We are all afraid of something. Most of us are afraid of many things.
I’m willing to bet that one of the main differences between you and the person you most admire and aspire to be more like is this:
That person has a different relationship with fear.
One of the most attractive qualities in any human being is that sense of owning fear. Not ignoring it, not running away from it, not trying to surpress it. Just owning it.
Think about it. Write down a list of the people you admire.
They are all a little ballsy, aren’t they? Not necessarily in a loud or ostentatious way. Sometimes, they are quiet and calm. But there’s this presence about them—this feeling that they look fear straight in the eyes every day and say, “I acknowledge you, thank you for trying to keep me safe. I’m going to move past you, so you can be quiet now.”
There is this confidence about getting through totally hard—sometimes terrifying—decisions.
Because the people we most admire know what many of us suspect: that the scariest choices tend to be the most worthwhile.
I’m not talking STUPID scary types of things that would put your life or the lives of others in danger. I’m talking about the decisions that feel very right, but also scary, because they go so against our natural self preservation or comfort instincts.
If you can re-work your relationship with fear—if you can have a healthy respect for it, while still remaining the one who channels your fears versus having your fears channel you—you’ll find it a lot easier to overcome them and get to the really good stuff.
Here’s the fear process for the average person:
- Feel a fear
- May or may not consciously recognize the fear
- Ruminate about the fear
- Ask for advice from too many people about the fear
- Try to avoid the fear when you don’t come to an easy conclusion
- Take too long to make a decision about the fear
- Decide not to do the scary thing that you deeply suspect is also the right thing
- Stay the same and never truly progress
Here’s the fear process for top performers:
- Feel a fear
- Sit with the fear and take time to understand what’s behind it
- Ask one or two trusted people about the hard decision related to the fear
- Spend a little more time reflecting on the fear, and then based on a combination of head, heart, and gut, make a decision about how to conquer the fear
- Conquer the fear using a variety of techniques, including: quick action, positive psychology, simple strategic planning, long-term fear-busting habit formation, feeling the fear and moving past it anyway, taking power away from the emotion of fear itself.
- Take on the next scary choice to further strengthen a positive relationship with fear.
- Wash, rinse, repeat.
So, what scary choice that you know is right are you fearing now?
What decision really resonates with you? What decision would you make if you had no fear?
That’s the decision you should make. You already know it—follow your gut. Because deep down you know it’s the scary choices that end up being the most worthwhile.
Go do the thing that’s going to be the most worthwhile—no matter how scary.
We have this idea that if our plans don’t work out, we’ve failed. And over time, it becomes not just about situations and plans failing—we start to label ourselves as failures. When we do that, we develop a mentality that disables us from progressing forward because we want to avoid the pain of feeling like a failure, and we automatically begin to assume we’re likely to fail at any big goal we set.
This is why the word “failure” sucks. It is the starting point of a spiral of negative thinking that gets you absolutely nowhere.
Here’s the thing.
What you’re excited about most isn’t achieving some far-off end goal. It’s the idea of progress and growth that you’re after. It’s that feeling you get after a day of hard and focused work—the feeling that your day mattered, that you progressed, that you grew and helped others grow.
Sometimes, getting so caught up in your “plan” does the opposite of what it was intended to do. You’re so busy trying to follow a specific plan in one corner, that you miss the bigger possibilities in another corner.
Planning is important. But, equally so is flexibility. Stuff is always going to come up. You’re going to have lazy days. You’re going to get sick occassionally. There will be family and friend and work emergencies. Sometimes, you’ll just need a day off to chill out and play in the sun.
It’s less about being set on one plan, one way of things being possible—and more about how your head, heart and gut are all working together within yourself.
Each of those three “places” out of which you make decisions come with their own set of strengths and challenges:
- Your head will try to be rational and safe when you should be taking big leaps and defying odds instead. But it will also keep you grounded and focused so you can implement whatever big plans you develop.
- Your heart (i.e. crazy-ass feelings) will create strong urges in you to make impulsive decisions based on how you’re feeling in the moment (otherwise known as short-term gratification). But, it’s also the part of you that will help you connect authentically with yourself and those around you. It’s the source of giving and receiving love.
- Your gut is just awesome. It will never lead you the wrong way. It takes practice to get really in-tune with your gut, so as not to mistake it with thoughts that stem from your head and/or heart. But once you tune in and understand what is gut and what isn’t, you’ll know exactly what you should do whenever you get a “gut feeling.” The downside to listening to your gut is that you can come across as irrational, impulsive, inconsiderate, and non-PC to others. Just remember that the reason you’re coming across that way to them is because they’re struggling with their own dramas and aren’t quite in-tune yet with their own guts. Be gentle with them and yourself. Follow your gut always anyway.
