Category Archives: Fear

I Will Turn on the Light

By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Marketing & Program Manager

060917_TurnontheLightFear can do strange things. With an electric power, it can alter reality, shift perspective, and make the strongest of us tremble. Fear can be gripping, all encompassing, and can make you feel certain of something that is just not true. Fears might be passed down from those who raised us, conditioned into us by society, or sparked by an insecurity.

The great thing is that not everything we think is true – and that includes our fears.

The tricky thing about fear is it feeds. It can feed on someone’s opinion of you, the evening news, or often your own thoughts. When someone says something unsavory about you (that some small part of you, in the back of your mind, also fears is true), does that mean it’s fact? Is your fear validated? It often feels this way, but in many ways this naysayer is simply turning on a light for you. Illuminating a negative belief you have about yourself, so that you can see it in the light for what it is. So that you can decide if it is something you truly believe.

When we shine a light on our fears, we witness them for what they are – and that can be scary. But what we end up seeing is often smaller, uglier, and much less frightening than what we once perceived (think the Harry Potter Limbo train scene). It may invoke pity or even compassion, for self or others, but it does not wield the same power. Turning on the light eradicates the uncertainty of what a fear consists of – and eliminating uncertainty itself helps diminish fear.

This is also true for someone else’s fear or anger or doubt – even if it’s aimed directly at you. Turning on the light means having the clarity of mind and self-possession to observe an emotion or fear trying to cling to you and to say “that isn’t mine” – and mean it. Even if that feeling or belief was “yours” yesterday or 5 minutes ago, you can drop it at any time. Shining a light means creating depersonalization around others’ thoughts and emotions. When someone doubts us – instead of feeding on that doubt and making it our own – remember that it does not belong to us, it is not ours, and we do not have to pick it up.

I recently learned an exercise to help me with this.

The Whiteboard Meeting.

Pick a fear or an unpleasant thought about yourself, sit down and have a meeting about it. Actually.

Visualize the uncomfortable chairs, clicky pens, stuffy conference room, the whole shebang. The exercise is to fill a whiteboard about a specific fear with your members of the board. Each board member stands for a unique belief you have about that fear, representing the diversity of thought we all have in our minds even about a single subject. (Stay with me.) Have each “board member” write on the whiteboard a unique thought related to that fear. Be specific. What is it exactly you are afraid of? At first, some of your more outspoken and historically negative board members will clamor for attention. You might be barraged with things like “I’ll fail at this because…”; “I’m not good enough”; “If I do X, I’ll lose Y”. Write them all down without judgement until these “fear thoughts” eventually run out of steam, leaving only half the whiteboard filled.

That’s when it’s time to hear from the rest of the room. What about your thoughts that stem from a place of courage, trust, empowerment? How does that change the tone of the board? Fill the rest of your whiteboard and notice the diversity of thought. The other side of the room might say things like, “I already have most of the tools and resources I need to be successful”; “My family and friends support me”; “I am enough”; “If I do X, I might lose Y but I’ll gain Z”.

When the whiteboard is filled, step back and look at everything together. This is it. All your thoughts on the matter. And, without shame or judgement, observe which thoughts have gaps in logic, which thoughts are empowering, which thoughts are operating from a place of insecurity. What on the board, after seeing it in the light, do you genuinely believe? What do you want to be true? Through observing the many realities your mind sees as possible, you will discover that while the fear thoughts can often feel like the only reality or truth, there are actually many truths to choose from. And you have the power to do just that, choose. To say thanks but no thanks to the fear thoughts and say yes to what’s on the other side.

This exercise can be as literal or figurative as you want. Use post-its and fill up a wall. Write in a journal. Use your imagination. Where different tiny hats and talk in accents. This is your party, as they say. The Whiteboard Meeting can help answer the question of what beliefs about yourself you want to let go – and which you need to actively choose again and again.

The saying “if you’re not scared then your goals are not big enough” has long intrigued me. But I realize now that the phrase is only half complete. Because for every part of you that is scared, there is another that is thrilled, delighted to rise up to the challenge. To truly complete the phrase, I know I must only turn on the light.


