Recently I was listening to a new segment on NPR called “Invisibilia.” The station describes the show as depicting “the invisible forces that shape human behavior.” The segment I happened to hear was about fear. In particular, one man was so gripped by fear of rejection after his wife left him that he was unable to interact normally with other people, specifically women. He finally became so fed-up with the way his fear was negatively impacting his life that he decided to “disobey it.” Instead of running from it, he sought it out. He would ask random strangers for favors and rides, ask clerks for discounts, women for coffee dates all with goal of seeking the very thing that terrified him – rejection. By turning his fear upside down he began a new narrative for himself. Instead of being fearful of rejection, he was happy to receive it and said “Thank you” to those that gave it to him. He conquered his fear by challenging it. Taunting it. Asking for it. This strategy was so successful he eventually turned it into a card game that he marketed around the globe.
This story struck me profoundly. Several weeks ago a client confided to me that she was terrified before I came to train her each morning. (I had no idea I could strike terror into the hearts of my clients!) She explained that fitness had been a lifelong struggle and she feared failure once again. Admittedly I do not suffer from this type of fear. I welcome new fitness challenges and love to work my body so hard it hurts. But all my life I have suffered from another type of fear. In addition to being a trainer, I am also a performer and I suffer from fairly intense stage fright. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been on a stage hundreds, if not thousands of times throughout my life. Before I step out there, my heart pounds and I am filled with fear that I am going to f**k something up. Or that I don’t belong there. Or that I am not funny. Or can’t hit an emotional note. That is until recently, when after a performance I had an epiphany. The performance started like any other, all the palpitations, all the doubt. And when it was finished, the director didn’t run up to me and spit in my face and tell me I sucked. No. Just like all the other times, she told me I was great. On the drive home I pondered how, with evidence to the contrary, I could tell myself the same false narrative before every performance. And just like that, I decided to tell myself a new story, one that actually fit the data. At my next performance, I was startled to find no palpitations, only calm. And instead of hurting myself with negative bullying, I helped myself with positive thoughts. It has served me quite well in subsequent performances and auditions as well as other aspects of my life.
Of course fear has a viable place. Fear of lions on the plains kept our ancestors from becoming lunch. But when fear keeps you from being your best, from achieving your goals, it’s time to tell yourself a new story. Disobey your fear. Tell it “no.” Tell yourself “yes.”