Thought does not conquer fear. Plans…Ideas…Encouragement…Friends do not conquer fear. Action conquers fear. ~ Todd Brison
Seth Godin is the author of 18 bestselling books that have been translated into more than 35 languages. He’s also the founder of squidoo.com and The Domino Project. I’ve been following his blog for several years, and I appreciate his insight into business, marketing, and leadership and his passion for trying to change things, especially how our thoughts and actions affect others. The following article was posted on his website in June 2013.
Fearlessness is not the same as the absence of fear
by Seth Godin
When we deny our fear, we make it stronger.
When we reassure the voice in our head by rationally reminding it of everything that will go right, we actually reinforce it.
Pushing back on fear doesn’t make us brave and it doesn’t make us fearless. Acknowledging fear and moving on is a very different approach, one that permits it to exist without strengthening it.
Life without fear doesn’t last very long—you’ll be run over by a bus (or a boss) before you know it. The fearless person, on the other hand, sees the world as it is (fear included) and then makes smart (and brave) decisions.
by Alice Winston Carney
The flying lesson starts well. I am in the pilot’s seat; Eric, my instructor, beside me. I taxi onto the runway, call the tower, “8330X-ray, ready for take off”, loving the sound of my confident, female voice.
I give the engine full power, pull back on the controls when the speed reaches 70 knots. The little plane rises off the runway into the clear California sky. I level the plane, execute a smooth turn, reporting to the tower, “8330X-ray at 1500 feet, turning right, heading towards Tahoe.”
Below us the green and yellow agricultural fields checker their way across the great San Joaquin Valley, bisected by the American and Sacramento Rivers. All the world is blue, gold, and deep green as we head towards the foothills, Folsom Lake a sparkling dot below us.
Then Eric says, “Reduce power to engine, pull back on the controls,” two acts that go against logic when you are 2000 feet above the ground in a small tin can.
“Time to practice stalls.”
My pounding heart overpowers all sound, color drains from around me. “No!” I want out of this airplane.
But I am training as a pilot. I must learn to fly in all situations. I cut power to the engine. We float through the sky in an eerie quiet. My hands sweating, I pull back on the controls, raising the nose of the airplane until all I can see is sky. The nose goes up, up, then gives a dip down. A warning buzzer goes off. I have put us into a stall.
“Push the controls in, fast,” commands Eric. This is the third, most illogical step. Pushing the controls in, away from me, aims us towards the ground, causes the airplane to gather speed, dive, straight at the tree tops and rocks.
“Push, push,” Eric, yells. “Keep the wings level.”
As I write this, many years later, my fingers quiver on the keyboard, my breathing is shallow, and my stomach lurches. I remember the fear as I pushed the controls fully forward, forcing the plane faster and faster towards the earth. All I wanted to do was let go, to have Eric take over, to be out of there.
But I stayed with the airplane. As our speed increased, Eric said, “Pull back, nose up. Watch the wings. Give it full power.” I did. And there we were, flying level, the engine purring, the wings lifted by a cushion of air and motion, Folsom Lake blinking its blue eye up at us. Only then did I feel the dampness on the back of my shirt, the sweat flowing down my sides. Only then did I breathe.
This is how I feel about writing some days: that I can’t write; that I don’t know how to write; that if I do write, the words will fly out of control and I will be hurtling towards the earth; that I want out of the desire to write.
I have learned that if I hold on, keep writing through that fear, I will level out again, I will go to a place that teaches me lessons about myself and fear. Writing is the lift under my wings, navigates me through the huge blue sky to where I want to go. Writing can make me as proud as I was when I became a pilot.
Alice Winston Carney is director of Hermit’s Peak Press, which publishes original voices of Northern New Mexico. In 2010, she published A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse, a memoir of growing up in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Along with the authors Gerald and Loretta Hausman, Alice runs the annual Green River Writers Workshop in Las Vegas. You can visit Alice at greenriverwritersworkshop.com and on her Facebook page: greenriverwritersworkshop.
This article was originally published in the August 2013 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.
Freelance writer and storyteller Peter D. Mallett recently stated that everyone identifies with three things: failure, hard times, and rejection. The response to his post “Receiving and Rising above Rejection” was greater than any article he’s written for his website Writing in Color and demonstrates how deeply we all identify with being rejected. For a two-part followup to that post, Peter asked four writers, including myself, specific questions about the topic as it pertains to our writing projects.
