Let’s look at a range of approaches to satisfy (at least partially) the adventure instinct of the ‘lemmings’ and to temper the safety-seeking instinct of the ‘impalas’ – so they can find the confidence to leap! Especially if you’re an ‘impala’ type, you need to get some of the lemming’s adventurousness into your life so that you don’t hold yourself back from challenges which only appear to be risky, or which may be worth the risk to win the prize.
We’ve already looked at some of these aspects in the context of motivation – because a lack of ‘energiser’ strategies is often what allows people to put off starting something new, and what allows them to give up when the going gets tough. We’ll just draw together some of these thoughts here.
Getting on top of your fears
Fear is a reaction to perceived threat – whether or not the threat is real (or even realistic)! Uncertainty, risk and challenge are often neutral – or even positive. They can, in themselves, be highly energising: pulling you out of your comfort zone, drawing out resources you may not have known you had – and allowing you to experience your own power, the feel-good factor of having coped successfully with testing circumstances. Fear can rob us of all these benefits.
Cognitive behavioral psychology suggests that we don’t act in response to events or circumstances or challenges. We act in response to how we think about those events, circumstances or challenges. The important thing is not what is likely to happen to us – but what we tell ourselves about what is likely to happen to us. And the fact is, our thinking is often deeply skewed... We tend to ‘awfulise’ things. We tell ourselves things like: ‘I couldn’t bear it if they rejected me’, or ‘I’ll make a complete fool of myself and no-one will ever give me another chance!’, or, simply, ‘It’ll be awful’. The language gives us a clue to the fact that our fears are unrealistic or exaggerated.
I like the acronym for FEAR: ‘False Evidence Appearing Real.’ But when we give weight and credence to our fears, it’s also true that: Fearful Expectations Alter Reality! Once you know this, you can start to get a handle on it. Frankly, there are times when we just have to talk sternly to our fears! What am I afraid of? What is the worst that can happen? Is this worst-case scenario really likely? What evidence have I got to support my fears? Am I responding out of legitimate self-protection, and protection of others – or just reacting out of irrational and limiting fear? If I choose to act on my fears (legitimate or otherwise), what potentially positive outcomes will I be letting go or missing out on?
We need to take our realistic fears seriously and pay them respect: they are messages from our intuition, telling us to avoid dangerous paths. But our unrealistic fears? We need to laugh at them if at all possible. (I understand that some may be very deep rooted, and we may need help to overcome them, but most fears aren’t like that.) Fears, left unexamined, can grow way out of proportion. But if, just for a moment, you can see their ridiculous side, you can cut them down to their real size – which is nearly always manageable…
• Argue strongly against your ‘awfulising’ statements. What’s so dreadful about that? What’s the worst that will really happen? Do you really think ‘everybody’ will notice you? Do you really mean that this ‘always’ happens to you? When you say you ‘couldn’t bear it’, what do you mean?
• Use the technique we used earlier, of ‘swapping sides’ of the argument. Get someone else to act your part, mimicking your ‘awfulising’ statements and negativity. You take the part of the positive coach/encourager: in effect, spotting and arguing against your own negativity and doubts.
• Control your breathing. Breath control is mind control. If you feel the anxiety building, take 10 deep breaths through your nose: in for 10 seconds, and out for 10 seconds. (This is particularly powerful if you also close your eyes and see the numbers 1-10 going in through your nose, right down into your stomach! Nothing spooky going on here: just distracting the scared part of your brain – and giving you some relaxing oxygen…)
What would you do, today, if you knew you couldn’t fail? What would you do, today, if you knew you could turn back the clock and erase any consequences you didn’t like? What is your greatest fear, in relation to your success journey? How realistic is it? (How likely is it to happen? How bad would it really be?) What is it preventing you from doing/gaining? Is this fear worth listening to – or worth beating? What help might you need (if any) in beating this fear?
Learning to like your dislike
There’s an old Sufi saying: ‘Learn to like your dislikes’. One of the applications of this, for me, is to make a game out of the things I dislike and fear; the things I find boring; the things I find daunting (like the thought of rejection or embarrassment). Instead of avoiding those things, I detach from the potential ‘awfulness’ of the experience (which otherwise gets built up in my head) and I go out and just do them, as a simple exercise or challenge. (‘Just do it’ is really good advice, not just good branding.)
