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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 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

Declare Your Independence! (from being nice at any price)

July 2nd, 2010 · 12 Comments

A wonderful client of mine, a smart, hip woman who lives in Manhattan, recently got a lesson in the high cost of being too nice in the NYC 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 (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.

I recently visited a new hairdresser.  I 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 nonetheless, I politely sat in his chair.  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.  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. 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, scream, or do whatever it takes to live her life in peace, 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 sometimes valid but not universally applicable motivations, we tolerate all kinds of inappropriate people and behavior. We ignore the clues in our bodies, sometimes whispering, sometimes screaming 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 Independence.

I’m ready, finally ready, to declare my independence from being nice at whatever it costs.  I’ll have a wonderful daily reminder as my hair grows back.

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, scream, 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: listening to your body · noticing · risk

Letter to a Friend About Truth and Turmoil

July 6th, 2009 · 4 Comments

Dear One,

I really enjoyed getting to know you better during our session and I was thrilled to be able to coach you.  I have seen a lot of potential in you and I’m glad you want to look deeply inside yourself.  I do quite a lot of work around “How to Work with People in Crisis” with coaches, lawyers, and mental health professionals.  In a sense, this is what you are challenged to do with your partner.

The first principle of working with those who are in crisis is to remain calm yourself.  And I am not talking about the calm of the actress who is showing exterior calm while flipping out or at war inside.  Our energy fields will give us away.  (Remember the heart’s electrical charge is MEASURABLE, with today’s equipment, up to 10 feet away from us.)  Clamping down our feelings is exhausting, and compromises our intelligence and creativity and our authentic power.  This is confirmed by science, as well as by our spiritual leaders, and all of the great healers and leaders who have shared their secrets with us.

I am talking about honest, authentic calm, the deep calm that knows that we will be allright, no matter what happens.  It is a calm that comes from unconditional love, for absolute acceptance of reality, and from getting in touch with the sometimes painful but always liberating truth that we are responsible for our own experience. This is why the focus of our coaching session was directed at the real truth of what is going on inside of you, rather than around your partner’s behavior.

As coaches, as leaders, as parents, as those interacting with people in crisis, it is up to us to set the tone of our interactions, rather than being pulled into the other’s upset.  This is a big challenge, particularly with a partner because they know where our buttons are, and they often don’t hesitate to push them.  They will exhibit behavior with us that they will not do elsewhere, for example, at their workplace.  Which fuels further judgments, recriminations and inner war (“Why can’t s/he be civil with me if s/he can keep it together at work.  S/he is disrespectful, a jerk, too angry.”)  On and on goes the inner dance.

If you can stay in your core of peace with your partner, you can do it with anyone, I suspect.  But you must first see the value in getting really honest with yourself about all of this.  This is an exploration of the “why” you want to interact from your core of peace and to be an authentically calm presence.

For those of us who have lived most of our lives in a lot of noise and turmoil (inner and outer), this is a huge identity shift.  It is scary and our minds will rebel, often very creatively.   I remember thinking “without my drama, without my stories, without my nostrils flaring and coming back with a quick, sassy (i.e., nasty) remark” I will be flat, weak, boring, plain vanilla, no personality.  For me, that was just another lie I told myself to stay in a dance of war, of turmoil, of victimhood.  Although I was frequently miserable there, It was a very familiar place, and I was comfortable there.

I have, in large part, now ended my personal inner war.  When inner conflict arises, which it does, I do the very same inner work I ask of my clients.  I do not believe that I am now weak or boring or flat, and my experience is that no one else thinks so either.  In fact, my personal experience is that I am much stronger, more powerful, and even more interesting now. And, I have freed up enough energy to power a small city.

So, all of this is a lead up to an assignment for you.  Ask yourself why.  Why do you want to end this war, end this dance, end this strife with your partner?  Write down all the reasons that come to you.  Do this over the course of the next week or so.  Let the reasons come to you.  If you think of reasons not to end it, write those down separately.  If you resist this exercise, then list all the reasons why you are resisting.

Then look at those reasons with an open mind and a heart devoted to the largest truth of who you are and what you really want for yourself.  Ask which reasons are steeped in truth and which are not.  Ask which reasons feel like love and which do not.  And then ask yourself this question:  whose responsibility is it get this truth and this love into your life?

Let me know how it goes.

Much love,

Tags: risk · Uncategorized

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?
with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?
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

Is there something you’ve been missing?

May 26th, 2009 · No Comments

mango-tree1There’s an ancient mango tree next to my cottage; it’s magnificent, with a thick, gnarled brown trunk and long glossy leaves.  How many hurricanes it’s withstood is anybody’s guess.  It’s been barren for at least 35 years, which is how long I’ve had this place.  This year, inexplicably, it flowered, and then, magically, massive clusters of fruit appeared.

A few weeks ago, its mangoes began falling.  I sampled one, but it was tasteless.  The fruit drops day and night, thudding on the roof and plopping to the ground, but I’ve ignored it, except to gather it up from time to time and bury it, to keep it from attracting insects.  I have two other trees providing fruit, so I gave it no further thought, except at midnight whenever a hard, green mango smacks onto the roof and rolls to the ground.

As I cleaned up the fruit this morning, I spotted a couple of really pretty, golden specimens.  Curious, I took them in to sample, and they were an extraordinary surprise–sweet, tender, and delicious.

I think the tree is telling me that we can always regenerate,  sweeten, and offer the best of ourselves to the world.  And that sometimes, our assumptions may not be true, even when we think we’ve investigated them.

Aren’t those messages we can always take to heart?  No matter how many times we’ve told ourselves we couldn’t do something, no matter how many times our creative mind seemed barren, no matter how many times we’ve failed to seize the opportunities that come to us, we can always regenerate and bloom and sweeten.  And even when we’ve told ourselves the same old story, over and over, we can look inside again, and find liberating new truth.

The mango tree is just outside my bedroom window, and late at night, as I’m drifting off to sleep, I hear it out there, releasing it’s sweet golden offerings.  I hear them rustling through the palm fronds as they descend, then landing in the thick jungle of vines below.  Each time I hear it, I remember all of the regeneration and opportunity and sweetness and truth in the world.  And that whether I pay attention or not, they’re there–delicious surprises,  just waiting for me to notice.


Tags: desire · happiness · laughter · noticing · risk · stillness · thinking · treats · Uncategorized

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

Rejecting Others While on Mental Autopilot

November 2nd, 2008 · No Comments

In this charged atmosphere four days before the elections, it’s really easy to judge and criticize those who disagree with us.  We build walls of safety around the rejection of large groups of other people, and seek companionship and comfort with those who believe as we do. Those with other viewpoints become strange and clueless.

For the last few days I’ve been trying to fully accept the other side.  Not to adopt their beliefs or positions or candidates as mine, but to let go of my judgment about what it means to believe differently than me.  It hasn’t been easy. I’m struggling with years of habitual thinking. But it does feel lighter and freer.

Going off of mental autopilot feels risky because it shifts our identity in a dramatic way.  But the joy diet requires it, at least my joy diet does.  Carrying my habitual judgments around feels like a heavy burden, draining my attention and compromising my joy.

Are you flying on mental autopilot?  Is it a burden?  How would it feel to let it go?

Tags: joy diet · risk

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?  I’ve spent so much of my life doing things just in case.  Now that I’m on the Joy Diet, just in case is not a sufficient reason to do something.  Just in case does not come from desire, it comes from fear.  Just in case is, in this situation, a joy killer.

So I just 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 it feels fantastic.  Clean, honest, clear.

What are you doing just in case?

Tags: joy diet · risk