Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Walking Through Fear
We’re all afraid.
If we’re not anxious about getting senile or going broke, we’re worried that our children will start using drugs or that we’ll end up as one-hit wonders.
It doesn’t matter how accomplished, brilliant and beautiful we are. Fear comes with the territory of being human. And the better we are at navigating through it, the more comfortable we feel in our skins and surroundings.
Facing fear also goes hand-in-hand with realizing our dreams. That’s why for the past six years, beginning the morning I got the inspiration to write my first book, I’ve been trying to do one bold thing a day. Anything that scares me, that makes my stomach go up and down or causes my breath to catch in my throat, qualifies. Cold calling a radio producer, speaking before a large audience, saying no to an unwelcome invitation—I count them all. I’ve even given myself credit for trying gorgonzola cheese. (The smell alone frightens me!)
I’m venturing to walk through my fears the way Patrick Swayze walks through walls in the movie Ghost—as if they aren’t there. Over time, my bold-thing-a-day habit has paid off. It’s no longer quite so scary for me to pick up the phone and arrange an interview, and I rarely feel nervous now when I do big events. I’m more vibrant, yet more relaxed than I was in 2000.
Lately, though, I’ve been wondering whether or not I’ll be able to pull off the novel I’ve started. Am I crazy, I ask myself, to think I can write fiction?
In other words, with new risks come new fears and new insecurities. These self-doubts are like the rocks the glaciers deposited on my land during the Ice Age. No matter how many stones I dig up as I till my Connecticut garden (see photo above), a dozen more will surface when next I thrust my shovel in the ground.
Thankfully, there’s a crucial difference between extracting glacial sediment and confronting one’s demons. Wrenching boulders from the earth requires enormous effort every time one makes the attempt. Walking through fear gets easier with practice.
Experts say it takes 21 days to change a habit.* Three weeks might not be long enough to reverse an inborn response to flee from what frightens us. But no matter how many days, months or years it requires, the journey is a noble one.
As popular psychologist David Viscott says, “If you have no anxiety, the risk you face is probably not worthy of you.”
*When I tried to locate a reputable source for this commonly cited factoid, I was unable to find one. Neither Maxwell Maltz, author of PSYCHO-CYBERNETICS, who as far as I can tell was the first to promote the concept, or Stephen Covey, who cites the statistic in his best-selling book THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, provides any research data to support the idea.