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Entries Tagged as 'risk'

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

A Declaration of Independence! (from being nice at any price)

July 2nd, 2010 · 12 Comments

A smart, hip client who lives in Manhattan recently got a lesson in the high cost of being too nice while riding on the subway. A bedraggled man got on the car, took the seat beside her and, in a series of escalating advances, attempted to engage her in conversation and then began to touch her.

Frightened, she quietly waited until the train came to a station, told him it was her stop (it wasn’t and yeah, she actually gave him an excuse for leaving), and re-entered the next car, which had more people on it.  He followed her, continued his advances, and luckily this time, several men on the car restrained him, and summoned the transit police, who took the very mentally ill man away in handcuffs.

My client was grateful because it could have been worse, but she was tremendously upset and shaken.

What was she thinking? As we deconstructed the event, she realized that she saw him initially approaching her, felt uncomfortable, but she sat still because she didn’t want to seem impolite.

We do it all the time, us nice girls. We are literally conditioned to be nice.

After all, little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” We’ve heard it since we could literally understand the words.

I one visited a new hairdresser, walked into an elegant salon and was greeted by a man dressed in black and chains, like an old British rocker.  I did not like his look or his vibe, but I politely sat in his chair anyway.  As I picked at my hair, trying to describe what I wanted, he abruptly told me that I was paying him to cut my hair, not drive him crazy, so I had to keep my hands out of my hair.  I was taken aback but I complied.

As he roughly raked through my hair, my eyes welled up with tears.  “I’m extremely tender-headed.” I told him. “Well I’m not known for being gentle,” he replied. And I put up with it.

I was aware of a sickly feeling growing stronger in the pit of my stomach.  But I did not leave.

You know the ending of this story, right?

Of course.  I left with three inches less hair than I wanted, a lousy, unflattering haircut, and the prospect of finding someone else to repair the damage.

What was I thinking? I was operating on the same frequency as my client in the subway, as the woman who doesn’t get off the elevator when the creepy guy gets in, the woman who doesn’t get up, walk out, make a fuss, or do whatever it takes to live her exactly as she pleases.

I ignored all the signals from my gut, because I felt too uncomfortable standing up and leaving.  I ignored my feelings because I was afraid to tell him the truth.

We’re such good girls aren’t we?  In the name of being nice, of not making a fuss, not offending, not drawing attention to ourselves, and a passel of other crazy motivations, we tolerate all kinds of inappropriate people and behavior.

We ignore the clues in our bodies, as they sometimes whisper and  sometimes scream at us–get up, leave, walk, run, speak up, yell, don’t sit here, don’t stay here, don’t do business here, get the hell out of here and don’t turn back.

Enough!  I’m declaring my personal independence.

I’m ready to declare my independence from being nice at whatever it costs.

I declare that henceforth I will put my desire to be happy and safe over my desire to be polite at any price.  I will listen to my body.  I will listen to my gut feelings.  And I will never, ever again fail to speak up for myself, and just stay quiet, sit still, and not leave, speak up, shout, or whatever it takes to look out for my best interests, in the name of being a good girl.

Won’t you join me?

Tags: fear · listening to your body · risk · truth

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. The answer–absolutely not.

The man in the photo calls himself Professor Splash. He holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for jumping over 35 feet into a kiddie pool holding 12 inches of water. That’s insane!

I had an opportunity to talk with him a couple of years ago and I asked him whether he was ever 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 the late Debbie Ford, who was a stunning, poised, bestselling author.  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 are widespread human responses to challenging situations.  After we’ve learned to see our limiting thought patterns and assumptions, they lose their power to stop us.  I might screw up, my idea is too crazy, it’s too risky—thoughts like these will likely pop up when we place ourselves at risk by doing something new, whenever we challenge our comfort zone.

We feel the old fears and hear the old 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.

Being human means we will have doubts and we will always feel fear. And growth means that we don’t have to let doubt and fear stop us.

Tags: fear · risk · thinking

What Are You Doing “Just in Case”?

October 29th, 2008 · No Comments

I knew what I had to do today.  The thought was scary.  I was really, really hesitant.  Is this the right decision? Can I be sure?  What if I make a mistake?

I’ve held a license as an educational therapist for about 10 years.   I thought, “Well even though I don’t want to do this work anymore, I should maintain this license, just in case….”

Just in case what? It’s practical, sure, but I have a full-time coaching business that I love and this particular just in case is based on an assumption I might lose the work I love and go back to work I don’t love.

So I decided that just in case is not a sufficient reason to do keep this license.  Just in case wasn’t coming from the reality of a thriving business doing work I love, and it wasn’t coming from desire, from what I really, really want.

So I sent an email notifying my certifying company that I would not be renewing.  Simple.  Straightforward.  Direct.  It was scary to push the send button on my email.  My hands trembled a bit and I caught my breath.  And a few minutes later, it felt fantastic.  Clean, honest, clear.

What are you holding onto just in case that you really don’t need?

Tags: desire · fear · risk