Scared? Who? Me?

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
— T.S. Eliot Poet

Have you ever really wanted to do something, try something new, make a change, follow your dream or begin anew but just not known where to start? Been too scared? Not felt ready?

Or started, been unhappy with the result or frustrated with your progress and stopped again?  Maybe you have had some success but you couldn't maintain momentum or it didn't feel right or give you the buzz that you were hoping for?

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This is what writing has been like for me.  I've done a bit of this and that.  I've written a few articles for websites, had a little piece published in a daily metro newspaper, even co-authored a book that was published in a couple of different countries and translated into Dutch!  I've called myself a writer and an author (and felt like a fraud) but I've never been able to make it work. I've procrastinated, avoided, decided it was not my destiny (excuses, excuses) and moved on to other things, pushing the dream back to the far reaches of my mind. To the place where we put the things we really want but are too scared to really try.

Peter Bregman, an acclaimed author and expert on 'leading and living' as he puts it, reckons that when we don't take chances, when we procrastinate and dilly dally over our dreams it's because we are afraid of feeling.  We don't want to feel disappointment or sadness or frustration or embarrassment or rejection.  We don't want to hurt.  

Now I don't know what research he has done in this area but intuitively it makes sense to me. Maybe I've never given it my all because I've been afraid it wouldn't be everything that I'd hoped for? That I would write and no-one would read it or worse, they'd read and get bored?  That I would feel disappointment, rejection, sadness and loss. 

At the same time I started reading about courage.  Not the 'save a child from a burning building' type courage, although there's no denying the courage it takes to do that! I was reading about everyday courage. The courage it takes to begin new things, like start a new job, get married, move cities, quit a job or follow your dreams.

Robert Biswas-Diener, a positive psychologist and author of The Courage Quotient has done a lot of research in this area and he says that everyday courage has two parts. The first is about managing the fear. The second is about having the willingness to act.

His tips for managing fear:

  • Get angry! Anger trumps fear every time.  Get angry with the status quo, with the fact that you're not doing what you want to be doing, that you've got this big vision of an exciting future in front of you and you need to do something about making it reality, dammit!
  • Relive success.  Think about the things you've done in the past that required courage - the jumps you've made - and the successes you've had, no matter how small.  Remind yourself of the new job you started or the big house move, or the time you struck up a conversation with a stranger in the hope of getting to know them better.  Think about how good that felt and draw on that feeling.
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How do increase my willingness to act?

  • Take baby steps.  Remember the quote, 'the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step'? What one very small thing can you do today that will start you on your journey?  Do it.  Then think about what you'll do tomorrow.  When tomorrow comes, do that.  Keep going.   
  • Engage in a little failure. The key word here is little.  So what if one of your baby steps doesn't work out as you'd hoped? You've got more to take tomorrow.  Embrace the mistakes, learn from them and keep going.  The stakes are low when you're taking baby steps and the rewards, even from the failures, can be great. 

Recently I decided it was time to try again. It had been seven years since I put fingers to keyboard, so to speak, and written something for publication. I took one baby step at a time and I worked fast, without giving myself time to second guess, to get anxious, feel fear, to edit and re-edit.  I wrote, read it and hit the send button.  It worked, and I felt happy.