- The first idea is excitement, the best idea is the one wrapped in fear -
I said this on Instagram a couple of days ago, but I have been thinking it for years. I have a lot of exciting ideas that come and go. High-gloss, ego-driven, alluring ideas that pop into my head, flirt with me intensely, and then disappear as quickly as they came. Not so of fear, the fear hangs around.
There isn't a person alive that doesn't feel fear. It's a natural human response to stimuli designed to keep you safe and well. And by and large will keep you safe and well providing you pay attention to it's message. Fear, like anxiety (also a totally normal emotion) does a marvellous job of protecting us from our impulses and quirks, and the vagaries of a contingent life full of mischief and hazard. However, both fear and anxiety left unchecked can run riot in our lives, convincing us, as its worst, that life is too dangerous to take part in. Instead of working in our favour, fear can hold us back from our best selves, and may even prevent us from doing what we instinctively know we need to be well, to heal and to develop. You and your fears and anxieties are supposed to be a working partnership, but instead you've slipped over time (or suddenly) into a bad dynamic. It happens to all of us, all of the time, to varying degrees. But that's never the end of the story.
Because fear is giving you a message. At first glance it seems obvious that the message is to steer clear and never go back - and this may well be true of bungee jumps, swimming in rip tides or getting too close to fire - but look a second time with curiosity at a different type of fear and you might notice it's hiding a precious something.
This fear is the one that is harder to describe. It's a gut feeling, a fog, an unprovoked palpitation of the heart, a sicky feeling, a dry throat, a nebulous cloud in your whole body that aches your thighs, a desire to rub your hands over and over, a headache, incessant fiddling, an impromptu toilet stop. It's bigger things too, like fatigue, illness, depression, anxiety disorder, self harm. Things we really need help with.
It's any number of infinite things peculiar to the uniqueness of you. And it often seems to be attached to something you want to do, an idea barely formed in your mind, a spark of something that peaked your interest. Maybe you feel it when you see someone else's social media feed. Maybe when you listen to someone you admire talking. Maybe you just know it in your bones. The ways that this fear speaks will be unique to you; because it's designed to fit perfectly around something that might just be your best idea. An idea that, ultimately, only you can make happen. Because to change you have to change. It's the irritating, tautological deal-breaker.
This idea might be:
- a new way to live your life
- a new project of hobby
- a new job/business/vocation
- a new way to be happy
- a new way to find healing and recovery
- a new way to relate.
When I work with people in coaching or counselling, on aspects of themselves relating to the changes they want to make in their lives, I know almost immediately - instinctively - what it is that they really want to do. I often sense where the truth of their development and growth is located. This isn't arrogance, it's just a clarity of vision that is so often present in the observer and not, at first, in the person themselves. What they want and need for themselves is in the heart of their fear. They might have a handful, or a hundred, options, and some of those will be exciting and filled with potential and wonder. They are shiny and they may become part of the solution - but somewhere there is also a sustainable gem, and it's buried in the place where the fear lurks.
How do I know it’s the best? Because the fear itself reveals to us that it means the most to us, that the stakes are as high as they could be, that it requires us to step forward in new and challenging ways we're not ready for (or think we're not!), because it wouldn’t matter this much if it didn’t matter to the core of us. Fear reveals the message of importance.
You know this idea is the one to work on because it's the one you duck and dive from, the one you procrastinate from, the one you try to bury, suppress, cry over, swear at...it's the one that is going to ask the most of you, and the one that might take the longest. It's the one that you might need to be superhumanly brave to enact, to make unwelcome changes for, the one where you might even risk losing people along the way. It's the one that might even be the project of your life. It might take you to dark places before it takes you to light. It might just be a linchpin of an idea that speaks to the core of your values and beliefs, or holds the key to you changing your old, redundant stories. It's the idea that if you don't succeed with it, then you feel in your heart you are done for.
It's no small thing.
And it probably won't go away by itself.
