Fear: A Personal Confession

Healthy Arabic Cooking Class Geneva

“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.” – Steven Pressfield

I had been wanting to give a cooking class for almost a year now.

But something kept holding me back.

You’re not a chef.

This wasn’t something someone said to me. This was something my own mind kept reminding me of.

It also told me that nobody would come. That I suck at organization and logistics. That I would probably forget some vital ingredient. And it even came up with lovely, and really inventive images of me forgetting to put on the blender top…before turning on the blender.

Ah, minds. Such creative, imaginative – and sometimes unhelpful instruments.

I used to waste a lot of time trying to change fearful thoughts and images.

And then I discovered ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and it changed everything.

ACT helped me realize that our minds evolved to constantly broadcast negative thoughts.

One of the reasons is because when we lived in a world rife with physical danger like wild animals prowling around, we needed to be constantly on alert, to notice any danger in our environment to avoid being eaten.

Minds also evolved to compare and judge us as a way of protecting us from being rejected by the group. Humans can’t really survive alone in the wild in the same way children can’t survive without their parents. So we have a strong aversion to being rejected because for our minds…

Being rejected = I might die

Russ Harris, one of the thinkers behind ACT calls the mind a ‘Don’t Get Killed Machine’ and that is basically the starring role of our minds. To keep us safe. To keep us cozily ensconced in our comfort zone so we don’t have to face the possibility of rejection.

Realizing this changed everything for me.

It made me realize…

That there’s no point in waiting for my thoughts to turn positive and supportive or to feel fully ready before taking action. This very rarely happens.

That it is normal and completely on equity for my mind to come up with thoughts like Nobody will come and if they do, they’ll want their money back. It is simply what minds evolved to do. Instead of reacting to these thoughts by not holding the cooking class, I could simply realize that my mind was doing its thing, and trying to keep me safe…and still take action towards organizing the cooking class anyway.

Because as soon as there is change in the horizon, there is always fear.

But that fear doesn’t need to push you around. In the end, it doesn’t matter if thoughts are true or not. They are only thoughts and they don’t need to dictate action if you don’t want them to. How often have you thought I want to go to that yoga class without going? Or had uncharitable thoughts about someone without acting on them?

We tend to take our thoughts so seriously but they do not necessarily dictate action.

My mind telling me You suck at logistics and will never be able to plan a cooking class for 15 people has a grain of truth. I am not a natural organizer and it is not something I enjoy. But just because it is true didn’t mean I had to allow it to stop me from moving towards something important to me.

Which brings me to the most important part:

Focusing on what it important is a much better strategy for moving forward in life than buying into fearful thoughts and images.

Negative thoughts and fears will always be there. The question is, can I have these thoughts and feelings AND STILL move towards what is important to me? In this case, what was important to me was sharing my passion for simple, healthy food that I love creating. ACT talks about being ‘willing’ to have these uncomfortable thoughts and fears in service of what’s important for you. After all, fear wouldn’t show up if I was in my comfort zone rather than trying to do something that mattered to me.

We tend to believe that people who are ‘out there’ and doing things are different to us. That they don’t have fear. Yet if there is one certitude in life, it is that where there is change, there is fear. The question is, will you allow this to keep you in your comfort zone or will you Feel the fear and do it anyway in the words of Susan Jeffers?

I would love to hear from you – what helps you deal with fear? Are there any quotes you find inspiring?

Pushing past fear

IMG_0110This weekend, I went skiing again after 17 years. I was terrified. After all, there was a reason I hadn’t been on skis in so long, mostly stories of childhood trauma I had told myself.

Every year, I would say that I wanted to try getting back on skis, yet every year I found a good reason not to.

This year, I ran out of excuses and decided it was time to push past my fear.

Did I love it, discover a new found passion, decide to start skiing every winter weekend? Not really. The first descent was awful. The second was a little better and by the third descent I could almost understand what people enjoyed about this activity.

Here are some of the things I found most helpful:

♦ Start very small. For me it was the green slope, then the blue slope – I didn’t set myself up for failure by starting on the most challenging slope, nor did I do more descents than I felt comfortable with.

♦ Focus on how you want to feel after you’ve conquered your fear rather than the fear itself. The word I focused on in this instance was VICTORIOUS.

♦ Visualize yourself overcoming your fear. Before each descent, my husband led me through a mini-visualization which involved me effortlessly gliding down the slopes. While reality didn’t live up to this image,  visualization is very powerful because we naturally gravitate towards where we are looking.

♦ Be open to learning from your fears. As Rainer Maria Rilke so beautifully puts it, “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”