In part one of “Rejection Revisited,” Erica Hayes, a copywriter, and Deanne Schultz, a freelance writer, were asked how they push through the fear of rejection and how they handle rejection when it does come. Their wise and practical advice shows why they’re successful professionals in their field.
In part two, Jillian Lisa Pearl, a writer working on her debut novel, addresses the issue of depersonalizing rejection and her positive plan to deal with it. For my part, I was asked: Even today, what is your first gut reaction when you receive a rejection? What happens next, and how do you move forward? My response to handling rejection almost always involves copious amounts of Cheetos, peanuts, and ice cream.
To find out more about how the four of us deal with rejection in our writing life, please check out Writing in Color and Peter D. Mallett’s articles on the subject.
How do you handle rejection or the fear of it?
Image “Rejected Stamp” courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Are you shy? Are you an introvert? If so, you understand the horror that is public speaking. As a child you pretended to study the book on your desk so the teacher wouldn’t call on you in class (even though you already knew the answer). You stammered or stuttered or sweated your way through the dreaded oral presentation – and you still do.
I am one of those writers who would happily spend my days holed up in my dark, cozy cave, stories streaming from my fingers onto the keyboard, only coming out for chocolate and Mountain Dew. That’s my idea of a perfect writing life. No public speaking for me. No selling myself. But if a writer’s goal is to be published, she must satisfy some requirements and re-enter the light every now and then.
One of those requirements is a book event – in the case of my first one of a few weeks ago, that meant a discussion, a reading, and a book signing. (Just so you know, merely thinking of doing another one makes my hands shake and my stomach turn.)
I had done my research and knew how to prepare for the practical aspects of it: make notes and study what to say, bake goodies to share (brownies and cake), gather pens (for signing, just in case), as well as a bottle of water, bookmarks and business cards. I even showered and put on clean clothes – living in a cave can leave one dusty and rumpled.
But how does a shy, introverted cave-dwelling writer stand up in front of a group of strangers and sell herself and her book? The answer is…she doesn’t!
In my search for peace in this process, for a way to make it through the horror, I discovered two simple keys to survive a book event:
1. Don’t make it about yourself: Make it about the audience.
If you were in the audience, what would you want to know about a book and its author? Keep this in mind as you plan the talk.
- Include a brief introduction about yourself, where you’re from, how or why you started on your writing journey. The audience is made up of regular people (just like you, right?) and they want to identify with you.
- Talk about why you wrote this particular book. Out of all the stories you could have written, why did this one grab hold of you and not let go? Don’t be afraid to show your passion for the project.
- Many readers are also writers or they aspire to be. Explain what your process was like as you wrote this book – your day-to-day routine, research, the cycle of editing, your challenges and victories, how you put it all together. (My audience was especially interested in the fact that I color-coded the chapter outline of This New Mountain, cut it in sections, and laid the pieces out on the floor to decide what chapters went where.)
- In choosing what to read, what excerpt most exemplifies your writing but would also most hold the audience’s attention? Whatever you decide, keep it short.
2. Don’t make it about selling your book: It’s as simple as that.
- Selling a book would be great, but focusing on that could turn you into one of those sleazy car salesmen. You know, the ones with the fake smiles who circle round and round like vultures. Don’t go there, don’t even try – giving yourself permission to let go of this is enough to make a shy introvert dance in the streets (not really).
If I were to summarize what I learned from my first book event, it would be to respect your audience. Two simple keys helped shift my focus from myself to those who really mattered – the people who took the time out of their day to drive across town to hear an unknown author speak. And that made all the difference in my ability to handle the situation.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with public speaking. What is your advice to get past the “horror” of it all?
For this post, I’ve gone into my archives and updated one of my earliest articles.
Seeing the not quite picked-clean bones of this huge fish reminds me of similar encounters at a time when I was young and innocent, playing in the sand with my silver spoons and plastic bucket, trying to dig to China. I remember how sand crabs skittered about while I dug deep holes that filled with ocean water seeping in under the beach. I remember finding the shield-like remains of a spiny horseshoe crab with its stiff dagger tail. And one peaceful afternoon, two men dragged a large thing through the surf and onto the sand nearby. A sleek, grey, smooth-skinned body with a long tail, and side and dorsal fins. I was little and the thing was huge, and it was a shark.
