Getting to know, and question, your fears – Part 1

Have you taken the time to get to know your fears? 

All of us have fears.  Some are evolutionary fears, like the fear of the dark and looming objects. We see horror movies making the most of these fears through selective lighting and “jump scares.” Some fears are more personal fears brought on by an experience, often early in life, that then stay with us submerged in our hearts and minds.  These fears can be fears inherited from our family history or shared experience.  Some of these fears seem to be logical fears (the fear of snakes for instance) and some seem less logical (the fear of butterflies). Regardless of how we gained them, these fears are a part of us and can be triggered without warning.  What follows then is usually a trip down a well prepared response path including physical, mental and emotional reactions

As we progress down the path of living mindfully it becomes important to question all of our unthinking reactions and our fears often fall into this category.  Often our fear exists in the background waiting for a trigger and in those cases it can spring upon us quite suddenly and with great intensity.  Before we know it we have reacted without thought and then our mood, our day and possibly the days of those around us have been affected. Yet often we don’t know why we react and simply accept our fears as an ever present part of our lives.

 

crow
Know your fears

Can your fears be a positive presence in your life? 

One of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves is to get to know our various fears and understand our “pre-programmed” reaction to them.  In this case we can view our fears as an opportunity to get to know ourselves better rather than something that is negative and to be avoided.  It can lead not only to self-exploration but also discussions with family to discover the long lost reasons for reacting a certain way or avoiding certain circumstances.  This then presents an opportunity to be free of ingrained behaviours or at least to be more understanding of ourselves when we do react in a certain way.   

To use myself as an example, one of my enduring fears is my fear of heights.  This fear develops in most children once they begin to move around more on their own.  In my case I believe that this was enhanced by a few early childhood events which has increased my reaction.  Over many years this reaction has become ingrained and I simply accepted it for a long time as a “normal” part of my life.  This fear can cause me discomfort if I find myself suddenly exposed to heights but it can also greatly increase my enjoyment of life by adding an adrenaline rush to my activity or by giving me a sense of accomplishment as I work through the fear to achieve my goals. 

While on holiday recently I was walking across a high multi-use bridge, in order to see the sights on the other side.  In the distance I could see a tram coming towards me and so I moved away from the tracks.  As I crossed away from the tram’s path I happened to look down and realised I could see through the bridge.  At the same time the bridge began to wobble and sway due to the motion of the oncoming tram.  My reaction to this combination of events was to become literally “weak at the knees” as my fear suddenly leapt into being.  I felt light headed, my legs grew tingly and weak, my heart rate accelerated and I found myself fighting against my fear and not enjoying myself as I had been only seconds before.

I was amazed at the strength of my reaction and so took a moment to explore what had happened.  I was faced with the logic that it was a strong, metal bridge, over which travelled the city trams on a regular basis. In another more reactive part of my brain I was trying to deal with the sure knowledge that the bridge was going to collapse and I needed to turn and run as fast as I could.  Needless to say I was very happy to get to the other side of the bridge and on the return journey we walked across a lower level and my fear did not resurface. 

 

bridge and shoes
Know your fear – mine is heights

What opportunities does your fear give you?

Having crossed back with no issues I reasoned that I had an excellent opportunity to better understand my fear and so hopefully reduce my reaction to it.  This was not just for personal learning and development, but also driven by the fact that I would be climbing the highest peak in Iberia in a week and I really need to prepare myself if I was to be able to complete, and more importantly enjoy, that climb.  Exposure to heights is a process I go through before every climb and normally over a period of months I can become comfortable enough with heights to get onto a mountain, after which my love of climbing comes to the fore and I am fine.  In this case I had only days to overcome my newly awakened fear so that I could undertake the climb – and so the challenge was set. 

The first step to achieving this goal was in answering the following questions.  We can all ask ourselves these questions as we begin to explore our fears and continue down our path of self-knowledge and acceptance:

Do you really know what your fears are?

Do you know why you have them?

Are you prepared to get to know them better?

How could you explore them in a way which still leaves you feeling safe?

What benefits would you receive through knowing your fears?

In part two of this blog next week I’ll take you through the process I undertook to answer these questions and you’ll find out whether or not I was able to come to terms with my fear and reach the summit!  

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

Peter McFadyen

Be your best self by asking these 3 questions

I’m a big proponent of growth and being my best self – in fact growth is my highest ranked value every time I do a values determination exercise (if you haven’t done this for yourself there are plenty of free and simple exercises you can do – here’s one to start).   

But being our BEST selves – that’s a big task, and how to be this, is a big question.  Three questions actually.

How to be our best selves?

 

Isn’t that what we’re all striving for? To be our best selves. To be the best you, you can be. The best me I can be.

