3 reasons you shouldn't try to be fearless


In the personal growth world as well as overall popular culture, the idea of being “fearless” is often praised. We hear things like, “you have two choices in any situation: love or fear.” And we’re told that if we don’t choose love, we’ll diminish our power and not lead the abundant lives we deserve. Makes sense in theory, right?

But I’m not buying it. As a therapist, I work with clients who have gone to tremendous lengths to avoid, cover up, or anesthetize fear. (In many cases, this started as a survival mechanism to cope with trauma.) We’re a culture of professional numbers and avoiders. We become so obsessed by the idea of “happiness” that we think feeling other emotions means that we’re somehow failing. But by putting pressure on yourself to be somehow “fearless,” it’s likely that you’re actually hurting rather than helping yourself in the long run. Here’s how:

1. You’re more likely to play it safe by keeping your dreams and aspirations small.

If you’ve conditioned yourself to believe that fear is bad, how will you ever truly step outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself, when that likely entails falling down or failing numerous times along the way?

In her book Playing Big, Tara Mohr shares that one of her biggest lessons about fear came from Rabbi Alan Lew, who explained to her that Biblical Hebrew uses several different words for fear. The first is “pachad,” which is “projected or imagined fear.” This is the type of fear that happens when we catastrophize, obsess over the worst case scenario, or believe irrational thoughts our minds tell us, like “if you don’t nail this presentation, your career will be destroyed.” The second word for fear is “yirah,” which Rabbi Lew described as “the fear that overcomes us when we suddenly find ourselves in possession of considerably more energy than we are used to, inhabiting a larger space than we are used to inhabiting.”

Learning about this helped me better articulate what I already knew to be true: that fear in some contexts (pachad) needs to be reframed and challenged, and fear in other contexts (yirah) is a natural part of stretching yourself into the uncharted territory of bigger dreams. If I never experience yirah, I know I’m cheating myself out of living up to my potential.

2. You reinforce blanket judgments about “positive” and “negative” emotions.

I understand what people mean when they say “negative emotions” (typically they’re alluding to sadness, fear, anger, guilt, shame, and loneliness), but what is it that really makes them negative? I like to reframe these feelings as “challenging” or “difficult,” because even calling fear a “negative” feeling is making a lot of assumptions -- and as we just discussed in #1, it certainly isn’t always negative.

Practice taking the judgment out of the fear you’re experiencing, and instead, describe what the feeling is like. Do you feel your pulse racing, your face hot? What would happen if you allowed yourself to sit with that feeling and breathe into it, rather than insisting that it needs to go away immediately? How would you respond differently to the feeling?

3. You’ll be focused on “what you want less of” instead of “what you want more of.”

If you believe that you should be fearless, you’ll do whatever you can to anesthetize that feeling when it inevitably shows up -- even if it’s something that leaves you worse off in the long run. I often ask my clients, “What are the things you do to try to get rid of or avoid fear and other difficult emotions?” Their answers almost always include isolating, emotional eating, shopping, bingeing on Netflix or social media, excessive sleeping, drinking, and smoking. On the more severe end of the spectrum, they mention drug use, cutting, hooking up, compulsive exercise, bingeing, and purging. Almost every time, they say that these behaviors they use to try to numb the feeling actually end up making them feel worse in the end.

When you’re so focused on what we want less of in our lives (like fear), that’s where your energy and actions are centered. This leaves little time and energy for focusing on what you want more of, like connection, spirituality, adventure, play, learning, and giving back.

I’m all for choosing love… but I’m also for befriending fear. Let’s have the courage to not be fearless.

let's get real about money: common sense is *not* common practice

Money In this era of "BIGGER! EXTREME! UPGRADE! MORE MORE MORE!", I feel a serious need right now to simplify and declutter. I'm not exactly hopping on the minimalist bandwagon yet, but this December has felt like the perfect time to purge. (Sidebar, I always feel kinda weird using that word given its very specific meaning in the eating disorder treatment world I live in. I digress; it's the word I need.)

I've been cleaning out my pantry, freezer, bookshelves, and home office over the past few days. Last week, I cleaned out my work office and rearranged my desk. I started working on my 2015 "Create Your Shining Year" goals workbook, and was slightly annoyed when I got to the section about financial goals.

