More precisely, I want to give you a helpful tool to be with fear without it feeling overwhelming.
I was talking about the power of fear with a friend and colleague I was visiting recently, and she practically jumped up and down as she handed me Tim Ferriss’ book Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice From the Best in the World. She opened it up to Kristen Ulmer’s chapter on how to deal with fear.
Kristen Ulmer knows fear. She was the best woman extreme skier in the world for 12 years. She’s the author of The Art of Fear: Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to Do Instead.
Here is what she says about fear:
“Fear is not a sign of personal weakness, but rather a natural state of discomfort that occurs whenever you’re out of your comfort zone. It’s not there to sabotage you, but to help you come alive, be more focused, and put you into the present moment and a heightened state of excitement and awareness. If you push fear away, the only version of fear available to you will be its crazy, irrational, or contorted version. If you’re willing to feel it, and merge with it, its energy and wisdom will appear.”
Kristen has a simple, fast (1-2 minute) process to deal with fear:
Spend 15-30 seconds affirming it is natural to feel the discomfort. We are supposed to be scared when we do new or big things. (What really helps me in this process is saying “This is just a feeling…I am simply feeling a feeling; There is no tiger chasing me.”)
Spend 15-30 seconds being curious about how you are responding to the discomfort. If the feeling seems out of proportion to the situation, or irrational, it is a sign that you have been ignoring your fear, so it is getting louder to get you to pay attention. Feelings are meant to be felt, not repressed. Ask what it has been trying to say that you have not acknowledged, e.g. “You might want to start your taxes soon so you won’t be up all night trying to finish them before the deadline.”
Spend as long as it takes to feel it. Important—Don’t try to get rid of it. That would be disrespectful to fear. Kristen writes, “The key is to feel the feeling by spending some time with it, like you would your dog, friend, or lover…After which, fear, feeling acknowledged and heard, often dissipates.”
For the rest of the day, whenever you feel anxious, stressed or upset, do the process again. Kristen writes, “…I turn toward my discomfort and try to have an honest relationship with it by engaging in this fear practice. I focus on my discomfort, fear, sadness, anger, or anything else that seems unpleasant—all of it—and that effort not only affords me insights but, even though you’d never expect it, also thoroughly and amazingly sets me free.”
I have found the same thing. Our feelings are not here to traumatize us and make us feel horrible, they are here to communicate to us how we are living our life. If we honor them by paying attention, we will have more awareness and freedom of choice in our life.
A client of mine recently shared with me, “I’m learning I have a life to live. It is influenced by emotions and fear. They will always be there. I have a choice to be frightened or to embrace them and keep going; new ones will come. When I first came here, I was stuck in my thoughts. I’m learning to have greater peace. When you have peace, your soul is satisfied. You can take what comes at you. You are not defensive…It allows me to be who I am—who I want to be.”
This is what is possible when we are with our feelings rather than repress them.
So, go ahead, try this practice of being with your feelings, and notice the difference in your life.
P.S. My book is published!!!!!!! You can buy it in paperback or on Kindle, here!
In my early 20’s, I would have made an awful police officer.
After college, I moved to NY and worked in New York City. Two years later, at the age of 23, I left because I was turning into someone I didn’t like. I was becoming harder, more guarded, suspicious, and more ist—classist, racist, educationalist, and probably several other ists.
NYC is a place where you see the best of people and the worst of people. When faced with extremes, we start to think in extremes.
When we constantly see people under stress, living difficult lives, it is easy to put them in a box. We have no curiosity about who they are, and why they are doing what they are doing.
In our minds, they become what we label them.
The great child psychologist Jean Piaget wrote, “every problem behavior was once a solution.”
We can’t have compassion when we see people as bad, rather than people trying to solve problems (even when those actions create problems).
When we lose our compassion, we lose our humanity.
I don’t know what it would be like to be a police officer. I do know they are often called into people’s lives at their worst. They see people who are hurt and who hurt others. Given my experience in NYC, I know how difficult it would be to maintain compassion if I faced people at their worst on a daily basis.
At a Rotary board meeting once, I heard about police officers taking supplies like diapers when they go on domestic calls. They pay for these supplies out of their own pockets.