I'm not going to lie and say this is easy work. Sometimes it is, because we know our best idea and all we need is permission to proceed - but sometimes it's a long process of day by day, month by month, year by year, showing up for yourself in the direction of your best idea, or simply in service to the feeling that 'I want more for myself'. Whether it's a short project, or a long one, the beginning is the same. Both require a start. An understanding of the fear, driven by a playful curiosity. And the overcoming of inertia. Movement.
I'm not a stranger to this myself, of course. I couldn't talk about it, or recognise it, if I was. All of the best decisions I have ever made were the ones buried deep within the heart of fear. Giving up a well paid career. Changing my mission. Responding to calling over ambition. Deciding to Run Bosnia. I have so many fears that speak to my endless ideas, that it would be embarrassing to confess to if they weren't quite so liberating to work through.
So, here are some tips on locating the fear and seeing what's inside of it. You may find it useful to journal your thoughts, or simply think them out over and over whilst out walking, running, riding etc.
Find where your fear sits in you
Can you locate the fear in your body? what does it look like? Does it have a shape, a colour, a smell? Does it have a voice? How does it speak to you? What does it tell you about the world and yourself? About risk? About the kind of person you are? Write all of these down.
Join the conversation with your fear
If you are to sit down with fear in your home, then you can't both be fear, in the same way that you can't be your friend or your enemy. So you are going to have to be a different thing. You are going to have to be courage. Speaking from the voice of courage make a come back to fear's objections. Is fear reasonable? How might fear be wrong? You can thank fear for being a protector, but you can offer fear reassurance of all the ways that as courage you have this covered; how you will look after yourself, who else will look after you and how you will safeguard against reasonable risk.
Name what it is you want to do
The longer you talk with fear from courage, the more likely you are to start getting sight of the great idea that lies within. Now is the time to start talking about it. To name what it is you want to do. What you are going to do. Give it oxygen. Bring it to life in language. Try it on for size. Gaze on it with longing and fondness. Once you have started to like it and get attached, you need to become accountable to someone you trust to push you forward. Folk love to be useful, so let them be. Tell as many people as feels safe, then add one more. Write it down in places you won't forget. Make it your screensaver. Put a post-it note on your debit card.
Protect the thin skin of your idea
Your idea is vulnerable because it had fear protecting it. Smothering it. And now it has a fresh, shiny skin that is yours to protect. It's your idea and no one is going to love it like you can, and will. Routines and planning, will move you forward in predictable, good-habit forming ways. Routine allows an autopilot to kick in, which you can leverage during times of wobble. For a while you might need to limit your consumption of other people's ideas and content – so many of us use 'internet browsing' as ‘research’, when it’s really an elaborate procrastination, and may squash our own idea/s through competition and doubt. Consume what is inspiring in keeping fear away, but focus your efforts on making your idea happen for you. Nothing in the world beats doing an idea into life.
As you move in on your best idea, you may find yourself moving in cycles through the stages. After all, if it were this easy we'd all be living our best lives tomorrow. What holds us back is our oh-so-human tendency to repeat the worries and fears in our mind, to over rehearse the myriad possibilities of what could go wrong instead of right, to become stuck in a loop of excuses and logistical headaches, fears of what others will think, fears of getting it wrong, fears of losing ourselves. The patterns we repeat are endless, but can be broken with effort, attention, commitment and support.
And here's a tip for dealing with flashes of fear as they arise (perhaps you're writing your business plan, about to have a conversation with a loved one, or about to tell someone your plans for More Joy for the very first time):
Stand up. And physically shake fear from your body like a wet dog. Brush your arms and legs down. Jig about. Move. Take some deep breaths. Resume.
(This is a proven technique for shaking off trauma experiences and it works!)
In the same post on Instagram, I also talked about support being a bridge - if fear is holding you back and you need more assistance in breaking down what's going on for you in order to move forward, then I offer affordable online discovery sessions and online counselling as a way to get started.