The experience is very rarely as ‘awful’ as I had anticipated – and even if it did feel ‘awful’ to me, the sky very rarely fell in: people didn’t hate me or laugh at me (or even notice me, however conspicuous I felt); I lived to try another day, or to try something else. Often, I find that just this revelation – that life goes on – is enough to make the experience less daunting and dislikable next time. It becomes easier to do. I learn new skills and approaches. I begin to have a better success rate. I begin to like my dislikes. (This isn’t just Sufi wisdom. It is a cornerstone of cognitive behavioural therapy techniques – which are amazingly successful at overcoming phobias, anxieties and other unhelpful thought patterns. ‘Just do it’ – and you start to think differently about it...)
I remember when, as a kid starting out in real estate, my job was to go and knock on doors for listings. Other salespeople in the office didn’t like to knock on doors, because they didn’t like getting rejected: they’d often leave it until after lunch – or just wait until I came in and steal my listings! My first mentor told me to learn to like my dislikes – and to do two things every day that I didn’t like doing. I decided that I’d knock on doors first thing in the morning and get it out of the way. After three months, it wasn’t a problem.
I once did a regular coaching session with a group of around 20 people who had done my advanced seminar. They wanted to grow. So every two months, I would set them a task. One day, I asked them to meet at a particular hotel in Toorak (an up-market area of Melbourne) ‘for dinner’. They arrived at 6pm and sat around for a while. There was no food. I gave them each a big brown paper bag and told them to put their wallets, keys, cash, jewellery and any valuables in the bag: I labelled and sealed the bags and put them away. I then handed round a hat, from which they picked pieces of paper – with the name of a restaurant on it. I told them that their task was to dine in the restaurant they had picked out, that evening.
I would be paying for only three meals. They thought about it – and a look of blank, absolute panic came over their faces. What???? Get going, I said, or you won’t be eating tonight... Out of the 20 who left the room in a horrified daze, 13 managed to talk their way into a restaurant and get a meal without paying. I paid for three. Only four went home hungry – having failed to attempt the challenge. Some got rejected at the restaurant they had picked, but rallied and had success at another. One guy went to six restaurants until he found someone who would accommodate him. Some of the 13 promised the restaurateurs that they would come back to pay, and were convincing enough. Others said up front that this was a task they had been set, and were helped out. Still others just asked for a free meal – and the restaurants were gracious.
How would you go? Would this freak you out? Could you detach sufficiently to ‘just do it’, to treat it as a game and a challenge – and to get a huge kick out of a successful result?
If you set yourself the goal of doing just one thing, each week, which you were previously afraid, reluctant or ‘unable’ to do – I guarantee you, you will not recognise yourself in six months’ time. You won’t just have done the things you thought you couldn’t or wouldn’t do (with all the opportunities and spin-off benefits they may bring you): you will have developed confidence and capability in other areas that you might never have dreamed of… Remember my favourite quote from Goethe: ‘Boldness has power and magic in it’? It’s true. Get it working in your favour.
The discipline of shutting doors
There’s a saying that ‘when one door closes, another opens.’ That’s an important idea to hold on to, as we detach from the destination and allow ourselves to follow the path. When a door (opportunity, relationship) shuts in front of us, perhaps cutting us off from the way we wanted to go, the temptation will be to get stuck in frustration. But we can let go of the frustration, and use our energies more constructively – and perhaps even broaden our vision of what’s possible – if we look for the door that is now opening in some other direction... It’s equally important to shut doors that lead to unhelpful paths – and to leave them shut and move on in some other direction. Let go of the wishes and ‘might have beens’ that you know would not have worked for you. Let go of the relationships that were hurting and holding you back. Let go of all the ‘other options’ that scatter your energies and haunt you with ‘what if?’s and ‘if only’s. There’s another door opening.
Over the years, there are many people who have worked closely with me and become close friends. Two of those, key executives, I had to terminate, as they had, in my view, become a significant blockage in the flexibility and dynamism of my company. I made the decision to shut that door – and new opportunities arose for me immediately. The executives took a little longer to let go of their disappointment and bitterness at my decision – but when they acknowledged that that door had shut, they found new ones to open. Both of them have gone on to do great things – probably achieving more personal success then they could have done working for me.
The places we live, the people we associate with, the jobs that we do: these are all important to us. But the time may come when we recognise that they are holding us back from pursuing our goals, or that they do not match our core values. This is an uncomfortable feeling, but we can live with it for years, fearing that if we close the door on those things, we will be left with nothing. The only way to resolve the discomfort and move forward is to close the door. Acknowledge – mourn, if you need to – that it is shut. And then turn and look for the door opening elsewhere... Maybe it’s time to shut some doors in your life?
Watch your language. Once again, don’t let yourself, or anyone else, label as ‘failure’ what is really progress. Choose to pat yourself on the back for having notched up another piece of useful learning.
Use disappointing results as feedback. Do it systematically. Each time you make a mistake, or don’t get the result you want, sit down and think or write about it.