Playing in Lava

By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Program & Marketing Manager

On the most foundational level, to be in play means to be in a state of presence, spontaneity, and above all to allow yourself to let go. The highest form of play taps into our inner child and allows us to experience a pure lightness and joy that temporarily washes away all the heaviness that can come with adulthood. We abandon our worries, doubts, mortgage, and perhaps just for a moment truly experience play.

A few weeks ago I was able to attend my very first Seattle Wisdom where we gathered to explore the topic of play both in and out of the workplace. When our host Sameer placed a large box of toys and coloring tools in our midst, the room grinned at each other shiftily, everyone fully aware that as adults most of us would feel more comfortable talking about play than actually playing. One participant even bravely announced she was feeling a bit anxious about “playing wrong” – a worry that I think was on more than one mind.

It seems our confidence around play (and often a slew of other things) that we had when we commanded the sandbox inevitably starts to fade, or rather, is pounded out of us by a demanding and often anti-play society. As a result, I realized that I am a culprit of halfway play. Similar to halfway conversations, halfway play is a suppressed expression that usually doesn’t accomplish the desired outcome (which in this case would be having fun). Perhaps your body is playing but your mind is preoccupied with tomorrow’s meetings or your upcoming move. When we are merely going through the motions of play, it is because we are unable to be fully present. We may be uncomfortable, anxious, or uncertain about something which prevents us from truly surrendering to play.

Funnily enough, we were experts at playing through those very situations as kids. We thrived in the unfamiliar as children and gravitated towards the thrill of the undiscovered, the delight of fear. Games like Hot Lava Monster, Marco Polo, even Hide & Seek all encouraged us to find exhilaration in the unknown. Everyone faces difficult circumstances as well as unpleasant or just boring situations. What if we chose to exercise a playful spirit during these times and embraced uncertainty just like we did as a child? Next time you find yourself preparing for an audit at work, assembling your new couch, or in an awkward social situation, take pause and think of Hot Lava Monster. We have the choice and the capability to smile and challenge ourselves to see some small shred of humor, exhilaration, or beauty that is likely lingering near the moment.

The act of play is spontaneous by nature, making it something you can’t really plan out. Though you can’t plan play, you can plan playtime! Set aside an hour a week, 5 minutes a day, or whatever you are able to achieve – just make sure that play is on your schedule.

Play in fear, play in fun, just play on!


Risk-Resiliency: How To Talk About ‘It’

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Huffington Post]

How many riskRisk-Resiliencys do you take each week? If you are like most people you take a lot of risk just by being human. Driving in traffic you could get in an accident, in relationships in and outside of work you could be rejected, seen as not good enough or not loveable. You might mess up a presentation at work or school, and the list goes on. The thing is there is risk in the world – you are not going to change that – what you can do is alter your relationship with risk by building risk-resiliency.

Risk is interaction with uncertainty, and there is a lot of uncertainty in the world. Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty. Risk-resiliency is the capacity to intentionally interact with and recover from the difficulties related to living with uncertainty. Developing this skill involves two key factors – the ability to have awareness around risk you are facing, followed by the ability to have conversations about it – with yourself and others.

Most of us are pretty good at seeing the risk – where the common struggle lies is in having the conversation. People tend to avoid “risk conversations” not because they don’t want to talk about the risk being faced, but mostly because they don’t know how to begin the conversation or what actually needs to be said.

Many times it’s our fear of not being good enough or the idea we might fail at what we want to do that paralyzes us from starting these conversations. If we demystify and remove the drama, we can see the risk for what it is and break the conversation into 5 stages or series of smaller conversations.

Start at the beginning and develop awareness around the circumstance for yourself. This stage is to have a conversation with our self to create awareness around what is occurring, “This is the risk I am facing and this is how I feel about it.”

Now that you are clear for yourself on the risk you are facing, the second stage is to have the conversation (even if it’s uncomfortable) with others that need to be in the know. It’s likely talking about risk won’t ever feel totally comfortable, but with practice it can feel more normal to say, “Here is the risk I am / we are taking by doing xyz.”