That creature laying on the sand made me wonder what else swam out there in the deep, among the rushing waves just beyond the shore. What else was out there that I couldn’t see? Close enough for swimmers to capture, close enough to swim among the swimmers.
I decided I didn’t want to be one of those deep-water-swimming-with-creatures kinds of people. I’m perfectly happy to watch the waves for hours, feel my toes leave impressions in the warm sand, smell the salt in the air, hear the gulls cry. At peace with the forever cycle of sea meeting land in a rush and swell, a falling back, and a reaching out once more.
The sea and me, we have an understanding: if I don’t go in too deep, it won’t eat me alive. It’s not the fear of drowning that keeps me rooted in ankle-deep surf. I can swim just fine. No, it’s the things in the water I can do without. And I’ve always been okay with this perfectly logical fear I have.
Then I took my oldest daughter on a Caribbean cruise for her 21st birthday. We explored Mayan ruins in Cancun, hiked through a waterfall in Jamaica, visited a place called Hell. It was all wonderfully normal, until she wanted to swim with stingrays. AND she wanted me to join her. How sweet of her to think of me. The water would be warm and clear, she said. Clear enough to see all those creatures living in the ocean.
In doing research for This New Mountain, I came across the following quote by Ambrose Redmoon:
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
At the time of the cruise, I hadn’t been introduced to AJ Jackson (of This New Mountain) and her head-on approach to dealing with fear, but I knew deep down if I let go of this chance to share something remarkable with my daughter, I would always regret it. And a part of me actually did want to [shudder] swim with stingrays.
I talked myself into it and out of it dozens of times. I was still talking to myself as I followed my daughter down the ladder on the side of the sightseeing boat. I changed my mind again, but I couldn’t climb back up, someone was already clanging down the ladder above me. My heart pounded. I tried not to look at the water below as I stepped onto the bottom rung. To keep from hyperventilating, I had channeled deep Kung-Fu-Lamaze breathing for a good fifteen minutes up to this point. No other options presented themselves besides shoving the person above me off the ladder. I took a few more slow, even breaths, told myself to just do it, and dropped into the warm ocean.
I expected to have to push off the bottom and swim to the surface, instead I touched solid “ground” after a few feet. The water resting over this pristine reef was only armpit deep. The sand spread out at my feet soft and white and unmarred as far as I could see. No shells, no seaweed, no creatures, nothing but sand. It was as if someone had swept it clean just for me. This wasn’t so bad. I could do this.
Soon a murmur started from a group of people bobbing in the calm farther away from the boat and me, and closer to the open sea. Shadows slid through the water, dark cloaks winging toward us. I screamed along with everyone else – tenor and soprano voices mixed together, men and women alike.
But these stingrays were not there to hurt us. They were more like dogs racing in for the treats the tourist boat always brought along to bring them close. The rays hugged our legs and spun around us. My daughter, the adventurous child, hugged one back. I stood as still as possible and took photos of rippling cloaks and tiger-eyes unblinking. Soon the creatures turned and swept back the way they came.
I still don’t like deep water, won’t go in it, preferring slow walks along the edge of my mind and the surf. I’m comfortable with this fear, its limitations and its limits. I suppose I’ve always known that some things are more important than fear, I just don’t like to have to practice that particular piece of wisdom. But now I can say I swam with stingrays – and I never have to do it again.
Is there a fear that keeps you from doing something you’ve always wanted to do? Is it time to take a few deep breaths, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and jump in?
On the field of the self stands a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon. The battle must be fought anew every day. ~ Steven Pressfield
In my post “You Can’t Finish What You Don’t Start” I talk about how fear and excuses can stop us from starting on a path toward a goal or dream. That post was written in mid-November 2012 during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). On the day I wrote it, I had tallied 30,000 words toward finishing the first draft of a fantasy novel. And by the end of November I was a sleep-starved gelatinous mass quivering on my keyboard – having survived the last few days on mounds of chocolate and gallons of Mountain Dew – BUT I finished the race and surpassed the goal of 50k words.
I decided last year that I would never do another NaNo in November, but it’s April now and the memory of that past pain has faded, and National Novel Writing Month’s little sibling has begun. Camp NaNoWriMo is billed as “an idyllic writers retreat, smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life.” And crazy is one word to describe this journey.
On day five of Camp, my resolve is already wavering. I’ve written 4,000 words toward my 30-day goal of 30k words divided between five short stories. It hasn’t been easy, but like anything worth doing, sacrifice is necessary. My house is suffering and my husband is already eating toast and dry cereal for dinner. Between bouts of writing, I work on my lengthy to-do list which includes putting together and editing a 16-page newsletter for my writing organization, plus playing interim webmaster for their website. Let’s not forget that April is tax month – yippee!
What was I thinking when I committed to this? Certainly another month would have been better, less hectic, more convenient…but there is no better month, no better time than now. And what does convenience have to do with following my dreams?
I know I can do this. I survived Army basic training. I raised four children. I’ve dressed the dead (that’s a story for another day). I can do this. But commitment is not all it takes to finish such a project. I realize now, five days into Camp, that I simply didn’t plan ahead well enough. I can’t go back, but there are things I can do from here on out to make sure I finish the race:
- Schedule. As much as possible. But be real and flexible – life happens.
- Get Up Early. And go to bed at a decent time. Without sleep, I can’t think straight.
- Creative Time. Mornings are best for me – that’s when I should work on projects.
- Exercise. A little bit everyday is better than nothing.
- Kill Time Suckers:
- Television. Record favorite shows to watch later.
- Internet. Don’t get sucked in. Make notes to do research later.
- Email. Check email once a day, and set a timer to do so.
- Plan Meals and Snacks. Note to self: I can eat dry cereal three times a day, but my husband shouldn’t have to.
- Use Tools: A calendar, master to-do list, daily to-do list, and giant marker board are my friends.
- Prioritize: Some things can wait and some things can’t. Do what’s most important first, carry over the rest to the next day, then re-prioritize.
I should have been better prepared going into Camp, but I won’t allow myself to use that as an excuse to give up. It takes a lot stronger dragon than that to drive me completely off course. That said, the focus of NaNoWriMo is to encourage writers to do what they long to do – to write. To help us move forward on our writing journey. And as I said in my November post, whatever the final word count ends up being, I will be closer to finishing than if I hadn’t started at all.
What is keeping you from moving forward on a dream? What do you do to stay on course?
By the time I was twenty-five years old, I had three darling children under the age of five. It was a challenging period of my life, but the four of us had great fun together. Interacting with them day and night allowed me to play out the best times of my own childhood.
But one afternoon I noticed an odd look settle on the face of an Avon representative who I’d invited into my home. I paused, silently trying to decide what I might have said to offend her. Then our conversation of the previous few minutes played back in my mind – I had been talking to her in baby talk. I said something like, “How silly,” and laughed. She laughed, politely. I was mortified, but I knew what I had to do. My brain needed exercise. By the end of that week I had studied a college catalog and registered for courses for the upcoming semester.
So here I am twenty-five plus years later, finding myself – not speaking baby-talk – but not able to hold a lengthy conversation without stopping in mid-sentence because the word I want to say has disappeared from my brain. It was there, this word-thingy, just the moment before when my thoughts, having been processed into words, were lining up to trip lightly off my tongue. It’s a frustrating experience, embarrassing, and scary. (Most of my girlfriends of the same age have this problem off and on, and we nod and try to fill in the gaps for each other.)
Onward into the fray that is the Internet.
According to HelpGuide.org, “The human brain has an astonishing ability to adapt and change – even into old age. This ability is known as neuroplasticity. With the right stimulation, your brain can form new neural pathways, alter existing connections, and adapt and react in ever-changing ways. The brain’s incredible ability to reshape itself holds true when it comes to learning and memory.” This is great news.
We all know that exercise is good for us. Movement increases oxygen to your entire body, including your brain. It helps reduce the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease and helps to counter the effects of these diseases that rob the brain of oxygen and lead to memory loss.
Our brains also need exercise. Throughout our lives, our brains develop neural pathways to help process information. As adults, we’ve come to rely on millions of these pathways to solve problems and perform everyday tasks. The thing is, if we only use the same paths, our brains won’t be stimulated to grow and develop. We need to purposely find new and challenging activities to exercise our grey matter – not something we’ve already mastered.
Now is the time to sign up for a computer class, learn a different language, take dance lessons, try a musical instrument, play computer games (if board games are your usual thing), or try Sudoku if you’re used to crossword puzzles. You can play games online at luminosity.com that are “engineered to train a range of cognitive functions, from working memory to fluid intelligence.” They have free, challenging games, as well as enhanced ones that require a monthly fee. (Go to luminosity.com for a list of other sites that offer free online games.)
In addition to exercise, there are others things we can do to boost our brainpower – we can laugh more, stress less, and eat healthier.
Research has shown that foods rich in omega-3s are especially beneficial to a healthy brain, such as fish (salmon, tuna, halibut, trout, mackerel, sardines, herring) and non-fish sources (walnuts, ground flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, and soybeans).
Antioxidants protect your brain cells from damage and are found in higher concentrations in fruits and vegetables with lots of color (berries, plums, and guavas; spinach, peppers, and parsley), dried fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds, some cereals and spices. (Go here for a more complete list). Green tea is also a good source of antioxidants called polyphenols that protect against damage to brain cells and may help enhance memory and slow brain aging.
Wine (in moderation), grape juice, cranberry juice, peanuts, and fresh grapes and berries contain resveratrol that boosts blood flow in the brain and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s.
In my research I found a lot of encouraging news and choices I can make to improve my memory and keep my brain healthy. “Choice” is a key word here and wisdom tells me to make these choices sooner than later.
Do you suffer with the same word-thingy problem? What are you doing to save your brain?
School has been back in session now for several months, and for many people that has meant lots of reading, studying, homework, studying, essays, studying…and the dreaded test days. When I was in school, I loved teachers who gave multiple choice tests – give me a list of answers to choose from and I’m in heaven. I probably don’t have to mention how I felt about math and essay exams.
Everyone knows the basic steps to prepare for test days: Study. Sleep. Eat.
- If you know you suffer from test anxiety, you’re going to have to be more diligent than those who aren’t afflicted. Keeping up with reading assignments and homework is the first and best way to get ready in advance for an exam. Going into a test as prepared as possible will give you confidence and help ease anxiety.
- Finding the time to get enough sleep every day is hard enough for those who aren’t going to school, for students it’s even worse. But if you don’t get at least six hours of sleep every night, you’ll be running on a sleep deficit, and that can affect your concentration. If you can’t do it on any other night, at least get a good night’s sleep the night before a test.
- You have your own morning routine that may or may not include breakfast, but do your body and your brain a favor – eat well on test days, and include protein and not too much sugar.
If you’re not one of those (strange) people who thrive on the challenge of taking tests, you’ll need to take a few steps to make your test anxiety work for you.
Muscle tension, headache, faster breathing, increased heart rate and perspiration – these are some of the physical manifestations of fear related to the natural fight or flight response (see my post on survival instinct). If you have test anxiety, your mind has perceived your test as a threat to you and has prepared your body to stand and fight or run away. These physical changes can help you think more quickly, but they can also lead to restlessness because your body is now ready for action. If this is how your body normally reacts on test days, give these few things a try:
- Be good to yourself. When you first start feeling these fight-or-flight symptoms, try to remember that your body’s natural defense will help you focus on what’s to come. Don’t fight it and don’t beat yourself up over your “silly” fears.
- Arrive early at the testing place. Give yourself enough time to do some kind of physical activity like walking around the building or up and down the halls for a few minutes to help release muscle tension. (Arriving early is also essential to allow a bathroom break for those of us whose symptoms manifest themselves in that way.)
- Breathe slowly and deeply to help you relax, before and during the test. This has a calming effect and sends oxygen to the brain.
- To ease tension during a test, do some subtle stretching of your arms, legs, and shoulders. If you notice others tapping pencils/pens or nervously tapping their heels, realize you’re not the only one feeling anxious.
- When taking the test, ponder the questions for only a few seconds and skip those you can’t answer immediately (math questions take longer, of course), and then go back later. Staying on one question for too long can cause even more anxiety and a loss of focus. In my student years, I found that as I moved through a test, my initial freak out/brain freeze cleared away enough that I was able to answer most of the questions on the second pass through.
These suggestions can be adapted to many situations where you’re being tested. Whether for a job interview, a presentation, or a talk: study in advance, get enough sleep, eat right, relax, release muscle tension, remember to breathe. And be good to yourself. When you don’t have the choice to flee, use your natural survival instinct to stand and fight.
How do you combat test anxiety?