I don't want to think about money! Money gives me anxiety that makes me want to crawl back in bed. That's not why I bought the workbook, after all! I just want to explore my goals in more fun and exciting parts of life, dammit.

Yep. Classic Ostrich Approach. So much happier with my head in the sand! ...until those days that I have to peek one eye open, and get anxious and frustrated about the state of affairs.

So what did I do? After some initial avoidance (just turn the page!), I made a decision to shift my annoyance about this particular interruption to my sparkly, fun goal-setting process. I realized that at this moment in my life, money IS the biggest obstacle to me feeling truly free. Stupid workbook knew exactly what it was doing.

2014 was a pretty kick-ass year for me, but I have just never been great with money, and this year was no exception. (Plus, even with help from parents, the wedding added on more-than-average expenses.) I have gotten better overall than I used to be, especially at not buying stupid crap (like $25 eyeshadows) or way more (low-quality) clothes than any reasonable person needs, but I have a ways to go.

I am a pro at creating budgets (noticed I said "creating," not following) and setting up accounts on things like Mint with the best of intentions (Momma always said the road to hell was paved with good intentions), but then tend to go back to Ostrich mode pretty quickly. I've also read and listened to a ton of material on personal finance, having followed Suze Orman and Ramit Sethi's work on and off for years now. But alas, as the adage goes... it's not what you know that matters; it's what you do. Common sense is not common practice.

What Scarcity & Gratitude Have To Do With It

Like most people, I don't like to feel restricted. Telling me I can't/shouldn't have a $4 latte just makes me really want a $4 latte. (That's one reason why Ramit's advice is so good -- he focuses a lot on the psychology and behavior change elements of personal finance.) It's all connected to our scarcity culture, fear of deprivation, and comparison/fear of not measuring up (gotta keep up with the Joneses, right?) As Brené Brown writes, "We wake up in the morning and we say, 'I didn't get enough sleep.' And we hit the pillow saying, 'I didn't get enough done.'" In one way or another, we believe that we never are enough, and that we never have enough. And of course, the opposite of scarcity is a mindset of abundance and gratitude.

Whenever I intentionally practice gratitude via  journaling or meditation, I usually (and understandably) focus on the most important things -- my family, my friends, a good job, a roof over my head, my health. And obviously it's important to be grateful for all of that. But I wonder... if I were to practice gratitude for the "stuff" in my life, perhaps I can develop more of an abundance mindset and be less threatened by the thought of scarcity or not measuring up that leads me to wanting more "stuff"?

It might sound silly, but go with me here: If I can practice gratitude for my breadth of education and my good collection of books (many of which I have yet to read!), perhaps I will feel less of an urgent need to educate myself further through expensive training courses and buying more and more books. (Ironically, Tara Mohr's new book, Playing Big, has helped me see how I use constant education-and-credential-seeking as a way to put off actions to play bigger NOW in my life.) After all, that is what most of my discretionary spending has been on in 2014.

The Power of Commitment + Action

For some reason, I feel more energized than ever right now to turn my knowledge about personal finance into real, life-changing action. The time is right, and I'm grabbing it. I've taken several actions already -- i.e. deleting all credit cards from my Amazon account and asking my husband to stow my cards away somewhere (most of them have $0 balance, but I want to put some serious obstacles in my way to overspending).  I made a commitment to myself that I'm not putting another dollar on a credit card for the foreseeable future -- maybe ever, but at least for a few years. And I'm now making that commitment here, too. The research is mixed on whether making a public commitment toward a goal helps or hinders it, but a great piece on this topic from Scientific American posits that, "The more you publicly commit to an attitude, the better able you are to resist any attempts to change it, and this is largely due to those increases in confidence and perceived importance/centrality."

So there it is. Some vulnerability and honesty that, while I have my shit together in a lot of ways, I also have some serious work to do in this area. And I'm guessing some of you reading this know what that's like. It's one of the topics we most want to avoid talking about, even with close friends and family, which means it's probably exactly what we need to talk about.

If any of this resonates with you, I invite you to join me! Take your head out of the sand, get clear and current with your finances, and talk to someone about it. Ain't nothin' to be ashamed of. And if you want to share your own questions, worries, or reflections in the comments, I'd love to engage on this topic.