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This blog post is mostly about the video blog today. I am in the midst of refining the specific ways I’m working the tool set of Fear Mastery, and this video blog post is another step in that direction.

(BTW, I say at the start of this video that I’m putting two video posts up today – but in fact I put up one video with my blog entry at the start of this week, and this video is #2.)

But I also wanted to quickly let you my faithful readers know that I’m kicking it up a notch with the blog. Here are my New Year Resolutions for Fear Mastery:

1) I’m really, truly ramping up the blog entries to two times a week. Today’s post is the first installment in that commitment. It will probably vary in form from week to week, but what I’m thinking right now is I’ll do a written post and video post, then later in the week do another video post.

2) I will make the written posts shorter, I swear it! 🙂 It is very tempting to try and completely cover a blog topic in a single post (at least it is for me), but it can also make for long and sometimes cumbersome reading. So I’m committing in 2012 to keeping the posts to no longer than about 1100-1200 words. (I have been averaging 2000 – holy crap!)

A Couple of Questions for You, the Readers

Lastly, for this entry, I have some things I’m wondering about, and I’m hoping you’ll let me know what you think, either here at the blog or by email:

1) Would it be useful to anyone here if I created a Twitter Account and posted some quick Fear Mastery thoughts/reminders/suggestions, 3-4 times a week?

2) Would a Facebook Page be something that would interest you folks? It could be a place where we can trade notes about personal challenges, progress, places we’re stuck, and shared experience. I am in the midst of designing a website where there will be forums for that same purpose (including by mid-summer live chat for folks to have real-time conversations) but this might be a test run/intermediate step.

Next Up

As promised last post my next several blog posts will cover the specific issues we face when we confront our Comfort Zone fears – those fears we’ve been carting around for (usually) years, or even decades – the fears that are usually the most resistant to us taking them on and pulling them apart.

Have a good weekend Fear-Busters – remember, we have (literally) nothing to fear but fear itself – and with a little work, we don’t even have to be afraid of that.

I have been writing for a number of months now about the core of the dysfunctional fear and anxiety that too many of us fight. That core is simply this – us treating a problem or problems as a crisis. It really is that simple. Simple doesn’t always translate to easy – and in fact in this context it can feel very challenging to sort out and stop – but it is simple. Today’s post is about the basic steps to do what I call Triad – the converting of a problem-treated-as-crisis BACK to a problem.

I like the word “mechanics” in the title of this post because this is really a basic, straight-forward process. There isn’t anything complex about HOW to face our fears from a how-to perspective. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have significant challenges in doing the work! As anyone who has wrestled with fear and anxiety can tell you the emotional, physical and mental turmoil this work can generate in us can be overwhelming.

But that’s precisely why it is so important to understand clearly the basic process in doing the work. Having a clear grasp on HOW can make it much more effective when you do the work and face that storm of feelings and physical sensations and thoughts that will try to drive you back from your work, from getting this thing sorted out and de-fanged.

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog some of this might sound a little repetitive. That’s OK. It bears repeating. It is easy to lose this map, and easier still to not really grasp it and its full implications. But understanding this, combined with applying it in regular work to address specific anxieties/fears, is what sets us free from the debilitating, life-sucking impact of fear and anxiety in our lives.

A Good Tool Gone Bad

It all starts with this simple understanding: we have 1 (one) naturally evolved response to danger, real or perceived. REALLY important to understand that it doesn’t matter whether the danger is actual (tiger, pack of hungry wolves, drunk driver veering in front of us, earthquake) or something you THINK is dangerous (creditor calling because you’re late, Mother-in-Law coming for Thanksgiving, feeling trapped in work you hate, your conviction that nobody will ever marry you) – we have one response mechanism in our bodies. That response is Flight or Fight.

If the danger is real – physical, present-moment danger, the kind that can actually kill or seriously injure you – then Flight or Fight is the perfect mechanism to have in place. You’re going to be in motion before you’re aware of it, either a) running from the danger or b) turning to fight it/cope with it UNTIL you can flee. Those are the options that nature has learned give us the best chances of not getting hurt or killed.

The problem is we’re not living with tigers or constantly challenged by drunk drivers. Most of us are living pretty safe lives when it comes to the physical danger thing. No, most of us are dealing with the challenges created by our thinking and beliefs. And these “dangers” are NOT what Flight or Fight evolved for, and so it isn’t equipped to deal with them in effective ways. And this is precisely where we go off track and get ourselves lost in fear, anxiety and depression.

