Don’t Let Fear Drive Your Decisions: How to Shift Gears

 In For Leaders, Reclaiming Joy, Tools & Resources

Mindfulness is a gift. It increases calm and provides access to information on every level. One of the most valuable applications of the gift of mindfulness is making friends (yes, friends!) with your fears so that they don’t rule your life. Fear.

Sharing “A Letter to Fear”
Recently I began sharing with clients a brief “letter to fear” that Elizabeth Gilbert includes in her most recent book, “Big Magic.” I’ve been sharing this excerpt, for example, with clients who are actively pursuing creative projects in their life and work. These include, among others, a marketing executive who is leading the design of a fresh campaign, and a recent widow who is facing her 45th birthday and contemplating the direction of her career. This woman is feeling the pressure of complex life decisions like, “Should I keep my corporate job or answer this internal yearning to start my own business?”

Facing Ever-Present Fear
Experiencing fear (of the unknown, of failing, of disappointing ourselves or others, fear of looking bad, fear of succeeding and being noticed, or any of so many other fears) is part of being alive. Fear was hard-wired into our reptilian brains. It’s part of the human condition. And, it is occasionally handy in protecting us from harm. If you aren’t experiencing fear on a regular basis you’re probably playing it safe, and most of the cool stuff happens when we step out.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Open Letter to Fear provides a wonderful way to interact with our fear so it doesn’t run amok and keep us from living happy, productive, creative lives.

Dearest Fear:

Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting—and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

Excerpt from Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear

I review this letter before I begin to write, which is when my internal chatter can be loudest. Through mindful practice we start to notice fear as it arises, and that allows us to work with it skillfully.

When does your fear loom large?

Write Your Own Letter to Fear
It could also be fun to write your own letter to fear, or whatever part of yourself starts chattering away when you begin a new endeavor and start to shudder at the possibilities of failing, letting yourself or someone else down, being successful, being criticized, having someone disagree, or whatever negative stories your mind is telling you.

If you have any persistent desire to say or do something creative, please don’t let fear stop you from expressing yourself.

If you have something you need to say or paint or dance, then please talk to your fear. Make friends with it. But don’t let it stop you.

There are people who need what you have to offer. People who need you to share your gifts, to say what you need to say. Don’t let us down. And don’t let yourself down. Your fear is the very last thing that should be driving.