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When What You Want Scares You

How to Persevere Past Self-Doubt | True Radiance Healing Arts

(Reading time: approx. 5 minutes)

When I was first offered the opportunity to teach a workshop years ago, my heart said, “oh yes!” but my head said, “oh no!” Deep within me it felt absolutely right to be leading a workshop, but my mind was full of fears and doubts…
“Who am I to lead a group, to present myself as an expert?”
“What if I stand up in front of the room and forget everything?”
“What if they hate it? What if they get up and walk out in the middle?”

Like many people in this country, I dreaded public speaking when I was younger (ok, true confession, part of me still gets a bit nervous). Even the thought of standing up in front of the class and delivering a short talk at school made me queasy. It was like all the blood would drain out of my brain, rendering it useless, and into my face, lighting me up like a beet.

Given this, you might think I’d be the last person to sign myself up to lead a group voluntarily. Yet, I couldn’t deny that teaching also felt absolutely right. There was a quiet voice in my core telling me that leading groups and workshops was one of my gifts and part of my purpose. How could I say no to that?

It turns out that I actually LOVE facilitating groups and leading workshops, even if it still sometimes scares me. When I teach a group – even one that goes late into the evening – I feel energized and even a bit wound up afterwards. But I would never have discovered this if I had listened to the voice of fear and declined the opportunity.

Over the years as I have worked with more and more people, I have found a common thread in this experience: many of us want to, or even feel called to, do something that scares us.

In fact, the more we feel drawn to undertaking a particular path, the more fear it can stir in us. This path could be related to our career, getting involved in a relationship or making more friends, having a baby, going back to school, or leaving a relationship. It’s not always this way, of course. There are times when we feel compelled in a direction that feels natural to us. Most often it seems there’s a blend, an irrational mix of comfort, confidence, and terror evoked by our desires.

One reason for this lies in the degree of risk we perceive to be involved. If an activity feels like part of our life purpose, it can be thrilling but also add pressure. When it feels like the stakes are high, fear and doubt are often close by. We can be haunted by questions like, “What if it doesn’t work out? What if I’m wasting my time? What if it turns out I’m no good at this? What then?”

Now that I have more faith, I’ve realized that, as long as I do my part, if I’m on the right path then my success is inevitable. Doing my part means being active, taking steps toward accomplishing my dreams. It means braving up and following the little inner voice to do even the things that scare me.

On my own journey and in my work with hundreds of people, there are strategies that I’ve found helpful in persevering past doubt. Here are a few of them:

  1. Rehearse Ease. Whenever we do something unfamiliar, the brain’s threat watchdog, the amygdala, goes on alert. In fact, the amygdala scans all incoming information from our senses and from the cortex. Since the cortex is spectacular at imagining things, the amygdala reacts to scenarios we are imagining as well as events that are transpiring in real time. That’s why even *thinking about* doing something that scares you can elicit the fight, flight, or freeze response (otherwise known to some of us as the “eat, binge watch TV reruns, or get lost in FaceBook” response). Luckily, we can use this to our advantage by imagining ourselves carrying out the activity with ease. This works best if you imagine it just a few minutes at a time, frequently (daily works well), and in as much sensory detail as possible.
  2. Break it Down. Another way to help avoid triggering the amygdala is to break down a goal into small, manageable steps. Again, the key is to take action a few minutes at a time, repeated over time. This repetition creates and reinforces a new neural pathway, which is the structure of habit in the brain. Make a date with yourself to do just a little bit toward your goal most days. If you find you’re not getting to it, make the step even smaller. Over time, you’ll find yourself feeling encouraged by the progress you’re making, which makes it even more appealing to keep going. (You can read more about this in the blog post, The Neuroscience of Changing Habits.)
  3. Focus on the Supportive Inner Voice. We typically have many aspects of ourselves that contribute to our inner dialogue. Often there will be a part of us that knows we are on the right track and fully capable of achieving our goal. Simultaneously, there will be other parts of us who express doubts, perhaps dredging up past failures and generally raining on our parade. It can help to “talk back” to the fearful voices by saying to yourself, “Thank you for your input, and right now I’m choosing to listen to the Part of Me That Knows.” Over time, this supportive inner voice will get clearer and louder, while the voices of fear and doubt will lose gusto.
  4. Collect Reasons to Keep Going. The voice of fear and doubt will offer us a myriad of reasons to give up. Like a detective building a case, start gathering evidence that you’re on the right track. This might include positive feedback and compliments from friends, family, clients, or others. At times it can be easier to accept someone else’s positive evaluation of us than it is to accept our own. Other people see gifts and talents in us long before we are ready to own them. For me, my case for continuing also included intuitive information and night dreams that encouraged me.
  5. Build Trust. One way we can begin to open doors to new ways of thinking is to ask ourselves the same question over and over. Try playing with the question, “What would it be like to trust that things will work out?” or “What would it be like to trust that I’m capable of doing this?” See if you can feel that trust, even 2% more than you did a moment ago. Our plans don’t always materialize the way we had hoped – sometimes things work out in a way that’s even better. Trusting that things will work out means trusting that, even if it doesn’t transpire the way you imagined it would, in the long run there will be aspects that you can genuinely appreciate and enjoy.
  6. Get Support. Just knowing that someone else is on our team, walking the path of challenge and celebrating with us, can go a long way towards our success. You aren’t the only one who has fear come up around something you really want in your life. It can be a powerful asset to have a supportive person you can reach out to just before taking a step that scares you, someone who understands what it means for you to do it, and who can give you a big “Woo-hoo!!” and reflect the depth of that accomplishment back to you once it’s done.