The Problem That Morphs Into a Crisis

Another way of putting this is that Flight or Fight evolved to deal with crises – dangerous situations that had to be managed NOW, or leave us open to injury or even death. It is crucial to be clear on this – actual danger was threatening, right NOW, and had to managed NOW. That is the definition of a crisis.

But the vast majority of the issues that generate anxiety and fear for us are not crises – they are problems. A problem is something you usually CAN’T solve in the way you solve a crisis. For example, let’s say you woke up one night to hear the sounds of a Tyrannosaurus Rex crashing through your backyard. (I grant you, not bloody likely, but the way genetic engineering is going…) RUN. End of story. Unless you have a bazooka and know how to use it, and even then, RUN!

Ok, it’s a silly example. The point is THAT is a crisis. A problem is vastly different. A problem is discovering you could lose your job in two months. Why isn’t that a crisis? IT CAN’T KILL YOU RIGHT NOW. Again, end of story. It isn’t a crisis. It may feel like a crisis. You may experience all the sensations and thoughts and feelings of a crisis. But that doesn’t make it a crisis!

You’re experiencing all those Flight or Fight Responses to the potential layoff because you have started treating it in your mind, thinking of it, as a crisis. At the moment there is no Tyrannosaurus in your backyard. Even as you’re re-reading the email that warns you about the potential layoff nothing at the moment is wrong. You’re safe and cozy in your cubicle or home office or the coffeeshop you’re in. There is nothing to run from, and no danger that can injure or kill you, there in that moment.

It is vital that we learn this distinction. All of the fear, anxiety, worry and panic that we generate and suffer through starts here. Grasp this and you’re honestly half-way to your freedom.

But it Feels Like a Crisis!

Let me remind you again that simple isn’t necessarily easy. Just because you’re not actually facing a crisis doesn’t mean that you didn’t learn to treat situations like a potential lay-off AS a crisis. This is where our learned Comfort Zone boundaries cause us to treat a problem like a crisis – the web of beliefs that we apply to our experience.

If you have learned that a job equals safety, and security, and freedom from danger/anxiety, then getting news of a potential layoff can easily send you into panic mode. It has happened a LOT since this last recession began with people you know, or even yourself, yes?

Why does this happen? Because we begin to predict disaster in our future. I call this the start of the Chronic Anxiety Cycle, a feature of the Flight or Fight Response gone awry, our Worry Engine. We start (because of our beliefs/assumptions/thinking) to generate hypothetical futures, in an effort to find a way out of the crisis we’ve created. Makes perfect sense if we’re trying to get away from Dire Wolves, the way our ancestors had to sometimes. Looking for escape routes is a great feature of the Flight or Fight Response.

But it doesn’t take you anyplace useful if you’re facing a layoff two months from now, not usually. Nope, what you have on your hands is a problem, not a crisis. Could it turn into a crisis? Not for a very long time. Eventually, sure, it could wind up a crisis. Anything could. But treating it like a crisis NOW, that’s not serving you at all!

No, you need to convert this crisis back into what it really is – a problem.

OK, So It Isn’t a Crisis – What Do I DO?

Well, you’ve done a lot already. You’re at least somewhat clear that, however it feels right now, you’re dealing with a problem, not a crisis. You’re aware of the responses in your body, feelings and thinking coming from your Flight or Fight Response, and you’re reminding yourself that those responses don’t carry any more significance than that – there isn’t a disaster looming yet, even though it feels like that.

What remains now is to start treating it like a problem. What do problems need? They need thinking. They need a clear understanding of what the problem is – in this example, the potential need for a new job. They require a little brainstorming and information gathering. How will I find a new job? Will I need to update my resume? What’s the market like right now? Who are my best contacts? What are my resources until I find the new job, assuming I do get laid off?

They require some work and patience. They probably won’t get solved immediately. They probably require a learning curve and a little (or a lot) of patience. You need to work at them and then take breaks – you can’t just power through them.

So, triad looks like this: facing into a fear (problem-become-crisis in our thinking), enduring the storm of responses the Flight or Fight Response will throw at us, and unpacking the problem – i.e., getting clear on what you need to do to solve the problem, and then working towards that solution.

But I Want to Stop Feeling This Way NOW!

