Coming Back and Learning to Be a Beginner

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I had some very, very lofty goals for this blog. So I got a domain name and set out on that path…and choked pretty badly. Performed some pretty mind-bending fuckery on myself in deciding to do something courageous every. single. day. The problem with that – is that you have to find things to be afraid of every. single. day. Focusing on fear, especially with that intensity, was not helpful.

…..

……….. ;p

Be brave when you need to be. Be brave often. Life will bring you a zillion opportunities to be courageous without you ever needing to seek them out.

At the moment, I have no particular goals for the blog. I just have something I wanted to share.

Learning to Be a Beginner

When I was little, I was very, very lucky. I was smart and picked things up quickly. Lots of things came pretty easily to me. The shadow side of that coin, was that when things didn’t come easily (or quickly), I concluded that I was “bad” at them and would never get much better.

As an older person, I know that’s hogwash. The only determining factor in whether you get better at something is how often you practice it, the repetition. (This is not an original thought, it’s just what happens. There are lots and lots of wonderful people who’ve said it before me – too many to list here, really.)

I don’t say “the effort you put into it” because you can effort like crazy and not get anywhere. I did it all the time.¹ It’s completely exhausting.

Efforting is the the psyching yourself up to get there; facing completely outrageous, unachievable, vague, and semi-conscious standards; taking a little step into the water; floundering around a bit; and then judging yourself extremely harshly on that that first action. You compare your toe-in-the-water to someone else’s master work, that they’ve spent years (or a lifetime) building the skill to accomplish.

The energy expense on that is monumental. You can can throw yourself at that brick wall over and over and make almost no measurable improvement. And it hurts. A LOT. Why would anyone want to keep doing something so painful?

We put an enormous amount of emphasis and value on persistence in our culture. (Whose culture I’m referring to here, I’m not quite sure – artists? Americans? Westerners? Humans….???) At any rate, there is a very pervasive idea that relentless, terminator-like persistence is the key to any success. The problem is, if you persist in efforting, you’re just grinding away your knife blade, you’re ruining your tool, destroying the means and the fuel for achieving success. I hope that makes sense. It’s a pretty scrambled metaphor.

Here are some strategies and concepts that make being a beginner easier:

Play. Have fun. Enjoy yourself. It will make you want to do whatever-it-is again. Focus on enjoying what you’re doing in the moment.

Don’t just start small, start minuscule. 

  • When curing phobias, you use a process of desensitization, becoming accustomed to exposure to what you’re afraid of. This is similar.
  • Tiny things are imminently achievable. Set yourself up for as many early successes as you can.

CELEBRATE!!!! Reward yourself mightily with massive quantities of self-approval; pats-on-the-back; you go, girls; high-fives; and good boys.

Redefine success. You’re a massive success if you took action. Your success has nothing to do with the quality of what you did.

Be gentle with yourself. If a wee child was doing this for the first time, you would never castigate them for doing poorly, verbally abuse them, tell them what a crappy job they did. You’re new at this. You deserve no less.

Remember that optimists greatly over-estimate how well they did the first time they do something. Pessimists have a more “accurate” view. Optimists are more likely to follow up and do it again.³

Dabble. Try it out. Get some more information. Find out if it’s even any fun or worthwhile in the first place. You don’t have to commit before you’ve even started.

Talk yourself out of any idea that being kind to yourself will make you soft, is undeserved, or will somehow lower your standards and turn you into a crappy version of what you want to be. None of that is true.²

All this positive stuff? It’s fuel. It’s putting gas in your car for the journey to getting better. It’s the opposite of destroying yourself with blind persistence.

What this looks like in practice:

Starting an exercise program by using a pedometer and walking just a few more steps every day. Even one more step a day. Or starting with a single push-up. Then celebrating like you are Champion of the Universe!

Beginning a writing or drawing goal by getting out paper and a pen or pencil. Making a squiggle. Then celebrating like you are Champion of the Universe!

Making healthier food choices by eating a single raw vegetable stick. Then celebrating like you are Champion of the Universe!

Are you sensing a theme here? Can you think of a way to apply this to whatever-it-is-you-want-to-do?

This approach is silly. Which is good. One reason it’s effective is that it helps break up whatever unpleasant pattern you may have established in the past.

And don’t worry, no matter how enjoyable you make that first, little step, you won’t settle. It won’t satisfy you and somehow make you complacent. You’ll want more.

 

Footnotes and Resources:
¹ …in my pursuit of art, in trying to conquer a phobia, in trying to achieve most things I valued.
² Ira Glass Quote Illustrated by Zen Pencils , Original Ira Glass Video
³ I think this comes from Learned Optimism by Martin E. P. Seligman
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The section on failure in Unlimited Power (book or audio) by Anthony Robbins

 

Many thanks to John Green and Zen Pencils for giving me the energy and inspiration to make this for you.

 

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Planning Part II: Mitigation Versus the Whatifs

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mit·i·gate
To moderate (a quality or condition) in force or intensity; alleviate.

“Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
…Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
…Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!”

–Shel Silverstein, “Whatif” from A Light in the Attic

Have you ever had Whatifs partying on a constant merry-go-round in your brain? Or been really exited about a new dream, only to find yourself going cold as an undefined dread creeps over you? If you pull each Whatif off its carousel horse, out of the shadows, and look at them individually, it becomes much easier to identify exactly what they are. Once you see them clearly, solutions are not so hard to find.

To practice mitigation, you’ll need some risks you’re concerned about. The list from the last post will do nicely.

Isolate 1 item on your list. Working with a single, discrete issue gives you a problem you can solve. Trying to find an answer for a whole cloud of worries rarely works and can be exhausting. To get a solution, you need to be focused and specific.

Bring all your problem-solving abilities to bear on each item, 1 at a time. Brainstorming by yourself or with friends is great. Write down your ideas. You may find that the solutions are really simple.

Many times this is more than enough to melt your worries. If the Whatifs crawl in your ear, you have answers.

I love this technique because it is extremely practical, reframes your fears into something useful, and shows you how powerful your own common sense is.

Please leave a comments if you have any questions or would like examples of concerns and solutions.

Planning, Part I – Corral Your Concerns

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Once you have a goal you really want to reach, it helps to have a plan to get there. I’m not going to tell you how to create that. Barbara Sher and Anthony Robbins do it better.

Here on Royal Heart, the focus is fears that seem to swarm out at the planning stage, when things “get real,” when accomplishing your aim starts to seem plausible. The nifty part, is that this is one place where they can actually do their job, usefully warning you of danger while you have time to prepare. However, they can be disruptive and unruly. To function well, they need to be corralled. This keeps them from derailing your work, and puts them outside your head where you can sort what is sensible and rational from blind emotion.

Here’s how you do it:

While using whatever planning method you like, keep a separate spot for notes. Whenever a concern comes up, write it down. Know that you can’t forget them and you will take care of them. Then you can keep working without distraction (at least from your worries).

After you finish, pull out the list. If you’re feeling anxious, do some diaphragmatic breathing, break for a cup of tea, whatever it takes to get to a clear head space. When you come back, sort your list into rational challenges and irrational fears. Often, it is pretty clear which are which. If you find any you are unsure about, subject them to a couple of tests.

Firstly, imagine that someone you know is the telling you about the project. When they bring up this concern, does it seem legitimate, or does it seem like stalling? If it seems like an excuse, procrastination, or just not plausible, put it in the irrational group.

Secondly, play Name That Fear. Get very specific about what’s bothering you. If it seems impossible, then it may be something that is based only on emotion. It doesn’t mean you need to dismiss it, just that it needs to be dealt with whenever it starts getting in the way of your momentum.

Next post, we get to look at one of my favorite techniques, mitigation. This is where all the Whatifs have to get to work instead of just making trouble.

Become Awesome! (by doing things badly)

Give yourself permission to be a beginner, to have a messy, imperfect start. Be a dabbler. Try a little. Play a little. Pick something that seems like it might be fun, but that you don’t have any deep attachment to. Don’t judge your first efforts, crow about them! Give yourself wagon-fulls of applause for achieving any sort of effect. Remember that you are a beginner and teach yourself as gently as you would a tiny child. If you enjoy something, you’ll want to do more of it. Paradoxically, and against a great deal of popular “wisdom” this approach gets faster results.

“Don’t be halfassed.”

“Any job worth doing is worth doing well.”

“You can’t be a real x, y, or z, if you’re not serious.”

There is a lot of this going around. Treat it like the illness it is and guard against catching it. Being serious is a massive waste of energy, as is worrying about a particular outcome, or comparing yourself unfavorably to people further along the path. If you indulge in these thoughts, you will expend many times the effort for a fraction of the gain.

How to set goals when you hate, hate, HATE setting goals.

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Start moving toward a goal you really want and the resistance will leap out of hiding and start trying to talk you out of moving.

– Barbara Sher

If you love and enjoy setting goals, skip this post. Do NOT let it taint your joy. If, on the other hand, you would rather experience diabolical, self-inflicted torture, read on.

Setting goals is absolutely necessary for getting what you want. In order to get it, you have to know what it is. Simple, right? But not necessarily easy. Here are some suggestions:

  • Read I Could Do Anything if Only I Knew What It Was and Wishcraft by Barbara Sher. Do the exercises.
  • Have a wishlist that you created when you were in a more positive state of mind. Use the ones you like the best and hone them into goals.
  • Be willing to do it badly.
  • Get leverage. What is the awful cost of not doing it? What is the amazing gain from finishing?
  • Do the minimum:
    1. State your goals in the positive. Write down what you want to happen, instead of what you want to avoid.
    2. Make them specific. Instead of “make more money” the goal could be “make $10,000 more this year than last year.” Define what you really want.
    3. Write out criteria for meeting your goal. How will you be able to tell you’ve made it? I.e. for the goal “Conquer Driving Phobia” the criteria could be “pass test for driver’s license.”
    4. Give each goal a timeline for completion.