I know that’s my quest.  

I’m past the days when I wanted to be someone else, or be like someone else. That was never going to turn out well – because as we all know, there are 7 billion people in the world and we are all individuals. We’re one offs – one of a kinds. Specially made unique gifts – to ourselves.  

I’ve been working on being the best version of myself for years now – I mean really, consciously working on it. I’ve developed and utilised a number of strategies and activities over the years – some have been successful and now form part of my daily routines, while others, well, lets just say they weren’t for me. Each has helped me to create a path towards being my best self.

It’s not a linear process and sometimes it looks more like a heartrate monitor output, but I trust that over time, I’m incrementally learning, growing and accepting, and heading towards my best self. Better than the day before. Better in some way – be that in what I feed by body, feed my mind or feed by spirit, or how kind I can be. How much I practice humility – taking no more than my space and no less than my place. How trusting I am. How committed to my goals I am. And the list goes on.

 

The great thing about striving to be YOUR best self, is that you get to set the rules, you get to decide what your best self looks like, feels like, thinks like. You’re in charge. There’s a freedom in that, and there is also a responsibility in that.

 

You get the set the rules

I love structure and systems so even though I’m in charge of me, and my efforts to be my best self, sometimes I create such complex structures around my own personal growth that I spend my time ticking boxes and analysing my every move.   I develop systems for myself, record these and follow them. I list what I want to become new habits in my life and check these off a list every day. I set goals at the beginning of each year, I break these down into actions and I try to hold myself to them.

With all of these rules and regulations and processes I put on myself in relation to my own personal growth, I find myself sometimes throwing my hands in the air and eating the entire family sized pizza by myself. It all gets too hard and when I notice I’m falling short in some areas (and I notice because of all the crosses instead of ticks), I feel like it’s all too hard. Like I might as well give up on this quest to be my best self.

 

My ok self is doing just fine – she can stick around a while longer.

So lately I’ve been getting to a point where I crave more creative freedom – less hard work around being my best self. Less systems and lists and ticking off.

But I do still want to strive to be my best self….so I’ve found a way to simplify this quest.

Just three questions.

 

Best Self questions

Three questions I am getting used to asking myself – about all my choices. Helping with my personal growth.

Simple. Effective.

Question 1 – How do I feel about myself now?

Question 2 – How will I feel about myself if I do this?

Question 3 – How will I feel about myself if I don’t do this?

I saw these in a book by Barry Mangione called No Easy Answers, which was focused on his recovery from addiction.

Immediately I knew they would help me.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

My choice – what to have for dinner – to eat the family size pizza or not?

Question 1 – How do I feel about myself now?

Well I feel ok. I’ve eaten well all day. I have a healthy dinner alternative I can have. But I feel like cheesy, hot, convenient pizza. I feel perplexed about what to do. I’m leaning towards the pizza.

Question 2 – How will I feel about myself if I do this?

I’ll feel like crap! I’ll be disappointed in myself for not nourishing my body well (which is one of my priorities). I will feel like a loser.  

But the pizza – it would taste so good. No doubt about that.

But how will I feel after the pizza?

Ok – I know I’ll feel bad about that choice. So bad that I am likely to skip the gym tomorrow because that’s how I do things – all or nothing.

Question 3 – How will I feel about myself if I don’t do this?

I’ll feel strong and empowered – knowing I have made a choice that nourishes me and serves my goal of becoming my best self.

I will feel in control of my choices around food – and I’ll go to the gym tomorrow to keep up the good work.

Ok that’s a fairly simple example but it’s one of the situations I used these three questions in early on.

Let’s try another one.

I’m on the boat, we’re about to go swimming in the deep, open water, with whales.

I am terrified of sharks and deep, dark water. I love adventure.

 

Asking these three questions – getting closer to my best self

Question 1 – How do I feel about myself now?

Well right now I feel safe – I’m on the boat and there’s no pressure for me to get in the water – even though that’s what I paid for and why I’m here. I feel very Libran – undecided about what to do. My fear is wrestling with my awe and curiosity. The water is cold. I feel unsure.  

Question 2 – How will I feel about myself if I do this?

I’d feel on top of the world of course. I would feel unstoppable – that I have faced my fear and put my brave on and because of that, experienced magical moments in the sea with these beautiful creatures. I would feel alive!

Question 3 – How will I feel about myself if I don’t do this?

I know without a doubt that once back on dry land, I’ll regret not taking the plunge and getting in the water. I won’t feel like I’m living my best life and being my best self.

No processes to complete, no ticks to put in a box, just three questions I gently ask myself.

So imagine you can apply these three questions yourself to some of your choices. Because you can.

