Moving Towards What Scares Us

So, I’ve been away from the blog awhile. I know, I know… abandoning a blog for weeks at a time isn’t the greatest technique for building up said blog. Confession time: while I’m super organized at work, I’m a bit flaky and bad at keeping up habits in my personal time (you should see my porch plants, yikes).

Some of my absence can be explained by simply being busy. I’ve been building up my business. I’ve done a little traveling, which always seems to take a lot out of me. I have also caught EVERY single cold that I’ve been exposed to, I kid you not. Life has felt as chaotic as my apartment typically looks. But can I really blame the summer, work, or my immune system? No. The truth is, I’ve been really scared. In many ways, I’m living my best life: I’m in a wonderful relationship, I’m living in an area I love, I have good friends and a community, and I’m pursuing my dreams. Guess what? That all scares the crap out of me.

In my last post I wrote about the liberation that comes from knowing what we truly desire. What I didn’t really delve into was the terror of that knowing, and all the ways we find to run in the opposite direction of our heart’s longing. It is only natural to recoil from the cliff’s edge; Love dares us to rush towards Her, in spite of all sensibility. 

Photo by Stephen Mayes on Unsplash

Fear is a perfectly reasonable response. As much as we might say we want our heart to lead, we have a deep, primal need for a feeling of safety. I have a lot of anxiety around success and security. I’m afraid of getting too comfortable, or feeling too safe. Somehow I got it in my head that the way to keep myself safe was to never let my guard down, to never rest easy. This manifests itself in excessive planning before I try something new, endless worrying or catastrophizing, perfectionism, and procrastination. A recent article in Psychology Today discussed the ways anxiety and procrastination interrelate. I’ve been aware of the connection for a good while now, but it’s often something I’ll miss when I’m in the midst of it. I’ll have my whole list of Very Good Reasons™ to NOT do the things I want to do or know I should do, such as:

  • It’s hard
  • I’m tired
  • It’ll take too long
  • I can’t
  • Netflix

(That last one never sounds credible even to me, but somehow I still allow myself to fall for it.)

Fortunately, over the years I’ve learned my patterns and can (sometimes) correct course before getting too far gone. I’ve learned a few strategies to help me move through it:

Just start. Motivation is a slippery, fickle thing. Action, on the other hand, is clear, concrete, and simple. Doing just one small thing at a time – what author and spiritual mentor Emily P. Freeman calls the Next Right Thing – does wonders for motivation and, you know, actually getting shit done. Sometimes the next thing is jumping right into the task you’ve been dreading, whether it’s asking your boss for a raise or just getting the laundry put away. Now and then, the next thing you really have to do is simply stop and rest. Sleep can be a real accomplishment if you’ve allowed yourself to devalue it (and there’s no debate that it’s good for you).

My mother always tells me that the biggest failure is when we never even try. Whatever your goal is, just go ahead and start. Not on New Years Day, not next week, not Monday – today, now.

Good Enough > Perfect. Perfection is for losers. Seriously! You’ve probably heard the saying, “perfection is the enemy of good”. Past a certain point, the more you try to “iterate” or “optimize” (can you tell I live in the Silicon Valley?), the less return you’ll see from your efforts. One of the best things that ever happened to me as a writer was being required to write and publish announcements every week for an employer’s website. If I spent too long re-writing or overthinking it, I’d risk missing the deadline. To be clear, I wasn’t trying to reproduce the works of Shakespeare or anything like that… I was just desperately worried that my writing skills were lacking (hello, Imposter Syndrome!). I had to take a leap of faith by recognizing that if this task was put in front of me, it meant I was capable of doing it. And I was.

Consistency is a superpower. Think about it. Slow-moving glaciers sculpt mountains; rivers carve out vast canyons. Small habits, practiced consistently, can change a person’s whole life. I tend to want to go BIG when I do anything. Sometimes diving right in with maximum effort is wonderful, and I accomplish what I set out to do… but more often then I like to admit, my showy effort fizzles out. It’s harder to find motivation when I think my efforts aren’t “enough”. When I’m tempted to fall into all-or-nothing thinking, I remind myself of some of those past fizzles. I remember that if I did 10 pushups a day for 3 weeks, I’d be better off than trying to do 100 pushups a day and giving up after 50 (I won’t lie… I actually gave up somewhere around pushup #12).

The most important thing I’ve learned about this fear? The cure is moving towards it. Good luck and godspeed, fellow anxious dreamers.