Whenever I’m feeling lost or in need of a little inspiration, I turn to the writings of the American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron. Today, I stumbled upon the following quote: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” That resonated so strongly with me because I vacillate between wanting to live in the security of my comfort zone and being enticed by the excitement of “being thrown out of the nest”.
I’m somewhat of a reductionist, so I believe that one thing, and one thing only, lies at the heart of all my problems or frictions in life, be they work related, relationship based, or even personal self worth—that underlying current of disorder is always fear. Whereas fear serves a vital role in the animal kingdom as an agent of self preservation, in human life, fear is often the undercurrent that manifests in inaction and painful personal stagnation.
The old adage “knowledge is power” rings so true because typically the more we know about something, or someone, the less afraid we are. My brain tends to fill in the unknown pieces with scary irrationalities that are always worse than the reality. Ironically, it’s fear that keeps me from acquiring knowledge about the “unknown”, and thereby a vicious fear cycle is created.
I was listening to an interesting podcast by the motivational speaker Brendon Burchard on strategies to overcome fear. Bouchard identifies 3 universal fears that govern our behaviour and ultimately lead to us living a smaller life.
The first fear is labeled “loss pain”, and it involves all the anxiety and irrationalities that come to us when we obsess over what we potentially could lose. In my life, I see this at work when it comes to issues around addiction. When I stopped drinking and drugging almost 17 years ago, I was only focusing on what I was giving up—what I was losing. Imagining a life where I could no longer numb my insecurities and anxieties with drugs and alcohol seemed impossible. To this day, I still wrestle with my addiction demons, and whenever I think about what I “can’t do”, instead of what I “can do”, I’m ripe for a relapse. This loss pain can also worm its way into our relationships as well. Often I’m reluctant to be forthcoming and honest with people close to me because I fear that if I honestly express how I’m feeling, I might lose the relationship. This is simply another instance where loss pain corrupts my thinking by making me focus on the potential downside rather than on all the potential growth that action entails.
The second fear identified by Burchard is called “process pain”. This is the point at which I get stuck quite often because all the fear associated with the learning curve when doing something new can be enough to make me second guess myself. It’s at this precipice, I need to remind myself that “what’s not growing, is dying.” The only way to overcome this second level of fear is to embrace the vibrancy of “uncertainty” and to thrive in the the buzz of challenging myself. As an ultra-marathoner, I need to tap into this synergy all the time because my brain is telling me that what I’m doing is unnatural, but when I learn to bypass that fear response, personal growth lies just on the horizon. My mantra is: “My abilities outweigh my doubts.”
The final level of fear described by Burchard is “outcome pain”. We’ve all been at this critical juncture where we wallow in self-doubt when we ask ourselves, “What if the payoff is not worth all the effort?” My mind is really adept at projecting all the potential negatives or risks of my actions, but when it comes to envisioning the potential gains, I typically fall short. This is the time I need a final push of determination. I remind myself that the status quo is no longer an option because it’s my dissatisfaction with the current state that prompted me to seek change in the first place. The entire impetus behind my Breathe Through This blog is my desire to smash through my status quo!
I’d like to leave you with the words of the French philosopher, Simone Weil: “We have to endure the discordance between imagination and fact. It is better to say, “I am suffering,” than to say, “This landscape is ugly.”