It’s common to both really want to do something and be frightened by or anxious about the idea of doing it. You don’t have to let fear be the boss of you. You can do it! Start today using one of the strategies above or by approaching it in a way that has worked for you in other situations.

For Days When People Suck and Everything Is Stupid

Having One of Those Days? Advice from True Radiance Healing ArtsHave you ever had one of those days? When it feels like the whole of creation is intent on annoying you – or worse?

Most of us have those days when we just want to crawl back under the covers because getting up today seems to have been a bad idea. Or when you want to close your office door (if you’re lucky enough to have one) and crawl under your desk, preferably with a glass of wine.

If you’re having one of those days today, know that you aren’t alone. There are other people at this moment feeling singled out to suffer (you haven’t really been, but I know it can feel that way).

First, please know that you are loved and appreciated. Second, if you’d like to change your mood, keep reading.

Out of all of our common responses to these days, only one has the potential to really make it better.

Our typical responses – which might feel better in the moment but don’t really provide relief – include things like:

  • Lashing out
  • Complaining
  • Depressive or pessimistic thinking
  • Eating
  • Addictions

There’s another option which actually can help to salvage part of your day: talking to someone who supports you. Someone who can hear how much your day sucks without trying to be a cheerleader, but who also knows that you are resourceful and capable. Someone who knows you’ve been through crap before and lived to tell the tale.

It can be helpful to identify the core issue that kicked off the lousy part of your day. Can you name what’s at the heart of it?

Was there an event that made you angry? That felt unfair?
Was there an event that hurt your feelings?
Was there an event that brought up old beliefs (we all have them) about not being good enough?

See if you can acknowledge the emotions that have come up for you, without needing to change them, exaggerate them, or diminish them.

Remember that you’re not the only one having these feelings and the (albeit extremely annoying) experiences that brought them up.

Be gentle with yourself. How would you behave toward a friend in these same circumstances? See if you can extend that same kindness toward yourself.

Once you understand what really got to you then you can decide what, if anything, you want to do about it. In some situations we take something personally that wasn’t really about us; on other occasions we may see a need to address an issue externally.

Is this something you want to reflect on and change your internal response to?
Is there a conversation you need to have (when the time is right) to reset a boundary, to renegotiate an arrangement that no longer works for you, or simply to let someone know how you feel?
Or maybe there’s some other step you’d like to take?

These are some of the ways you can empower yourself to change the tone of your day. I hope your day starts to improve.

With extra love,
Susan

Black and White Thinking: Good or Bad?

