Using Fear to Win Your Bout

At this point I’m pretty certain that fear is my sworn enemy.  Not a great way for an emotional resilience coach to think, I’ll grant you, but at this moment, it couldn’t ring truer.  Every time I go to design the updates for my website, well… I’m freezing up mentally.  I can barely sit in front of the computer.  I reason and reassure myself that fear can be a good thing.  I know this to be true.  Fear can be a driving force to actually get difficult tasks done.  But I also realize that I’m human, and fear doesn’t ‘feel’ particularly awesome, so I’m doing my best to not listen to a word it has to say. 

Like a cold that comes on, I’ve gone through the regular stages of denial–ducking it and just trying to ‘forge onward’.  I’ve reasoned with it (as much as anyone can talk to their fear).  Avoidance is pretty standard (I feel fine!  I’m sure I’m just tired).  The one thing that I actually could do, the thing that might get me out of the frozen state and back to productivity, is the one thing I’ve been avoiding as if my life depended on it, which is of course… 

Actually listen to it.

Why all the avoidance?  I’m ashamed. 

You see, there are so many stories that my inner critic (that inner voice that fills me with fear and self-doubt) can come up with injecting even more fear and self-doubt directly into my veins with big old neon bumper stickers (never good) like: “It’s never going to work.  You know that, right?!”, or “The project is way too big and what do you know really?!”  Or, my all time favorite, “Who are you to think you can do something like this!”

Yet, I find that when I leave my fear unacknowledged it eats my energy, destroys my hopes and dreams, and burns right through my ability to use my imagination and be creative.  So why not just admit I’m feeling fear, right?  In comes shame.  Shame is the VERY emotion that leaves everyone alone with their fear.  Shame keeps us from getting support from ourselves or others by telling us “You better not tell anyone you’re scared.  Stay silent and look self-assured.  I’m positive you’re the only one who feels fear like this, so better not to embarrass yourself and admit it to anyone…”

I remember this shame of my fear being at an all time high when I would step into the boxing ring with my good friend and mentor Aaron years ago, when we both coached boxing.  Aaron would watch me bull forward, straight at him, my arms throwing punches with my head down. For someone who didn’t know boxing I looked aggressive.  Like a strong fighter, a good fighter.  But Aaron knew better.  He could sense the lack of thinking as fear took over, the falter in my combinations, and know that I’d become predictable, more scared of how I looked than how I performed.  He would often quote a great boxing trainer named Cus D’Amato, a man who really got to know his fighters and developed real relationships and trust with them.  One of D’Amato’s best quotes about fear came when he began his relationship as a trainer for Mike Tyson:

“Every fighter that ever lived had fear. A boy comes to me and tells me that he’s not afraid, if I believed him I’d have to say there’s something wrong with him. I’d send him to a doctor to find out what the hell’s the matter with him, because this is not a normal reaction. The fighter that’s gone into the ring and hasn’t experienced fear is either a liar or a psychopath…  A fighter has to know fear.”

D’Amato believed that fear could do one of two things: it could cook your food, or burn your house down.  The shame keeping us from making the most of our fear comes from our belief that any emotion isn’t natural or useful.  Once we know this intimately and can see our fear for what it is, which is just an emotion that has kept us alive and thriving for thousands of years, we can befriend it, use it, and harness its power to motivate our actions and focus our thinking.  

I’ve decided to get back into the ‘bout’ (challenge) of updating my website.  I’ve laid down my shame and admitted what was going on for me, this has freed me up to move forward.  I know intimately that creating anything new takes courage, and that fear and courage go hand in hand.  And, if fear must be present, then I choose to use it to fuel my efforts, to focus my mind on the task at hand, to steel my resolve…to cook my food. 🙂

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