Let’s face it. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our life is our business, our job, and it depends on us to lead it. If we don’t lead it, someone or something else will, which might not bring us joy or serve us well. As the leaders of our life, we can lead with fear or we can lead with courage. No matter how you choose to lead your life, you owe it to yourself to answer the question: Is fear or courage leading your life?
When Fear Leads
When fear leads, we avoid, play small, hide, stay safe, maybe even run from our life. We don’t show up, we make excuses, we blame, we defend, and we rationalize why we’re not achieving our goals, dreams, or deepest desires. We stuff, we consume, we judge, and we numb to mask the pain of hiding inside our own life.
Of course, there are circumstances when we need fear to lead us, keep us safe, and protect us from harm. Move too close to the edge, come upon a bear, or be in a physically dangerous situation, and our mind says, “Danger!” and fear sends the message to be careful, get back, stop, run, or hide. I’m grateful for fear leading my life in life-threatening situations. My life and the lives of my loved ones could depend on it!
But when there’s no bear, no cliff, no fire, flood, or tornado, no life-threatening, imminent danger, we might be letting fear lead in order to avoid emotional dangers, such as vulnerability, embarrassment, humiliation, guilt, abandonment, rejection, judgment, terror, and shame. These emotional states may not be life threatening, yet the pain they cause can feel so deeply excruciating that we think we’ll die if we don’t escape them.
Although deeply painful, vulnerability, embarrassment, humiliation, guilt, abandonment, rejection, judgment, and shame are not dangerous or life threatening, to adults anyway. These emotional states can hurt like hell, but they cannot kill us. They’re emotional memories of a painful past, an old story that we repeat in our minds; a story that has shaped negative, scarcity beliefs about ourselves such as, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not smart enough,” “I’m a failure,” “I’m unworthy,” “I’m ugly,” “I’m a looser,” “I suck.” You get the picture. There’s no real danger in these beliefs, except that they break our hearts and our spirits. They talk us into playing small, avoiding, running, and living as victims in our own life.
I once dated a man that said to me one day, as we were walking out of the apartment we shared, “You’re not gonna go outside without makeup on are you?” Vividly, I recall thinking, “I’m not pretty enough.” Instantly, I sunk into the emotional states of embarrassment, humiliation, and shame. I wanted so badly to stand up for myself, tell him to go piss up a rope, and walk away with my head held high. Instead, I retreated, said something lame like, “Oh, okay,” went back inside, and put on makeup.
Because my mind said I wasn’t pretty enough, I felt unworthy. I was afraid that if I said anything, I’d get yelled at, humiliated, shamed, and abandoned. Because of how little I thought of myself, fear took the lead, but at a cost. I stayed in a crappy relationship way too long. But even more, I missed out on opportunities to discover my potential, my capabilities, my creativity, and me. I let fear be the boss of my life.
When Courage Leads
When courage leads, we show up, risk, and take action based on positive, abundant beliefs. We believe that we’re worthy, capable, and successful. Because our thinking is based on a story of abundance, we make intentional choices and decisions that serve us well. We actively move toward what we want in life and who we want to become. We shift our thinking, and lead our life and ourselves much as highly effective leaders run their businesses and corporations. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everything’s going to run smoothly without conflicts, setbacks, and obstacles, but we do it anyway…because we must. We believe in ourselves. We trust.
When courage leads, we look vulnerability, embarrassment, humiliation, guilt, abandonment, rejection, judgment, and shame right in the eye. The pain might feel excruciating, and yet we are consciously aware that we won’t die and that we no longer need to escape it. We can sit with these strong emotions. We can honor our pain as strength knowing full well that are feelings are normal, they do not define us, and that we are infinitely more.
Certainly we can lead our life and still feel afraid. We can feel the fear and do it with courage anyway. Fear in these instances is not fear based on scarcity beliefs or lack mindsets. We trust that we’re capable, worthy, and good enough. It is purely fear that comes with the anticipation of wanting to succeed and achieve, and realizing that we simply cannot control the outcomes or results. In other words, “I’m awesome, I trust, and the whole damn thing might still flop.”
Leading With Courage
Leading with courage first involves noticing our thinking. Yep, you’re gonna have to come to terms with the story, the scarcity beliefs, and the lack mindsets. Because our thinking influences how we feel and how we feel influences how we act, leading with courage begins in the mind.
It’s simple, yet not easy. We must think about our thinking, period. Because of our deeply rooted scarcity beliefs and lack mindsets, we’ll most likely become impatient, harsh, and judgmental with our minds. Patience, gentleness, and lots of compassion are so important as you begin noticing and observing your thinking. It took years to train our minds to think negatively. It will take time to create new thought patterns that serve us well.
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When I first became curious about what was going on, or not going on, in my mind, I thought I could simply start meditating and fix my mind quickly. That was not the case. I had to get still. I had to slow down and come face-to-face with my story, what I was thinking, and the source of my thoughts. Yes, it was scary.
I started journaling, practicing yoga, and hired a coach. I had a lot to learn. I needed support, guidance, encouragement, and a coach to call “bullshit” on me when the old story would reappear. As I observed my thinking, I began noticing patterns, triggers, and themes. At first, I reacted with anger and resentment. Yet, with patience, playful curiosity and compassion, I discovered why I thought the thoughts that I thought. The clarity was amazing!
I began experimenting with identifying the feelings I wanted to feel and what thoughts would produce them. Overtime, my thinking and feeling began to shift. As I rewrote many of the scarcity beliefs that influenced my emotions, different emotions lead to different, more fulfilling actions. My life began to transform in ways I’d only imagined.
Exploring my mind and changing the scarcity beliefs that were putting fear in a leading role has been hard work. Yet, the work continues to be some of the best I’ve ever done. Today, my actions, though imperfect, emerge from emotions of abundance such as trust, admiration, joy, anticipation, gratitude, and yes, courage.
There’s no easy path to changing our thinking. It’s a lifelong practice of stillness, introspection, contemplation, compassion, imperfect action, and yes, courage.