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Your Best Self in the Face of Fear and Failure - Part 1

PART 1 - Published in Best Self Media

I can barely breathe. The possibility of failure on an epic scale threatens everything my team and I have worked to achieve. I feel paralyzed. How in the world do I reach deep within and clear the way for my best self to emerge? I need her. She’s in there. Somewhere.

Will she show?

Brain science teaches us, how I feel and how I handle myself when the stakes are high is a function of how I have handled myself in the myriad threats that preceded the current crisis. Each earlier threat, big or small, has pre-conditioned my mind based on my thoughts, reactions, and my beliefs about my capabilities, culpability, and support. These determine with near certainty whether I will be crippled by fear or transcend it, in this situation and each time fear rears its monstrous head in the future.

So, what can I do, what can we do, to ensure our best self shows up when we need her most?

We can condition our response to fear to strengthen our inner certitude rather than cause a loss of confidence. Unmanaged, fear can confuse us, hinder our achievements, and limit our potential. Fear often hijacks our thinking, throwing us into a downward spiral. With each successive failure, fear gains strength and we lose power. Worst of all, fear can block the very thing we need to bring forth our best self: conscious thought.

Conversely, each time we conquer fear, we increase the likelihood of success and boosts our confidence that we can handle more significant challenges. Every past moment of success positively influences our mind’s interpretation of the next pressure-filled moment. You can summon enough strength to do it again because you have done it before. Best of all, once we learn how to rebound from failure, subsequent failures are interpreted merely as springboards for our success.

Faith in our capabilities and support is our strongest defense against fear. To reliably bring forth our best self in the worst of circumstances, we must prepare our minds intentionally in advance. We can teach ourselves to detect the flaws in our thinking that are either caused by fear, influenced by fear or honor fear and rewire our brains to interrupt them. We can reverse unproductive habits in our thinking by deliberately replacing them with upgraded thoughts that pull for our success through mindful practice.

What's the difference between habit and practice?

Until 2014, I thought habits and practices were the same things. They’re not. I enrolled in a four-month course called the Well Being Challenge, led by transformation expert and CEO of POP Associates, Andrea Bednar. The course was simple. Design a series of things that you will consistently do every week (preferably every day) and report back to the group every day without fail whether you did them or not. There was a financial penalty due immediately if you did not provide a report or if you did not do the things you committed to doing at the start of the course. The penalty was just big enough to discourage you from the daily temptation of not following through and grew painful quickly if multiple days were missed. I believe they call that incentive.

I chose an ambitious combination of practices that included daily planning, regular exercise, a healthy diet, daily meditation, and the most unnatural routine of waking and going to sleep on my husband’s early bird schedule. I also picked four others:

  • Dance from beginning to end to one full song every day, 7 days a week

  • Express love and appreciation in hand-written form three times a week

  • Review my written intentions for the year every day

  • Journal each evening and make note of the absence or presence of love, joy, peace, gratitude, freedom, and curiosity during my day

These would stretch me and yield a boost in productivity. I thought the course was about establishing healthy habits and strengthening the muscle to get more things done in a day. What I discovered was the course is about your mind – the things you think and the games you play. What was going on inside is what determines what happens outside. Each day, you either succeed or fail. Each day you are confronted with different circumstances and events that stand in your way of keeping your word, so fear of failure is present from the moment you open your eyes.

Very fortunate for me, my life during those months was unpredictable and tumultuous. My mind was on full throttle, making it hard to miss the internal dialogue screaming between my ears. Fear was a frequent companion. As the days and weeks passed by, I observed the argument in my head to quit. Each day, THE BIG LIE would pop into my mind: “I can’t do this. I can’t.

But I could.

Each night, I reviewed my list of practices and figured out how I was going to eat healthy meals, squeeze in exercise, wake up early (ugh!), get everything done I promised to do to escape having to put $30 in the kitty. Noting either the absence or presence of joy, I would renew my resolve to generate joy the next day in spite of whatever circumstances threw my way.

Along the way, I discovered my relationship between me and my word was weaker than I thought. I became acutely aware of where I invest my attention and time, and how much of those precious, unrecoverable resources I waste. When life was its ugliest and I was the most vulnerable, my practices grounded me. Meditation muted my fear. And no matter how bad circumstances were if I kept my word and danced from beginning to end to just one song while brushing my teeth, no matter how much I didn’t feel like it, joy would make a sneak appearance. My awareness of the relationship between mind and body increased.

I also learned the invaluable distinction between habit and practice in thought and how inseparable they are from fear and overcoming failure. They are the keys to knowing, nurturing, and surrendering to our best self.

This is how I see the difference between habit and practice:

  • A habit in thought is a recurrent, unconscious pattern of thinking and associated feelings I have acquired through frequent repetition. The thought fused with its accompanying emotions becomes engrained in my thinking. I think it without thinking about it. Here is the scary part: The now familiar thought becomes true for me – regardless of its conformity to truth or fact. Isn’t that comforting? My habitual thought patterns are automatic and are guaranteed to kick in when the same or similar conditions or events trigger them.

  • Practices in thought, on the other hand, involve the same repetition but are performed consciously so that I can improve my proficiency through observation and calibration. The discipline is to see things newly (no matter how many times I have seen something before) and to stay present during the process. I intentionally choose thoughts that dispel doubt and are linked to positive emotions that boost my feelings of confidence and certainty.


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