The biggest challenge facing those of us who fight anxiety, worry and fear is that it isn’t easy or comfortable to sit with our fears and unpack them. We want to be worry/fear free right now. We don’t want to wait. It (frankly) SUCKS to wait. No argument. But the payoffs for doing the work are so big I can’t overstate them.

It is really the acquiring of a new set of skills. That’s the best frame I can think of to describe this process. You didn’t learn to walk in a day. You didn’t finish school in a day. You didn’t just master any skill in a day. No, it took time, and work, and patience, and setbacks, and frustration. But you did it. Now it may even seem easy to you. But you had to learn it first.

Same thing with breaking the habit of turning problems into crises, with breaking the habit of letting Flight or Fight run our lives. We can turn ANYTHING into a crisis. We can become afraid of the physical symptoms of Flight or Fight and make those into something to worry about. We can stress over communication, relationships, retirement, aging, children, pets, work, career, religious faith, our sex lives, parents, you name it! The same issue lies at the heart of all of this.

Embrace the Work, Find Your Way Out

It takes time and practice. It is work, and tiring, and sometimes (at the beginning, often) frustrating. The progress seems to start slow. And the Comfort Zone/Flight or Fight Response isn’t going without a fight. No, we learned in our past (consciously or otherwise) to be afraid of this issue, whatever it is, and it will take time to unlearn it.

And sometimes we don’t like the solutions! Sometimes we want things to be a different way than the solutions that present themselves. Sometimes we feel the solutions are wrong, or someone will be angry at us for the solutions we need to pursue, or that we’ll be failing if we implement the solutions that make sense. Yup, we can really box ourselves into a corner with our fear…

There are tools to help us while we’re doing this work. There are medications to take the edge off the worst of the anxiety and fear and depression that can come from the years and decades of living in crisis. There are meditation and relaxation exercises. There is physical exercise and the practice of distracting ourselves from obsessing over our fears. All of these can be useful and give us breathing room.

But they can’t solve the problem. The problem lies in our thinking, and that’s where the solution will be found too. You can do this work. Anyone can do this work. It is often hard, and tedious, and exhausting. And it is also the road to our freedom.

Next up – even more examples of doing triad and getting free of fear.

When I posted my discussion of breaking the Habit of Worry 2 posts ago I received quite a bit of feedback in email and at the blog.  People told me they liked what I said there, but that they were also looking for more specifics on what to do to shake free of that life-sucking habit.  I am VERY appreciative of this kind of feedback, as it helps me sharpen my focus on what I call the “toolbox” of Fear Mastery.  Hence, this post.  Please, I’d like very much to hear from you what you think/experience with this information as you work to shake free of your own worry habit. 

First, it is important, crucial to keep in mind that this entire situation begins in your thinking.  The reflex to worry developed in us because we taught ourselves that worrying somehow keeps us SAFE.  Let me repeat that: we are constantly finding things to worry about because we’ve trained ourselves (and our environment has helped in that training process) to worry our way to safety.

Yes, that sounds wacky, but if you have this particular piece of Comfort Zone programming, it also sounds exactly right.  It is essential to keep in your focus that you are running a series of thoughts in your head, and those thoughts are in turn triggering some degree of activation of your Flight or Fight Response.

Where I believe most of us get stuck is in those Flight or Fight Responses.  We even start to think about putting down our worrying, just for a moment, and our Comfort Zone says “HANG ON THERE BUDDY – you’re not going ANYWHERE.”  You start to experience mild to severe signals in your body and feelings, whatever those are for you.

Some of us get sweaty palms, and our hearts race (or seem to clench, or squeeze, or however you describe the sensation.)  Some of us get dry mouths, deserts really, and a headache might start up behind our eyes or in the back of our heads.  Some of us get that queasy thing in our stomachs, with maybe a pinch of chill or a feeling of mild shock.  We might feel anxious, nervous, restless, irritated, sad, angry, or some combination of all of those.  And NONE of that feels good.  All of it is that Flight or Fight Response, warning us that we’re getting close to something that we’ve LEARNED to be afraid of.  I’m betting that, for many folks reading this, just the list of possible responses/sensations has you feeling uncomfortable – yes?

OK.  Stay calm.  This is exactly where you’ll begin to find your pry-bar to shake free of this tedious habit.  Because NOTHING, absolutely nothing, is wrong right now.  That’s not to say that your brain hasn’t started to race somewhat, and you’re beginning to cast around for something to worry about.