In the third stage, the conversation purpose is to set expectations with the necessary people who will be impacted by the risk you are taking. “Here is what might happen if xyz does not come together in the way we expect.” This is where talking about risk gets real – as most times we want to avoid talking about or even acknowledging the possibility that what we are working on might fail. It is when we don’t talk about it that we stay in fear and the risk begins to “own” us. (This might be a few different conversations with different people depending on the type of risk and the type of stakes involved.)

Now in the fourth stage, it’s time to ask for support. What do you need from your key stakeholders to support you in taking this risk? “Here is what I need from you in order to move forward with this risk.” It’s common to struggle at this phase as many times we are not clear on the support we need because we get stuck in the fear associated with risk. By talking about the fear in setting expectations, it becomes easier to understand the support we need to move forward. Many times the support we need is just someone to listen to us or be patient with us while we learn something new.

This is where most people think risk-resiliency ends – we named it, we talked about it, set expectations and asked for support. But there is one more stage – close the loop. One of the most important parts of building risk-resiliency is to close the cycle and call out when the risk is over and debrief on the experience. Complete and acknowledge the cycle – especially when the stakes were high, it becomes really important to share in the success or understand what can be improved. All too often this step is missed and we are already on the next set of risks. The conversation here is “This is the risk I (we) took, and here is what happened as a result and this is the impact and here is where we go next.”

For some risks you face you may be able to cover all the stages in one conversation with a single person or just with yourself. For other higher stake risks, like the ones we face in workplaces, this cycle may be months long and involve many stakeholders at different levels. Regardless of the number of people involved, the stages of how to talk about risk are the same. The path to building risk-resiliency is one conversation at a time.


Fear and Awareness in the Workplace

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

fearGossip, bullying, coercion, passivity, oppressive competition. You might think this describes a middle school lunchroom, but too often it also portrays today’s workplace.

One of my worst experiences in corporate life was working in an environment so shrouded in fear – of massive strategic changes and ultimately layoffs – that eventually the uncertainty and distrust drove many of the behaviors listed above. Rather than working creatively and collaboratively toward shared goals, my colleagues and I worked solely to protect our own futures.

We can argue that displacing fear in the workplace must start at the top, that it’s the job of company executives to create a unifying strategy, model trustful collaboration and promote a healthy working environment.

But easing fear and the distrust it creates must also take place at the individual level, with each of us not only gaining an awareness of our fears, but more importantly seeing how they show up in our behaviors and understanding their impact to our teams.

Common fears we see in today’s workplace include:

  • Fear of being invisible
  • Fear of making a mistake
  • Fear of retribution
  • Fear that others will discover and expose our weaknesses
  • Fear we’re not delivering enough / creative enough / good enough

Just as our innate response to stress is fight or flight, in response to fear we often over-react or withdraw. If we fear being invisible, we may over-communicate. If we fear our weaknesses being exposed, we may withdraw.

Gaining awareness of our fears and their impact can be a first step toward creating a less fearful, more productive work environment. Take pause, and ask the essential question: What am I afraid of? From here, we can begin to see the behaviors that manifest as fear. An honest understanding of our behaviors reveals their impact and ultimate results.

Visibility, for example, is an important quality not only within a team, but also among upper management. Highly visible people are often better recognized for their contributions and more readily considered for new projects as well as promotions.

If our quest for visibility is driven by fear, however, it often looks like frenzied over-reaction. Our behaviors might include over-communication (five scattered emails followed by multiple IMs rather than one thoughtful email), over-delivery (presenting 20 data points when 10 wholly satisfies the argument) and micromanagement (impatient oversight and just doing work that could or should be delegated).

As with any behavior that promotes a fearful environment, the impact is as negative on oneself as it is on the team. Distrust displaces collaboration and team building. Learning and growing is inhibited. Team members shift their focus from championing the team, product or company to protecting themselves.

Knowing what we fear and recognizing fear-driven behaviors, whether it’s aggressive communication or saying no to opportunity, opens the door to drive fear out of the workplace. When we recognize our frenzied communication and the impact it has on others, we can resolve to communicate more meaningfully, with greater focus on what really matters and greater trust in our teams. The team, for its part, feels trusted and empowered, the ultimate result being higher productivity, creativity, smart risk-taking, and higher morale.