• What did you do?
• What were the results (or effects on other people)?
• What information did you not take into account?
• What could you have done differently?
• What will you plan to do differently next time?
• What extra help, information or resources will you need to put this plan into action?
• What’s the next step, to move you forward?
David Kolb formulated a useful tool called the ‘experiential learning cycle’. He suggested that, instead of thinking of learning as something we get ‘taught’, we need to be able to turn any experience into a learning opportunity. Basically, the learning cycle works like this:
By a process of continuous small adjustments – trial and error – we learn what behaviours and strategies are most effective in a range of situations. If something doesn’t work for us, we only have to change something – anything – next time, in order to learn and improve. I find this extraordinarily reassuring!
It means I don’t have to do anything major or anything special to keep growing and getting closer to success: I just have to pay attention (Awareness), think what I’m doing and look for opportunities to try something new (Belief) and then experiment (Conduct). It also means that not getting the results I wanted, far from being a negative experience, is just part of the process – and, actually, far more useful than getting it right first time!
Thriving on adversity
OK, this probably sounds even more perverse than ‘celebrating failures’… But the fact is (hope I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble, here) that life is difficult! You can let this weaken you, by complaining that it’s not fair or allowing it to weaken your motivation to carry on. Or you can let it strengthen you.
I’m not one of those people who go around gritting their teeth, saying: ‘Whatever does not kill me, makes me stronger.’ I want to be happy, expect to be happy, and choose the path of happiness whenever I can. But stuff happens. Anyone – everyone – has those days, weeks and months when life frankly feels like an assault course. And we can use those times for much the same purpose that the armed forces use the assault course: to build fitness. To build endurance. To build character.
I’m told that in Chinese, the character for ‘crisis’ is the same as that for ‘opportunity’. You can see it in those challenge-based reality TV shows like Survivor. And in the way people react to wars and natural disasters, like the Indian Ocean tsunami. People’s courage and resourcefulness and endurance surprise us – and them. It’s often when we are stretched furthest, well beyond what we would choose for ourselves, well beyond our comfort zones, which we learn and grow most. We look at our lives in a new way. We are forced to draw on resources that we might never have known we possessed. We discover ourselves.
Adversity, problems and hardships are challenges and teachers. They only have the power to drag us down if we fail to respond positively, proactively and responsibly to them. In English (unlike some other languages), the word ‘why?’ covers both past causes and future purposes. Dwelling on past causes can lead us into blaming and bitterness – and the waste of a lot of time and energy. Focusing on future purposes energises us to learn, re-group, move on.
Win some, Lose some
Risk aversion – that ‘impala’ caution – is often a matter of excessive attachment. Of not risking what you’re not prepared to lose. Again, that can be a sensible decision, and I’m the first one to advise would-be wealth builders not to ‘bet’ the family home on an investment scheme. (Watch out for loans that effectively ask you to do this!) But generally, you’ve got to risk something in order to win something. You’ve got to invest, in order to make returns. You’ve got to sow in order to reap. That’s just the way it is.
If you’re reluctant to let something go in order to have a chance at something newer or better or different,
I would encourage you: learn to gamble (a bit). Of course, you’ve got to weigh up how important to you the ‘stake’ is: the thing you may have to let go. And you’ve got to weigh up your chances of winning, or coming out ahead. The ‘impala’ voice is telling you all that. But perhaps you need to experience the thrill of taking a risk, however controlled. Perhaps you need to experience the freedom of letting something go – just for the chance of a win. Perhaps you need to experience the pain (rarely as bad as you fear) of saying: ‘Ah well, it was worth a shot…’
Some you win, some you lose. Losing is a useful lesson in detachment – but so is winning: it’s our wake-up call to the fact that ‘who dares, wins’. If we hadn’t been prepared to let go of x, or lose y – we would never have gained z… Are you afraid to ‘risk’ taking out a loan – despite the prospect of a lucrative investment? Reluctant to confront an unsatisfactory situation, because it might ‘change the status quo’?
Procrastinating about taking the first step towards your dream, because you might be ‘burning your boats’? You need to learn the value of risking something – for a shot at winning something. Letting go of your old safety blankets – for the chance of finding something new. Committing yourself and your resources – in order to pursue what you want. Giving up your inertia – for your inspiration.
I don’t want to add to the worldwide gambling problem. I’m just saying, if you’ve never gambled, go out and give it a try. If you’ve never just given something away, as an exercise in letting go of the ‘stuff’ you’ve got attached to, go out and give it a try. If you’ve never said ‘Any change is better than carrying on as I am’: think about it – and make a change, any change, just to see what happens.
Take charge of your life. I dare you.