cautious, sensible voices.  This time I listened to the deeper, wiser voice inside me.  “Go,” it whispered.  “This is an opportunity of a lifetime.  Don’t pass it up.  Go.”

Recognizing and listening to that still, quiet voice of truth is the greatest lesson I learned.   And it’s delicious.  It tastes like freedom.

Tags: desire · fear · stillness · thinking · truth

Having a hard time letting go of your painful past?

July 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

immaculeeI’ll never complain about anything again, I swear, after spending last weekend reading Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.  The author, Immaculee Ilibigiza, was just 22 years old when, in 1994, Rwanda suddenly descended into an unspeakably brutal genocide in which machete-wielding Hutus slaughtered nearly a million ethnic Tutsis.

The memoir recounts the brutal murders of Immaculee’s beloved parents and brothers, along with scores of her friends, neighbors and schoolmates.  She escaped her own death only by hiding in silence for three months in a local pastor’s three foot by four foot bathroom with seven other women, only to emerge starving and still in great danger.

This is a deeply moving love story, in which Immaculee transcends her fear and hatred of those who tore her life, her family, and her country apart.  Ultimately, she faces and forgives her family’s killers.  It is a remarkable and inspiring account of unconditional love under the most challenging circumstances imaginable.

And you think you have problems?

That it’s hard to forgive your ex?

That the economy is scary?

That you can’t let go of your dysfunctional childhood?

That life handed you a raw deal?

If you ever have whiney, victim-y thoughts, read this book.  If you hold onto your painful past for any reason, read this book.

You’ll get a new perspective in a flash, I promise.

Tags: compassion · fear · love

What do you do when life unfolds with ease?

June 17th, 2009 · No Comments

wave-on-beachSometimes good fortune arrives in our lives so effortlessly that we can’t believe it.  We hesitate and hold back.  Surely it can’t be this easy, we tell ourselves.  Our smaller, more painful interpretation of life is so much more familiar so it seems safer and more real.  We shrink from the beauty and magic unfolding before us.

Rumi urges us to seize life fearlessly, to let go and merge with it, and to embrace with ease the joy and opportunity as it comes to us:

The Seed Market

Can you find another market like this?
Where,
with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?
Where
For one seed
you get a whole wilderness?
For one weak breath,
the divine wind?
You have been fearful
of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up by the air.
Now, your waterbead lets go
and drops into the ocean,
where it came from.
It no longer has the form it had,
but it’s still water.
The essence is the same.
This giving up is not a repenting.
It’s a deep honoring of yourself.
When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry, at once, quickly,
for God’s sake!
Don’t postpone it!
Existence has no better gift.
No amount of searching
will find this.
A perfect falcon, for no reason,
has landed on your shoulder,
and become yours.

Has a perfect falcon landed on your shoulder?  What do you want to do with it?  Do you welcome it wholeheartedly?  Will you honor yourself, believe it, and allow it into your life?

Or are you thinking “this can’t be real if it comes so easily”?  Or “this can’t be valuable if it has come so easily”?  Are you believing that struggle is a necessary component of your life?

Where can you be more open to the rose gardens, the divine breezes, and the magnificent oceans which come to you?

Tags: fear · happiness · noticing · risk

Did you make a mistake or get feedback?

May 18th, 2009 · 2 Comments

pregnancy1Last week, the topic of mistakes and failures came up in many client sessions.  It was also a huge topic in several classes I taught.  “I’m afraid I’ll fail,”  “I’m afraid of making a mistake,” and “I can’t let go of my failure or a mistake I made in the past,” were the themes.

This morning a passage in Deepak Chopra’s little book, Creating Affluence, practically jumped off the page at me:  “In reality, there is no such thing as failure. What we call failure is just a mechanism through which we can learn to do things right. . . . This is the principle of feedback.”

There’s nothing really new in the concept that “there is no such thing as failure” or “there are no mistakes,” but I got really excited when I read this.  A huge light flashed on for me:  I have a whole new way to conceptualize setbacks, mistakes, and failures—it’s FEEDBACK.

I’ve spent plenty of time wrestling with being fearful about mistakes, and having utterly no tolerance for my own. When I was beginning my own deep inner work, I remembered that my dear mother (who passed away when I was in my early twenties, so I don’t think she’ll mind my sharing this now) had told me when I was about ten years old that I was “a mistake.”

This was intended to impress upon me the importance, in her view, of not having sex before marriage.  But that’s not what I got from it.  I think that I somehow internalized this message and was extremely intolerant and fearful of making mistakes.  I was dedicated to avoiding mistakes at all costs.

And, even though I’ve made light years of progress in my personal “mistake and failure acceptance,” I’ve never had much of a sense of humor about it until this morning.  It struck me for the first time that I wasn’t a mistake—I was FEEDBACK!

The more I thought about it the funnier it got.  I was notorious as a child for being into everything; incapable of walking, I only ran. Some handful of feedback, eh?  The facts of life being taught to a young, small-town Southern girl, courtesy of a curious toddler who would never be still.  Somehow, being of such great educational value to my mother made the sting of her words completely vanish.

So thanks, Mommy.  Thanks for the lessons we taught each other.  Perhaps our journey together can help someone else.

And now, how about you?

Can you find any more ease, lightness, or humor in your “mistakes” and “failures” if you see them as feedback?

Could you look forward to your new challenges and activities with more excitement, more enthusiasm, if the worst thing that could happen is that you got feedback?

Tags: compassion · fear · laughter · self-criticism

Do Doubt and Fear Ever Go Away?

February 21st, 2009 · No Comments

darren-jumps1Is there a point at which we are so sublime and confident, that we can put ourselves into new challenges and not worry, not feel any fear, not have one thought that we might look foolish or screw up  or that our ideas might be rejected? Clients ask me this all the time.  I doubt it.

The diver pictured holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for jumping over 35 feet into a kiddie pool holding 12 inches of water. That’s right–12 inches of water.  His stage name is Professor Splash and I had an opportunity to talk with him a couple of years ago.  I asked him about whether he was afraid when he did a jump.  “I’m scared out of my mind,” he told me.  “I just jump anyway.”  You can watch him set a world record here.

I attended a workshop once with Debbie Ford, a multi-bestselling author who is physically stunning and super-poised.  She asked the audience, “Do you think I am never scared?  I am scared all the time.  I just don’t let it stop me.”

Doubt and fear seem to be widespread human responses to challenging situations.  After we’ve learned to see through our old beliefs, and we begin to develop new ones, those old thoughts lose their power to stop us.  I need approval, I screwed up, the world may think my ideas are wacky—these thoughts may still pop up again, particularly when we have placed ourselves at risk by doing something new, something that challenges our comfort zone.

We feel the old fears, and hear the old thoughts and worries when we take risks.  But we can recognize them for what they are—just thoughts.  And from this place, we can keep going. The fear and worry lose their power over us when we don’t let them stop us.  This is what it feels like to grow.

Tags: fear · risk · thinking