Black and White Thinking | True Radiance Healing ArtsI was talking to a client a few years back. She was feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. She said to me, “Everyone I know is in chaos right now.” Knowing how our thoughts can impact our emotional state, I asked her, “Is that really true? Everyone?”

She paused, running through her family and friends in her mind. “No, not everyone. Actually, just 5 people.” She let out a breath and started to relax.

Dichotomous thinking, sometimes called black and white thinking, is seeing things as all good or all bad. It lumps the whole world or an entire spectrum together in one big generalization, increasing our chances of feeling overwhelmed.

We miss the complexity and subtlety in situations because we can’t see multiple perspectives or allow that there might be more than one acceptable way of doing things. This can add pressure to our relationships.

It’s fairly common for all of us to do this once in a while, especially if we’re already feeling stressed, but for some people this thinking style is more pervasive. Unfortunately, dichotomous thinking can make us feel even more stressed out. A habit of dichotomous thinking has also been associated with depression and other mental illnesses.

These kinds of all-or-nothing thoughts are also associated with perfectionism, telling us that if we didn’t do it perfectly, it was a complete failure. It robs us from a sense of satisfaction with our life because it’s not possible to meet the expectations we set for ourselves and others. It can also keep us from even starting a project, because we’ve been told, “if you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.”

There’s an old story about the farmer and his son. The farmer had a horse. One day when the son was trying to break the horse, he threw off the young man and he broke his arm. All the people in the town said to the farmer “this is terrible!” but the farmer shrugged his shoulders and replied “is it good or is it bad?”

Soon after this, some men from the army appeared in the town. They drafted all the young men who were able to fight. They didn’t take the farmer’s son because he had a broken arm. The people of the town exclaimed “you are so lucky that they didn’t take your son—it’s a good thing his arm was broken.” And the farmer replied “is it good or is it bad?”

Then the farmer’s horse got out of the field and ran away. The people said “this is awful news” but the farmer replied “is it good or is it bad?”

The next day the farmer’s horse returned—and brought several other wild horses with him. The townspeople remarked “you are so lucky! This is great!” And the farmer simply said “is it good or is it bad?”

Black and White Thinking | True Radiance Healing ArtsThere are very, very few events in our lives that are inherently good or bad. When we look back at even the most challenging of times in our life – events we would never have chosen – this is often when significant growth happens. Gifts can ultimately come from dire circumstances. Judging things as good or bad oversimplifies our experiences.

Given that black and white thinking skews our perception of reality and can take a toll on our health, relationships, and productivity, what can we do to catch it and change it?

We can think of dichotomous thinking as a habit of the mind. Like any habit, it can be changed over time when we put a conscious focus on it.

The first step is to notice what you’re saying to yourself – particularly when you’re feeling stressed. Be on the lookout for anything you might be saying to yourself or to other people with words like “everything,” “everyone,” “always,” “never,” or “nobody.” Even the words “good” or “bad” can signal that we’ve fallen into black and white thinking.

When you notice you’re making this kind of generalization or judgment, ask yourself, “Is that really true?” There isn’t much in our lives that is absolutely true all of the time or with all people.

Now ask yourself, “What might be more accurate?” See if you can be more specific. Challenge yourself to see from someone else’s perspective or come up with other ways of looking at a situation (even though you may not believe they’re “right”).

In some cases, this exercise can immediately help to lower your stress level. If dichotomous thinking is common for you, it will likely take some practice before you reap the full benefit. It’s within your power to choose to think differently – and feel better because of it.