It may not take much casting.  You may latch onto how your foot has been mysteriously hurting, or how your boss has been acting funny, or the way your husband or wife is suddenly seeming distant or grumpy or irritated, or maybe you’re thinking that your 401K isn’t big enough… etc.  Let me say it again: just experiencing the sensations triggered by your thoughts can stop you in your tracks from even considering taking a break from the worry habit.  But that’s all it is – sensations, feelings, all conjured by your Flight or Fight Response, trying to steer you away from the scary thoughts you’re thinking.

Isn’t it maddening?  That we can be, in very real ways, controlled by something as intangible as thoughts and feelings?  Well, we don’t have to be controlled by them.  It just takes some conscious awareness of our reactions, and a little practice challenging those reactions, and the thoughts behind them.

You have to see it as a kind of merry-go-round, which you step onto and begin furiously pushing off with one foot, spinning that thing faster and faster in your thinking.  Merry-go-rounds don’t stop on a dime.  But they do stop!  And they stop when we stop pushing off and refuse to give the thing any more energy, any more momentum.  We may have to hang on for a little while so the thing can lose power – so our bodies can relax as we deliberately challenge our thinking, then practice changing that thinking.  But those thoughts will slow and change, your body will start to relax, just like that merry-go-round.

The way to break the worry habit is to challenge it.  Call yourself out on that habit and begin the practice of changing your thinking.  This is what  I call triad – the 3 elements that make for the disruption and pushing back of the Comfort Zone:

 1) Decide that you’re ready to break this frustrating habit, and set a little time (10 minutes, to start) to just sit with yourself and challenge your thinking around the need to worry.

2) As you do that challenging, expect your body and feelings to react – the Flight or Fight Response will kick in and try to steer you away from this challenging of your fears.  You told it, after all, that this was too scary to think about, so it is just doing what you told it to do.  Ride the brief, tedious, anxiety or fear wave, and remind yourself that nothing’s wrong, nothing is any different from 10 minutes ago, you’re just doing an exercise, the world isn’t coming to an end.

3) As you’re sitting with your body sensations and feelings, identify the thinking that is scaring you in the first place.

In this case you’re afraid that if you DON’T worry something bad will happen – which you and I both know is crap.  Sure, if FEELS like that, and it is draining and scary to face that thinking down – but then it’s draining and scary to worry all the time, isn’t it?  And imagine what it would be like to not worry like this anymore?

No, the worry habit isn’t helping you – it is getting in the way.  Because worry isn’t action, and worry isn’t concern, and worry doesn’t help a (pardon my language) damn thing.  What keeps you as safe as you can be is taking concrete steps to address your worries, and then putting the worry down, letting it go, and getting on with your life. 

As I’ve said throughout this blog worry stems from turning a problem into a crisis, and thereby activating your Flight or Fight Response.  Your single goal is to move the faux crisis back to problem status.  Because a crisis is you being attacked by a Mongol Horde, or teetering on the edge of falling off a cliff, or anything that is immediately threatening to kill or seriously injure you.   Otherwise it CAN’T be a crisis, which makes it a problem. 

We’re only 16 days into the New Year of 2011.  You can begin to find real relief from this (for most of us) decades-long habit of worrying to keep safe, and you can start to find it THIS MONTH.  Don’t expect it to get done in one practice, or two.  Do expect it to rattle your cage, shake you up a bit.  That’s the Comfort Zone’s job – to get you to stay away from scary, dangerous things.

But there isn’t any danger here, and you and I both know it.  Do expect to feel tired, depleted.  Do expect to find reasons to iron the cat, wash the trees or do anything rather than this simple 10-minute exercise.  Believe me, the cat and trees can wait.  This small amount of work, even with how it feels, will produce results that will frankly amaze you.  To repeat – you will not see this move in just one session.  You’ve given this a lot of energy and time, and it will take time to change.  Not nearly as long as you took to build up the habit, but still, a little time.  Take breaks, distract yourself, relax – then try it again, the next day, in a couple of days, and keep at it.

Please, let me know how your practice goes – very happy to offer support, encouragement, clarification and cheerleading.  And please let me know if this is helping the questions you have around challenging your Comfort Zone and getting to work on your freedom.  Next up – more about unplugging those thoughts, and some of the wisdom of Dr. Susan Jeffers, the author of “Feel the Fea and Do it Anyway.”  Till then – fight for your freedom.  You can shake free of the worry habit.

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