     

  • Bribery. Give yourself something nice for finishing.
  • Be as gentle as possible, and congratulate yourself like a champion when it is done (no matter how well or badly you think you did).

Instant Physical Relief for Fear

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A lot of these early posts will be laying foundations for further work, but I do not want to wait to share an awesome technique. This one is so utterly simple, you may be tempted to blow it off. Don’t. It is powerful enough to melt through panic attacks and bypasses your brain, so it does not matter if you are too scared to think. It can be used any time, for any level of fear, and feels good.

Relaxed Diaphragmatic Breathing – How To

  1. Take a slow, gentle breath, making sure to poke your belly out. Put your hand on your abdomen and feel it pressing outward. (Your diaphragm is the muscle that separates your lungs from your stomach area and is used in breathing.)
  2. Push the air back out slowly and steadily.
  3. Repeat at least 5 times.
  4. Check in. How are you doing?
    1. How much tension is in your face and body? Are you immediately holding your breath or hyperventilating? If the answer is “yes,” breathe another round (or several).
    2. Also take a moment to pay attention to your thoughts. Imagine that they are separate from you and you are only listening and observing, as if your thoughts are a river. If they’re bouncing around, not particularly linear, or stuck circling round and round, you should keep breathing deeply.
  5. Keep going until you sense relief (your brain settles out, you can breathe normally, and you feel calmer).

There’s no reason to save this just for especially nasty occasions. It is really effective with mild anxiety as well.

Your Courage Wishlist

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I was always an unusual girl. My mother told me I had a Chameleon soul, no moral compass pointing to north, no fixed personality; just an inner decisiveness that was just wide and is wavering across the ocean. And if I said I didn’t plan for it to turn out this way I’d be lying.

Lana Del Rey – Ride

Don’t…take this seriously. Be frivolous. Extravagant. It is brainstorming time and the rules are that you can’t say “no” while you’re coming up with a list of things you want to do. If you absolutely must, you may weed out later. Fear can shut you down. This is about getting out of the box and giving yourself a star to aim for.

Write down anything that you’ve held back, whether from feelings of mild resistance or outright terror. If you need some kind of random number for structure, try seventeen. It doesn’t hurt to go over or under, but you want to have enough wishes to play with.

When you’re done, and you’ve given it a minute or two to settle (there may be some stragglers to the party), rank items by intensity, zero to three. Note the number next to the action. Zero means “This doesn’t scare me at all. I could start right now.”  One translates to “I have a little resistance.” Three is for “This is really hard. It will take a lot of effort or time to build up to this.” Two is a catch-all for anything that falls in the middle or when you are unsure. If you have anything on your list that literally makes you panicky, put a 5 next to it and mentally set it aside. There are some specific, very effective strategies for dealing with these that will be covered in future posts.

Look your list over. If it is mostly threes or fives, try to come up with some more not-so-scary wants. One purpose of this list is to create “weights” for your bravery training. You’ll need plenty of lighter weights while you build up your strength.

You may need to loosen up a bit. Humor is great for this, so taking a break to watch ridiculous kitten videos, read Calvin and Hobbes, or whatever makes you chuckle, works well. When you come back, think of actions a five year old version of yourself might add. Write them down.

Why use your own list instead of a premade set of exercises to “enlarge your comfort zone?” Several reasons:

  1. People who make these kind of exercises base them on their own comfort scale, or on practice with other people. They will be poorly balanced for you. Some things may be too easy, some too hard, or just a bad fit for your personality.
  2. “Enlarging your comfort zone,” is pretty abstract, even euphemistic. Confronting fear can be challenging. You want to have the emotional electricity to help you carry you through it.
  3. The Payoff. If you do the work to pass through fear, you get what you want!

More on how to use the list soon.

Introduction

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Why create this blog in the first place?

The aim of this blog is to literally encourage you, to cheer you on as you take healthy risks and to give you practical, immediate tools to manage fear and anxiety so you can take action. The more bravery you exercise, the larger your world becomes. As your courage grows, so does your experience of life, becoming more vivid, more deliciously juicy, more free. You deserve that. We all do.

Courage is accessible to EVERYONE. This blog is for anyone who:

  • …has ever been held back by fear.
  • …wants to know there are others in similar predicaments, and some who’ve made it out.
  • …is already on their own courage journey, but wants additional insights.
  • …is ready for a hero’s utility belt full of specialized tools to handle the myriad types and intensities of fear.
  • …is unsure, but curious, and might be ready soon.
  • …is tired of being stuck!

This blog is not a good fit for people who are:

  • …more interested in contemplating abstract, philosophical questions about bravery than in practicing courage in their everyday lives.
  • …primarily looking for profiles of heroic people. These stories are wonderful inspirations, but what we fear and what we face is as individual as we are. Comparisons are often unhelpful.

Now that we know where we stand, let’s jump right in!