The answer? Most likely, it’s your very own self.
For most of us, we are the ones who get in our own way. We like to point to a lot of external factors for being the reason we aren’t where we want to be:
The economy sucks.
My boss is a jerk.
I have kids!
I don’t have kids.
I don’t have enough ______ (money, time, hair, clothes, etc.).
But the good news and the bad news is that usually, we stop ourselves.
And that really is the good news because it means we have the ability to change whatever we don’t like. We just have to face our fears in order to do so. And that’s the thing that usually stops us in our tracks and the reason why we come up with 1000 reasons why we can’t do something.
Fear is a funny thing. It’s what protects us from walking into the street when there’s a car zooming through a yellow light. But it also protects us from ever doing something different that could be good for us. Anything perceived as risky will usually raise the red flag of fear.
Right now, think about doing something different. It could be going to a new place for dinner, driving a different way to work, or trying out a new class at the gym. What’s that little voice inside your head say? “Fun!” ?
Or does the voice say, “Oh no, what if we don’t like the new place for dinner?” or “What if I get lost on the way to work or it takes longer and I’m late and I get in trouble with my boss?” or “I feel uncomfortable because I don’t know the routine and I look stupid in the class and everyone laughs at me?”
And if that’s what comes up when you’re talking about a small change like choosing a new place for dinner, what does fear do when you’re contemplating a big change, like a job, moving, getting married, getting divorced, etc.? Yowza. If your amygdala is as large as mine, that little chatterbox inside your head goes into overdrive and crowds your brain with so many “what ifs” that it’s nearly impossible to have a clear thought.
And so fear is, in fact, doing its job. It’s protecting you from doing something different—from moving forward—which is the reason many of us get stuck. It’s also the reason we aren’t as successful as we could be. The fear is just as intense as if we were being chased by a bear, but most of the time, we aren’t actually in danger. Our mind just reacts as if we are.
So what do you do about all this fear?
1. First, become aware of it instead of trying to avoid it. See what happens to your inner chatterbox when you make a decision. What does your chatterbox say? Now make a different decision. Chances are, your chatterbox goes is still going strong, still throwing up objections to whatever you decided. It’s not the decision that matters, really. You’re fear is going to rear its little annoying head no matter what. So the first step is to see it for what it is: a bunch of jumbled thoughts that are keeping you stuck.
2. Try this activity from Dr. Brian Alman and John Assaraf at myneurogym.com:
It might seem a little kooky, but if it helps you process and move beyond your fear, isn’t it worth trying? And it only takes five minutes. So what you do is get a sheet of paper and a pen. Close your eyes. Put the pen in your non-dominant hand (so, if you’re a righty, put it in your left hand). With your eyes still closed and using your non-dominant hand, write down all the fear-based thoughts that are swimming around in your brain. Open your eyes. No, you won’t necessarily be able to read what you wrote. That’s not the point. Now, using your dominant hand (“normal”), respond rationally to all these fearful thoughts by writing down your responses. If more stuff comes up, go back to closing your eyes and switching the pen to your left hand. Get out all those limiting, fearful thoughts. Repeat this process until you feel like your energy—and fear—have shifted. Have fun!
3. Practice doing something different to build up neural pathways that can counteract the effect of anxiety. For example, try eating with your non-dominant hand, take a different route to work, try a new exercise machine at the gym. Through the research of neuroplasticity we know that your brain is malleable, which means you can reduce the size of the neural pathways that activate fear and anxiety and, instead, build up the neural pathways from the calm part of your brain. This is one reason meditation is such a popular practice. It helps build up the calm “muscle” in your brain. This can help you see options you don’t see when confronted with something that creates fear and anxiety.
4. Finally, remember that the opposite of fear is love. Not courage, but love. How can you show love to yourself today? What does your inner chatterbox usually say to you? Make it say something different—and see what possibilities come to mind.
What new thing will you try? How can you love yourself better today? Let your fear talk to you. Try one or more of these exercises and let me know what happened in your experiment. I’d love to hear about it!