Breaking Free of Fear

Breaking Free from Fear | True Radiance Healing ArtsFear is a common issue for many people. It can keep us from moving forward in our life in the ways we want to, rearing its head when we venture outside our routine. Fears can spring up after a difficult experience in our lives or they can follow us from early childhood.
From an evolutionary standpoint, one theory posits that our more fearful ancestors were more likely to survive and pass on their traits, thus leading us to be more fearful on average today. Getting past fear is an area I’ve worked on with many, many people — not to mention having plenty of opportunities to practice with myself!
In today’s post I offer a handful of tools for handling fears:
In some cases, you can alleviate the fear simply by talking to someone you trust about it. It’s often said that “fear breeds in the dark.” In other words, when you don’t examine fearful thoughts or beliefs in the bright light of day, they can intensify. What starts out as a mild aversion can become more serious if you let it go.
By talking about your fear with another person you get the chance to see, in many cases, how irrational or unlikely it really is. I’ve had the experience where even just hearing myself say it out loud made me realize how absurd it was–but until I did that I was convinced it was really something worth being frightened of.
When you are afraid, one tool that can help calm you down is a mantra that gets paired with the breath. If you find that your mind is getting carried away imagining a frightening scenario, take a breath in and say to yourself, “I am completely…” and on the exhale, “…stopping.” On the next inhale, tell yourself, “I am safe…” and with the exhale, “…and secure.” You can keep repeating this sentence until you feel a bit more calm.
Many times we spook ourselves with our thoughts. In other words, what we say to ourselves or what we imagine evokes the fear. We have this capacity because the part of our brain that is always on the look-out for potential threat can’t tell the difference between something we are imagining and something that is really happening now.
Take the time to deliberately notice your surroundings and how safe you are right now. Even though you may have been thinking about something that caused a fearful response, in fact you are probably not in danger in this moment.
Fear can also become a conditioned response. If you were in a frightening situation once, going back to the location or seeing the people involved in that particular event can evoke the same emotions, even though nothing bad is happening now. This conditioned response can be interrupted by stopping to relax, using the breathing mantra described above, and taking note of the elements that are different now from the initial event. It usually takes some repetition with interrupting the fear response for it to go away.
If you know you’re going into a situation that scares you, like talking in front of a group or meeting with a doctor to hear the results of a medical test, it can help to take a moment before going into the situation. Bring to mind the people who love you. Imagine their faces in front of you. Let yourself feel their love for you, and your love for them. This can reassure you and give you courage to do the things that scare you.
When you have something like a big project or a big life change that you know you want but it brings up fear for you, one of the things that can help is to break it down into baby steps. Focus on just the *very next step.* In some cases, this might look like focusing on just what you are doing today, or even just for the next hour, without letting your mind get caught up in thinking about the full scope of a project or life change.
These are just a few of the techniques I’ve found work for people when they want relief from a fear or to muster the courage to do something.
There are times a different kind of approach is helpful. For example, if you know you picked up a fear from one of your parents, teachers, or other significant person in your life then doing some work to separate your thoughts and feelings from theirs can be freeing.
Similarly, you may be carrying a fear that has been passed down not just by a parent but along a whole family line. You may have been be born into a family agreement that says, “we don’t do this kind of thing because bad things will come of it.” There can be great power in ending or renegotiating this agreement with our ancestors.
If you’re interested in how fears show up in our dreams, check out our radio show episode in the “So You Think You’re Awake?” archives.
I hope that you will try one or more of these tools for yourself. I think you’ll find them useful–I know I have.
With love,
Susan

Feeling Boxed In? Time to Break Your Own Rules

shutterstock_3559155 no entry sign When I was in training as a creativity coach I was also working on a jewelry show. I had been a jeweler for many years and I liked offering a spring show of all new work. The only problem was that at that point I had no ideas. So when I say I was working on a jewelry show, what I really mean was I was giving myself a bad time for not working on it.

I began to realize how much I limited my creativity. As soon as I would get an idea, I would shoot it down. It started to dawn on me how many rules I had for myself ― rules that were keeping me from starting to work.

I sat down one day and started a list of rules that I had absorbed from my family, my teachers, my culture. I paid particular attention to my rules around my creative work. Here are a few:

  1. Don’t waste materials.
  2. Only make things that people will want to buy.
  3. Save the very precious items for a “really good” project, if using them at all.

Looking at my list, it became quite clear to me why I wasn’t starting: I had boxed myself in. I couldn’t make a move that wouldn’t go against (or have a strong potential to go against) at least one of the restrictions I put on my creative work. Creating, like living, requires some experimentation and that means being willing to risk doing something that bombs.