  • Do you go to the gym tomorrow?
  • Do you start that business?
  • Do you leave your job?
  • Do you move to that city?
  • Should you climb that mountain?
  • Should you write that book?
Get in to the habit of asking yourself – checking in with yourself. Are you on the right track?

I hope you can find some usefulness in these three questions and that by asking them of yourself you too can simply and quickly make decisions that keep you on, or put you on, the path to your best self.

As an aside, they are great questions to ask your children when they’re struggling with a choice. Walk them through it, help them to articulate their answers and see where they go with it.

 

How will you feel about yourself if you do this?

How will you feel about yourself if you don’t?

 

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

 

How’s your Humility? Are you taking up the right amount of space?

It was over a year ago that I listened to the podcast and started thinking about humility.  

Greg Marcus (PhD) was being interviewed on one of my favourites, the One You Feed.  Marcus had recently released his newest book called “The Spiritual Practice of Good Actions” and I listened intently as he took the listener through the motivation for the book and the key tenets of the practice he outlines.

I was interested enough to go online after the podcast and buy the book – even though we all know I had too many books already.

I only recently started to read the book (yes it’s been lined up behind several others for over a year – but I’ve gotten to it now and I think I’ll enjoy it).

What this all about?

Well it’s about finding balance through the Soul Traits of Mussar.  Mussar is a thousand years old Jewish practice of spiritual growth based on mindful living.

Who knew?  I’m not Jewish and I hadn’t heard of it up until this point.

The book presents 13 ‘Soul Traits’ ranging from the first one, Humility, to Honour, Trust and Gratitude to name a few, and provides guidance to help you explore each of the soul traits to better understand yourself. One at a time with small, incremental changes.

Ok…I’m up for this.  Where do I start?

Well I start, according to the book, with undertaking a quick self assessment of where I am with each Soul Trait.  This was an opportunity for me to ‘meet my soul’ through a Soul Trait Evaluation.  I basically rank myself from 1-10 on how much of each trait I think I exhibit.  1 being the least, 10 being the most.  My first cut looked like this:

My first self-assessment

The author assures me that my first attempt at this won’t be accurate – because ultimately we are all biased when we look at ourselves.  For example, for the soul trait of Fear I ranked myself at 9.  If I ask those closest to me where they would rank me, it will likely be a lower score (less fear than I think I have).  It might be the reverse for other traits.  I am assured however that this first cut isn’t about getting it ‘right’ and that after each week of practicing a particular soul trait, I get the chance to go back and re-rank that trait.

Phew. 10’s here I come!

So what’s the ideal evaluation look like you might ask? 

The right answer is balance.  According to Mussar, the optimum score on each trait is 5.5 – claiming that Divinity is here – right on the 5.5 mark (the dotted line on my self assessment picture).

The point Marcus is making is that having too much of any soul trait is just as bad as having too little.

Goodbye 10’s.

Now at first I was challenged by this – like for example, how can you have too much gratitude, or too little humility or too much patience or loving-kindness? However as I read on and gave more thought to this, it became more clear why 5.5 might be the magic number.

For example, with this trait of Humility, I’m into week 1 and the mantra for this trait is:

“Not more than my space, no less than my place”

In addition, the author defines Humility as ‘knowing your proper place in the world and acting accordingly’.

So the goal is not to be as humble as possible – even though we might admire people who we consider to be humble.  The goal is to not be too self-important, and at the same time, not to sell ourselves short.

When I give myself permission to really think about this statement, I wonder how I’m going with humility.  What is my space?

Occupy a rightful space, neither too much or too little.

So what’s my rightful space and is it different in different circumstances.  Probably.  Yes definitely.

I don’t want to be arrogant and I also don’t want to be self-effacing.

I want that 5.5 in the middle.

How do I know if I’m there – and if I’m not, how do I get there?

Through actions say Marcus.

The book guides me to look at Humility as a continuum.  Arrogance at the 10 end and self-debasing at the 1 end.  When I observe myself on this continuum over the coming two weeks, where do I see myself in different situations?

Marcus also gives us some choice points to consider like:

 – Where do we sit or stand, in the front or back?

 – Do we feel inferior or superior to the people around us?

 – How often do we make it about us, through our thoughts, feelings and/or actions?

 – Do we wish we’d said something instead of staying silent?

So Mussar is a practice and I much prefer something I can practice, and actually partake in, than something that is entirely theoretical.  So I’ve committed to 26 weeks – 2 weeks for each soul trait – as recommended in the book.  The practice involves meditation, mindful action and journaling on a daily basis.

So there it is!  My challenge for the next 26 weeks is to learn more about myself, and hopefully get myself closer to Divinity (according to Mussar and Marcus) by getting closer to 5.5’s on the 13 soul traits.

