I hate conflict. And I tend to avoid it at all costs. This makes me a people-pleaser, and often leads to resentment. It also makes me all squirmy inside when the conflict is my own internal struggle with fear. Did I mention I hate conflict and will avoid it? This means that I will avoid doing whatever I’m afraid of.
I’ve been working on a project that will be a new avenue to help people heal their relationship with food. And I’ve never been so avoidant in my life. Suddenly non-essential tasks start to feel as if they are of the utmost importance (e.g. organizing and boxing up my son’s old clothes). Or I find myself compulsively checking my email or social media to feel “busy” and connected with others.
Meanwhile, my project moves at a snail’s pace — all because I’m afraid.
When I finish the project I have to “ship it” as Seth Godin would say. I have to release it to the world and expose myself to the feedback, whether it be positive or negative. The fear center in my brain (amygdala) tells me that it is going to be a huge flop and will ruin my credibility forever. And if I get really catastrophic, I tell myself that I will lose all of my clients, have no income and my family will be poor. (insert eye roll for my own melodrama).
If I don’t stop and notice this internal script it will run my life on autopilot.
Here are some thoughts on how to embrace and dance with the fear without letting it control you:
1. Notice the fear (mindfulness). Imagine that you are the sky and your thoughts are birds flying around…blue birds, robins, cardinals, eagles, hawks. Fear is one of those birds; your other thoughts and emotions are the other types of birds. The fear will come and go. Sometimes it might dive-bomb and attack. As the sky, you can witness all of this while remaining still and non-reactive.
2. People tend to react in unhelpful ways to most of their daily fears. Because fear happens in the primitive amygdala of the brain, it’s subconscious and sends us impulses to fight/flight/freeze. When there is an actual danger present, such as a fire or a tiger, that primitive instinct is helpful. But when the fear is of something like failure or rejection, it’s more helpful to be mindful of the fear rather than reactive to it. Noticing I am feeling afraid of writing this blog post because it makes me feel vulnerable allows me to acknowledge the fear and move forward in its presence.
3. Fear can cause reactivity, self-sabotage, avoidance. Avoidance is a big one for me. When I’m afraid of something I busy myself with other tasks, creating the illusion of productivity, and allowing myself to think that I just didn’t have time for what I was afraid of. This kind of story telling gets in our way.
4. Lean in to the fear. It often signals something that you need to be looking at or doing in your life. For me, when it comes to the work I do, fear is a beacon that lets me know what’s important. If I’m afraid to complete a project because it might fail or people might not like it, that tends to indicate that it is an important project that I need to do. And I can use the fear to help me see that, and to honor the importance of the project, and to motivate me to do it well. But if I let the fear take over in the form of perfectionism, it will prevent me from shipping the project. I have learned to embrace a “good enough” mentality with many things I do and it’s been liberating. Who cares if there are a few typos in my blog, or if I stutter a little in my video course? It makes me more relatable because we are all imperfect. If I were to obsess over making sure that there weren’t any flaws in the work I publish, then nothing would ever get done. There’s certainly a place for polishing one’s work, but not to the point that you’re just using it as an excuse to avoid putting it out there.
5. If you’re never afraid you probably aren’t growing. Change is scary; learning new things is scary; trying new things is even scarier. If you aren’t ever doing any of these things you are living life in a safe little bubble. I believe that we were all put on earth to make a difference, each in our own way. Some people make a difference in a really visible way, like being the CEO of a company or a public figure. Others make a difference in quiet and humble ways, such as by being a stay at home mom and raising their children to be functional members of society, and those children will go out and make their own difference. We all have challenges that we face in life, and we all get scared sometimes.
6. It’s ok to be scared or uncomfortable AND to still do what you’re afraid of.
These lessons can be applied not only to your life in general, but to eating disorder recovery specifically. ED preys on your fear and uses it against you. He says Don’t eat that, it will make you fat, and nobody likes fat people or You are disgusting. I can’t believe you ate all of that food. You have no self-control and are doomed to failure. Do you hear the fear? The fear of rejection, the fear of failure…ultimately the fear of disconnection from our fellow humans.
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