Right before I sat down to write this, 3 police cars raced by, lights flashing and sirens blaring. I sent them a silent prayer, wishing them grace under pressure, and the ability to think and act clearly, and with compassion.
I’m still not sure if I would make a good police officer.
I do know these humans–whether they are the police or the people they are there to arrest, or to help–can use all the compassion and love they can get, and that we can give them.
We all blame. As Brene Brown says, “Blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain.” When mistakes are made, our first response is to try to find whose fault it is. A natural response, but not helpful.
Here is an entertaining (less than 4 minute) video on blaming by the brilliant Brene Brown. Watch it—you will enjoy it. You might even spend a little less time blaming in the future.
Also, next month I will be announcing my new program — 7 Powerful Practices for Your Inner Perfectionist. Yay!!!!! If you have been wanting to work with me, but can’t come into my office every week, this program is for you!
recently made a big mistake; I spammed over 5000 people. It was not
one of my finest moments, but it was a mistake—I didn’t start out the
day deciding I wanted to piss off a bunch of people I didn’t know.
When I realized what happened I didn’t respond perfectly (what a
surprise.) I blamed myself. I blamed other people. I tried to find
I realized my response wasn’t helping anyone, so I started using a tool I
employ when I want to forgive myself and others. I will share it in a
bit because it is awesome to help facilitate forgiveness, but not quite
The problem was, in attempting to jump to forgiveness, I was bypassing
my feelings. Instead of feeling my response to the situation, I was
trying to do the “correct” thing, to forgive right away.
You may remember my April newsletter talked about not bypassing big
feelings like fear. It outlined how being with our feelings can help
them pass more quickly. It is a powerful practice and I totally forgot
about it as I was trying to not feel bad, and was pinning fault on
whomever I could.
As I was sitting there, trying to forgive, I quickly realized there was
no way I could forgive anyone, especially myself, in that moment.
I was angry, and I was scared that 5000 people hated me and were cursing
my existence. So I stopped trying to forgive and I just felt my anger
and my fear. I cried, my body shook, and I allowed my feelings. It felt
awful, and then it felt freeing. I took a deep breath.
After I had done the work of simply feeling my feelings, I could move on to the next step—forgiveness.
My favorite tool to foster forgiveness is The Loving Kindness prayer Thich Nhat Hahn shares. Below is a version I use:
May I be safe.
May I be free from suffering.
May I be well.
May I know the light of my own true nature.
May you be safe.
May you be free from suffering.
May you be well.
May you know the light of my own true nature.
always say it to myself first, because I am the one who needs it the
most! Then I say it to the person, or people, or group with whom I am
angry. I say it every time anger arises within me. I keep saying it
until I feel calm and at peace. Sometimes this takes a lot of
When I say this prayer, it focuses my mind on what I actually want to
feel. I do wish we all felt safe, were free from suffering, were well,
and knew the light of our true nature, even when we make mistakes.
Do you ever feel more stressed than is comfortable? Are you, like me, on the search for tools to help reduce stress?
If you answered no to those questions, please contact me, I really, really want to know what you know! I just finished my book and am in the process of expanding my business, so I have been using stress-reduction tools a LOT!
During times of high stress, I constantly use the gazillion stress-reduction techniques I have learned. They never totally make the stress go away, but they enable me to be calmer as I am pursuing whatever goal, task, or risk I am facing. They help me breathe a little deeper, relax a little more, and have a quieter mind.
I recently had coffee with a colleague I’ve known since college, Nancy Linnerooth. Nancy uses EFT/Tapping to help her coaching clients reduce stress and overcome procrastination. She attended Harvard Law School and practiced therapy for over 17 years, so she knows how to deal with stress! If you want to know more about her work, read about her below the video and check out her website: UnblockResults.com.
I asked if she would send me a video of one of her favorite stress-reduction tools so I could share it with you. Buddha Hands is the technique she sent. It is a simple, non-obvious way to calm your nervous system in any situation.
As I was doing it, I noticed my body relaxing and I spontaneously took a deep breath—signs that my nervous system was relaxing. This tool works! I highly recommend you watch it and practice Buddha Hands as you are watching.