Your job is to make sure you maximize the strengths of all three, while consciously mitigating the challenges of each.
When you are aligned within yourself, you’ll have a very different perspective on your plans—you’ll be far less attached to them, and as a result, better able to get to where you want to go regardless of what the plan ultimately looks like.
Because the truth is, if Plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 other letters in the alphabet.
Worry less about your plan, and more about how you’re thinking through it.
We make decisions out of three different places.
The head, heart, and gut.
When you make decisions with the head, you’re using logic, rationality, and historical patterns as your framework.
When you make decisions with the heart, you’re using emotion, feeling, empathy, and desire as your framework.
When you make decisions with the gut, you’re using an internal, certain, unexplainable “knowing” at the core of who you are as your framework.
The mainstream conversation is always about the head and the heart, but rarely the gut. And that’s unfortunate, because I strongly believe the gut is the absolute first framework one should make decisions out of.
It’s fairly easy to discern when you’re using your head vs. your heart; rationality and emotion are, well, different things. But, it’s harder to discern when you’re using your heart vs. your gut.
So, let’s talk about heart vs. gut for a moment.
Heart has a lot to do with emotion and empathy. When you make decisions based on your “feelings,” you’re likely operating out of the heart. Your gut, on the other hand, is an instant knowing. It’s the calm and certain sense you get about whether you are or are not supposed to do something.
Some call it intuition. Some call it the soul. Some call it God. Some say, “I just know.”
Your feelings can amplify the sound of your gut when both are in line. But often, feelings stem from many other things: fear, anxiety, personal relationship dynamics, season of life.
When you make decisions based primarily on feelings, that’s when you stay in the wrong relationships longer than necessary, stay at the wrong jobs way longer than necessary, and make choices you wind up regretting. And on the note of regret, people commonly say, “I have none”—but let’s be real—we all have things we wish we could have done differently.
It’s so important to recognize our feelings because they help us understand how we react to particular triggers, or in certain circumstances. But, understanding feelings and being run by them are two very separate things.
My feelings have been off at times. But my gut? That’s never been off. Never.
I know you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all had moments or made decisions where we were just absolutely certain—moments when we were terrified of something, but knew we had to do it, anyway. Moments where we “just knew” we were supposed to pick up and move, start a relationship, get out of one, take a job, leave a job, go to an event, walk down a random street. It had nothing to do with logic, and nothing to do with a feeling, either.
We all have these moments of incredible grace. The more we listen to it, the louder we’ll hear the calling of our gut. Intuition. Soul. God.
So, my challenge to you is to get more in touch with yours. The next time you are, all of a sudden, washed with a feeling of total serenity about something terrifying, or very certain about a perceivably irrational decision, trust it. Run with it.
If you discover what I’m discovering, I think you’ll learn that joyful decision making has nothing to do with the head or the heart.
It has to do with the part of you that just knows.
It has to do with your gut.
It’s really as simple as that. People will find 1,000 ways to rationalize why this phrase isn’t true, arguing that their gut reactions have been off plenty of times before.
But let’s not forget: a gut reaction is very instantaneous. When we are in tune with what our gut feels like- and the more we trust and listen to it- the louder and clearer it becomes. It occurs in that initial moment when we meet someone new, take in fresh information, or find ourselves in a different place for the first time.
Almost immediately after we experience our gut reaction, we are exceptionally good at rationalizing it away.
I think we do this for two big reasons:
1.) Because making such a quick judgment call about a person or a thing seems, well, judgmental. Harsh judgments do happen, but the gut reaction is what occurs before we even have time to make a conscious judgment call about someone.
2.) Dissonance. It makes us feel highly uncomfortable to have two conflicting thoughts or feelings at the same time. In other words, we are particularly great at ignoring our gut reactions when they don’t align with how we want to feel about a new person, place, thing, or idea.
Don’t overcomplicate it.
If you have a feeling in the pit of your stomach that you are about to get screwed over, it’s because you almost certainly will. If your gut is that you can (and want to) really trust and love someone, don’t rationalize why you shouldn’t because your brain takes over and recognizes that love is scary.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Crap! I never should have listened to my gut”?
Yeah, didn’t think so.
Whatever your gut is telling you, seriously, listen. You will not regret it.