Nearly all of us have internal rules we follow. I don’t just mean the ones laid down as laws in our society ― I mean “made up” rules we’ve picked up from those around us or created for ourselves after getting hurt (“I won’t ever do THAT again!”). Our rules often come from fears and are held in place by fear.

Here are some other rules we commonly try to abide by in our lives:

  1. Don’t look like an idiot in front of other people.
  2. If you can’t do it perfectly, don’t do it at all.
  3. You can’t call yourself an expert in anything unless you have a certificate or diploma for it.
  4. Don’t make other people uncomfortable.

Attempting to stay in line with all our rules can keep us from starting a project ― as it did for me ― or it can keep us from seeing options. Usually when we have the sense that we don’t have any choices in a situation, it’s because we’ve semi-consciously ruled out all the options before they even make it to full awareness.

Promise Necklace

Promise Necklace ~ part of the collection I created after breaking some of my own rules.

Once I had my list of rules, I re-evaluated each one and gave myself permission to break or ignore some. I still keep to wearing my seat belt while riding in the car, but I’ve completely broken my “don’t write in books” rule. It’s been tremendously liberating! And you know what else? I started a whole new collection of jewelry that spring that felt like the most original work I had ever done.

You can play, too. I think you’ll be amazed (1) how many rules you have and (2) how much energy it frees up when you are able to let go of some of those rules. Even just having the awareness of the way you restrict yourself in your life, your relationships, your work, the way you express (or not) your emotions, and more can help you to make a conscious choice about how you react, instead of being automatically lead by these rules.

What are the rules you live by?

  1.  _________________
  2.  _________________
  3.  _________________
  4.  _________________
  5.  _________________

Reflecting on each one, is this a restriction you want to continue following?

If not, give yourself permission to let it go. I found it easier to start by deliberately breaking little rules like the one about not writing in books. Once you discover that these rules are made up, it gives you more confidence in breaking them.


Dreams that point out we are limiting ourselves:
Your Higher Self communicates to you each night through your dreams. Dream symbols that show you are limiting yourself or holding back in some way are:

* boxes (from being “boxed in”)
* the number 4 (similar to a box, like four walls)


“Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.”
― Rosamund Stone Zander, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

Wishing you freedom, choices, and love,
Susan

“That’s Not My Baby” ~ Shying Away from Being Responsible

shutterstock_187462538 baby with arms up toward leftMost of us have had the experience of not wanting to take responsibility for an issue or area of our life. This reluctance can show up as denial, procrastination or avoidance with following through with tasks.

Our reluctance to deal with a situation can have it’s root in several places, including:

  • fear of increased pressure and unmeetable expectations,
  • thinking that we’re not capable of handling it,
  • fear of giving something up to make the changes we think would be required to address the issue,
  • rebelling against responsibility because we took on too much responsibility as children,
  • telling ourselves that it’s someone else’s problem to fix or not a problem at all, or
  • just straight up not wanting to deal with it.

Dreams will sometimes urge us to take responsibility for a part of life.
Your Higher Self communicates to you each night through your dreams. The primary dream symbol indicating this would be dreaming of a baby (not being pregnant, giving birth, or young children — those have a different meaning). Often times dreams like this feature a baby that is “not our baby,” just to highlight the fact that we aren’t currently taking responsibility for it.

Is there something in your life that you’re not attending to right now? Here’s a process that can help.

Notice what you’re saying to yourself about being responsible. Usually there is a story or belief sitting just below our conscious awareness about what being responsible means for us, about us, and regarding other’s expectations for us.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen right now and give yourself 3-5 minutes to write. Do your best to keep the pen moving, even if it means repeating what you just wrote. Begin your writing with “Being responsible for this means that…”

What did you discover as you did the writing exercise?

Reflecting on what you wrote, ask yourself “Is that really true?” Is it really true if I do this well one time that I should be able to do it well from now on? Is it really true that if I take responsibility for this, I’m letting someone else off the hook for their part in it? Is it really true that I can’t handle it?

As you question your beliefs about responsibility, see if you can identify the actual facts of the situation. What is the cost to you of *not* taking responsibility for this issue or area of your life?

What would being responsible look like in this situation? What might be a small step you could take toward it?