I’ll settle for a greater understanding of myself and if the Divinity comes, all the better!

Marcus asserts that small gradual changes in our everyday life can make lasting changes to our inner world.  What have I got to lose?

Have you thought about where you are on the Humility spectrum – between arrogance and self-debasement?  Are you taking up your space, not more and no less?

You can access the podcast I refer to here, and the author’s website here .

You can take the Soul Traits self-assessment quiz for yourself here.

I’ll check in over the coming 26 weeks and keep you posted on how I’m finding it, but for these next two weeks, I’ll be focused on Humility and trying to work out what my space is, and what my place is, and if I’m taking it up.  If you do take up this Mussar challenge – let me know, I’d love to know how you find it. 

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.

PS.  In case you were wondering, I have no affiliation with this book, the author or the podcast mentioned, aside from being a reader and listener of such – I have simply found it interesting and useful and wanted to share.

 

 

It’s all in your head! Behind closed doors – my secret journey to myself

Sometimes I want to crawl into his soul and stay there.  Surrounded by strong, comforting energy that accepts me as I am, stands with me.  Allows and respects the feminine in me.  Yes, sometimes I want to crawl into him because I know it’s safe in there.  He’s teaching me it is safe in me too.  That I am my safe place.

I remember the first time.  I was looking over my shoulder as I entered the building.  All day I’d had to work hard not to be sick.  I was nervous to say the least.  I sat down and waited.  My eyes toward the floor – in case anyone I knew was nearby.  Oh hell, in case anyone at all saw me.  My heart was racing.  This was my first time and I was frightened.  Already with my commitment to be here today, it was one of the bravest things I’d ever done.  I’d climbed the highest freestanding mountain in the world, I’d trekked to Everest Base Camp and I’d completed the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea not once, but five times.  I spent my life challenging myself.  But nothing scared me like this did.

I was about to take responsibility for my life.  I was about to own my own shit.

Yep, this was my first appointment with a psychologist.

My referral, and appointment, were ostensibly to help me deal with some residual trauma from my survival of the 2015 Nepal earthquake but I knew deep inside that it was more than that.

I knew from the moment he introduced himself and I took my seat, that now, there was no turning back.  No more ignoring.  No more keeping so busy I didn’t have time for myself.  Here I was, embarking on the most frightening journey of my life – and unlike other adventures, I had no itinerary, no insurance and no back up plan.  To top it all off, I felt like it was just the beginning.

And it was just the beginning – following that very first session, I not only survived, but I started to look forward to our sessions.  In a weird, fearful way.

Shannon Adler said that “Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.” I tend to agree.  I was questioned and challenged to look differently at things – my old belief patterns; relationships; life.  It wasn’t a walk in the park, quite the opposite, but each session helped me see more clearly.

My view prior to my own experience, was that you only saw a psychologist if you couldn’t deal with your own life, if you didn’t have your shit together.  Imagine admitting that you didn’t have your shit together – imagine!

So to set the record straight I want to tell you something.  Despite my initial misgivings I am a convert.  None of us has our shit together all the time, and all of us could do with someone to help us in this regard.  You can do all the brave and courageous things that you are drawn to in your life, you can achieve great things, and in doing so, be empowered and feel brave and alive.  But I have to say, therapy also makes you feel brave and alive and for me it took as much courage to get there as some of my most challenging adventures.

The truth of the matter is, seeking help when you need it is likely to be not only one of the most courageous moves you can make, but it will be one of the most beneficial.

For years now I’ve taken care of my physical health but now I also take care of my mental health.  Most of us, including me, have a support team or a tribe – your partner, family, friends, health professionals, personal trainers, life coaches, mentors and the like.  Well I can now add my psychologist to my support team.  He plays a role in my wellbeing just like the rest of my team.

I recognise I have a role to play in my own growth and my own mental well-being, but I wouldn’t have been able to go there alone.  If you’re heading off on a long and difficult but rewarding journey, you don’t want to go alone do you?  You’d take along a support person, someone to guide you when you need it, challenge you when you back away from what’s in front of you, someone to witness your experiences.

A therapist is this support person and if you haven’t already, and you’ve been thinking about it, I invite you to enter into this journey.  It will be long, and exhausting at times, it might be difficult and confronting, and you’ll question yourself, your views and beliefs.  But you will learn and grow and face things you never thought possible.  If your experience is anything like mine, you will be encouraged and supported to dig up those feelings that you’ve buried so deep so they couldn’t hurt you.  I know that’s a scary thought – but the great thing is that when you dig them up, air them out, and look closely at them, they lose their power.

Author Augusten Burroughs says that you should “Think of your head as an unsafe neighbourhood:  don’t go there alone”.  That’s really good advice! You don’t need to go it alone.

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi