When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.
Fear is the Anti Life!
And….we are often in denial and not aware of the impact it has on our lives.
Fear of what people will think, fear of not being who we are “supposed” to be,
fear of failure, fear of not being good enough physically or intellectually, fear of speaking up or being wrong, fear of being a bad parent and the list goes on and on. And if we are horsewomen, fear of getting hurt, fear of looking stupid if our horse has a meltdown, fear of what might happen if we take our horse somewhere new, fear of being judged as a bad handler or rider, fear of being ridiculed by the expert, fear of losing if we are competitive. This is a small list of the fears we torture ourselves with and if you paid attention to how your body felt as you read through the list, I bet this list FELT huge.
Fear is at the bottom of the majority of the challenges we face in accomplishing goals, stepping out of our comfort zone, embracing our learning edge, and having the courage to be who we really are.
I am a huge fan of Neale Donald Walsh, author of Conversations with God. Here is what he says about fear: “Caution is natural, but fear is not. Do not give in to fear, yet do not abandon caution. It is a balancing act. Caution is what causes you to look both ways before crossing the street. Fear is what keeps you frozen on the curb forever. You know the difference. You can feel it. If you are “stuck” right now, you are probably into fear. Get out of there. You’ve already looked both ways. Now cross the street, for heaven’s sake. The cars have long since gone. The coast is clear. Your only obstacle now is your own mind.”
We all know how important it is to face our fear. We have heard it a million times and probably said it to ourselves that many times as well. With the right tools, support, and mental awareness, it is not only possible; it is doable and essential to our personal growth and living life authentically. Let me assure you, the one thing holding you back from expressing the joy and uniqueness of your authenticity is FEAR, Guaranteed – whether you are aware of it or not!
Neural patterns have to change one small responding choice at a time in order for you to move from fear to having the courage to make choices to move forward in a new way. Nature has designed fear to trigger the reaction side of our brains so that we react to survive life threatening situations. The challenge for many of us is that we are stuck in patterns of over reacting, over thinking, over worrying, and triggering the survival mechanism when that is not what is needed. We have ourselves stressed, anxious, depressed, and totally disconnected from our ability to trust ourselves. In this stuck position, it doesn’t matter if the fear is real or not, makes sense to someone else or not, is reasonable or not. As far as your nervous system is concerned, it IS real, and much of what happens from the time you get triggered is reactive auto pilot. You have blown through your window of tolerance, your ability to thoughtfully respond, and you are in fight, flight, or freeze mode. It is biological. Let this sink in….you are experiencing a biological shift for survival and it doesn’t matter that is it about a simple day to day task.
So here is how many of us handle fear in ourselves, our children, and with our horses. “knock it off, you’re just being a baby, suck it up and just do it, you have seen that log 100 times you are being ridiculous, you’ll be fine, no one ever died from x y or z, etc.” We bully ourselves and the beings around us because we think that is the way to create the “motivation” required to get over our fears or help others do it. The bullying is motivating in a shameful way and it may even be able to a cause a change in the moment but that doesn’t help inspire trust in self, trust in others, and ultimately a sense of confidence to handle whatever ever comes at you.
The goal is to know where your window of tolerance is, pay attention to your body when it is warning that it is about to go into survival mode, and respond right then by taking a deep breath, backing away figuratively or literally from the trigger, regain your center, accept the feelings that have come up, make a plan, use your support system, and then try a baby step forward.
Consider this example, which of these situations is likely to create a long term sense of confidence and courage?
1. You are taught how to swim by being thrown in water over your head with nothing but your instinctual survival mechanisms to get you to the side. No help, no compassion, no support, just people you “trust” standing around shouting and “encouraging” you to get YOURSELF to safety.
2. You are taught to swim incrementally being allowed to sit on the steps, getting used to how the water feels, letting your confidence build to splashing and playing, then you stand up and step down to the chest deep level. Next someone you trust is gently encouraging you to allow them to safely putter you around suspended in the water, they don’t scare you, and they gently guide you and put you back on the step. Over time as your confidence builds, you are jumping into someone’s arms and then into the pool and dog paddling yourself to the side, then you take lessons and soon you are diving and swimming confidently in the deep end with your friends. You had scary moments at each stage and you were allowed to scurry back to your safe place to build your confidence and the courage to try again another day.
The scenario above represents so many ways we don’t honor our window of tolerance by allowing ourselves the time it takes us an individual to gain confidence, courage and proficiency in something. It is clear that option number 2 will build confidence, self esteem, trust in self and others, and long term enjoyment of the water.
Many of us shut down our emotional awareness and find it very difficult to go through the layers to get at the original underlying fear or feeling of vulnerability of an issue. And, our egos don’t really like to admit that we are fearful so when we do identify it, often our first defense is defensiveness. We can only thrive in a change environment where the people there are able to hold the “sacred space of possibility” (as my friend and mentor Kathleen Barry-Ingram says) without judgment or an agenda about who we should be or how we should do something. Most of us have not been taught that fear is actually healthy, a caution sign as Neale says, it is not a stop sign unless you are facing true life or death. That is where things get sideways; we allow our fears to either become monstrous anxiety producers or depressive and suffocating causing us to resign ourselves to the tolerate the life we have, and even worse to give up on living the life we would really love to live.
There is very little in life that is as thrilling, life affirming, and self loving as facing a fear, walking through it, being witnessed, and celebrating the internal surge of self esteem that comes from that experience. I am not talking about thrill seeking and the adrenaline rush and addiction around that. I am talking about walking through every day fear issues that cripple our joyful life expression, our ability to express who we are authentically.
Horses are absolute masters at allowing us to experience what it feels like in our sensing bodies and our emotions, to walk through the fear to being comfortable in our authenticity. Every time we get to feel an experience in a positive and healthy way, we put a solid building block under our belief in our ability to be in charge of our lives, to lovingly accept who we are, and to “face and feel our emotions, including fear.”
My title is “Walk through your fear, intentionally!” because I believe the foundation of freeing yourself from being ruled by fear is to intentionally decide to have the courage, to know and respect your window of tolerance, and to proceed with understanding, empathy, and baby steps, gradually increasing your window of tolerance and giving your mind and body time to adjust to the next challenge. This process is most successful when working with a support system that sees you whole and for who you are becoming vs. needing to be fixed and not good enough until you fix it.
If it were easy without that support, we would all have done it a long time ago. Getting to know yourself on the inside, learning to live in the moment and feel your feelings (all of them – Dr. Brene’ Brown points out in her research that we cannot choose which feelings we are going to feel in our lives. It is all or nothing. If we want to truly experience the feelings of joy, belonging, contentment, happiness, we also have to be willing to feel sadness, fear, and anger). Horses are masters at teaching us how to live in our bodies, in the moment, to get back in touch with our true self and from that place we feel more powerful and in charge of our life. This experience allows us to take the first steps towards “walking through our fear intentionally” with a healthy outcome, in a supportive and safe environment.
Alternatively, we get fed up and decide once and for all to rid ourselves of a life numbing fear and then ridicule ourselves for not being able to do it, for not having the courage or the willpower or the ___ – fill in the blank. When we further insult ourselves for not being or having enough of whatever it takes to be perfectly in control of moving out of fear into something more “acceptable,” we stay stuck in the cycle of fear holding us back, controlling our lives, and beating ourselves up about it.
A commitment to personal growth is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and it is the only way we can find our journey to loving our authentic (real) self. Most of us cannot be successful by throwing ourselves into the deep end without a solid support system to guide us through the rough water. We have to recognize where we are in our own process of growth and readiness to change and then match that place with the right action steps. This is critical to our ability to gradually change our patterns of thinking and behavior.
Finding a place to be in relationship that is accepting and non judgmental is a very important piece to our being able to begin building a new foundation of trust, courage, self-awareness and self-acceptance. Studies have shown that with a helping relationship (coach, mentor, EFL facilitator), we are far more apt to be successful in our personal growth goals. Many of us have never really experienced being in relationship where there is no judgment, no agenda for who you should be, Equine Facilitated Learning offers that environment and it is powerful, exhilarating, and can open the door to learning to love yourself first so that you can live life courageously.
Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.