There are times when taking responsibility brings up fear or the feeling of being overwhelmed. Bring your focus of attention to the very next step. If you find yourself generalizing about what taking responsibility means for the future or thinking of all the steps involved, return your focus to today, right now.

I’ll leave you with a poem from David Whyte, below.
With love,
Susan

Start Close In 
Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
listening
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems

Building Confidence

shutterstock_394052506 confident womanshutterstock_394052506 confident womanWhen learning something new, we usually aren’t very good at it. Please know that this is normal. If you want to bolster your confidence with a particular skill, the best way to do that is to practice, practice, practice.

If you are someone who expects yourself to be an expert with new skills or knowledge right away, getting yourself to engage in practicing that skill can be difficult. Try redefining success as being engaged in growing as a person, rather than executing a skill perfectly.

It can be challenging for us to believe in our abilities, even when they are clear to other people. We can distract ourselves from living our own brilliance by comparing our talents to those of other people. We forget that we are our own unique mix of strengths and gifts, different from anyone else and very much needed just as we are.

You may have had an experience growing up, either at school or with your family, of really shining at something and getting in trouble for it. Some of us were discouraged from bringing too much attention to ourselves, as though it were bad manners to be gifted at something. Or you may have drawn fire from someone who was jealous or uncomfortable with your innate talents.

In this case, you may need to give yourself permission to go against the “rules” of your parents or teachers. Doing some work to further separate yourself from their influence may be helpful.

When we lack confidence generally or in a particular area of our life we tend to hold back. Confidence can evolve naturally from having a lot of experience practicing a skill, but if we are holding ourselves back from practicing then we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to develop confidence in that way.

In addition to practicing, here are a few more ways to boost your confidence:

  • Remind yourself of past accomplishments and successes. You might want to write about them and keep it someplace you can reread it when you need a boost. One exercise I sometimes invite people to do in my classes is to think of a time when you were bold or courageous and it worked out, then write about it.
  • When someone gives you positive feedback that’s meaningful to you, save it someplace you can refer back to. If they gave this compliment verbally, jot it down. If they wrote you an email or a card, you might want to post it in a place where you see it regularly.
  • Our body posture actually influences the way we think. You can use this to your advantage by taking 2 minutes to strike a “power pose.” Think of your favorite superhero standing strong with head held high, shoulders back, hands on their hips. Or you can put your arms up in the air like an athlete who has just won a gold medal. Holding this pose for just 2 minutes will actually impact your mood and your thoughts.
  • There’s an old saying: “fake it ’til you make it.” This can be helpful when it comes to building confidence. Adopt the body language, posture, gestures, expressions and tone of voice that go along with being genuinely confident and practice acting that way. You can play with this in relatively low stakes situations like when you’re at the grocery store. This way it’s easier to tap into before going into a situation that makes you nervous.
  • An affirmation can be helpful with building confidence. An affirmation is basically creating a new thinking habit by deliberately repeating the new thought. Like any new habit, it takes repetition for the new habit to take hold. It helps if the statement you come up with is one that you can believe, at least a little bit. If the statement brings up resistance and disbelief for you then you’re just practicing resistance and disbelief around the thought.
  • Notice people who are like you, with similar background, education, or age, who are successful. Instead of comparing yourself to them, see if you can take it as proof that you can do it, too.

Dreams that encourage confidence
Your Higher Self communicates to you each night through your dreams. Though these symbols can hold other meanings as well, dream symbols that convey your Higher Self wants you to be more confident are:

  • men, especially a man who is very confident. This is not because men are more confident than woman; it’s because confidence draws on masculine energy, which we all have.
  • the number 1–this reminds you that you are unique.
  • the color white, especially when mixed or featured with other colors, can reflect faith, hope, or confidence.
  • being especially confident in a dream OR having a notable lack of confidence, such as telling other dream characters you’re not capable.

If you’re curious to hear more about how confidence shows up in dreams, hop on over to our radio show archive to listen to this episode.

“We have to risk being full of ourselves in order to see what we’re full of.” ~ Michael Meade

With love,

Susan