Practice Making Choices – Do One Scary Thing a Day
As you move further into the new year, clarifying priorities, setting goals, making choices, you may run into the brain’s natural roadblock of “Wait a minute! I’ve never done this before. I’m not sure….” This hesitancy is one way your higher brain makes sure you’re thinking things through clearly and making a wise choice.
Whenever you’re about to venture into something new – moving across the country, getting married again, taking on a new job, finally fixing the leaky showerhead – you can feel this hesitancy, a pull-back within – a somatic feeling of “Uh oh! Strange territory! Don’t know if I should be doing this!” – even though, consciously, you might very well want to forge ahead. Your resilience goes on hold.
You can interpret this feeling of unease as anxiety, which can automatically lead to refusing or deferring new challenges. It feels like a risk to try something new.
You can choose to “feel the fear and do it anyway,” as Susan Jeffers suggests. You can re-interpret the signal anxiety as “about to grow!” as meditation teacher Jack Kornfield suggests. You can practice rewiring anxiety into action by “doing one scary thing a day.”
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Exercise – Do One Scary Thing A Day
1. Start small. Start by simply identifying moments of signal anxiety as you experience them throughout the day – your normal route to work is blocked by an accident; you’ll have to find another way. A friend suggests trying any new ethnic restaurant or seeing an avant garde play. You discover doing your taxes is suddenly more appealing than meeting a potential romantic partner.
2. Choose one moment of signal anxiety as a cue to respond with action rather than stopping or pulling back. Choose to act in a way that actually crosses the threshold of the hesitancy into action vis-a-vis that cue. In other words, you’ll have to decide which seems scarier to you – going on the date or doing your taxes. And for practice, choose to do the scarier thing.
3. Notice any shift in your emotions from doing the scary activity. Notice any shift in your view of yourself for having found the courage to act.
4. Repeat doing one scary thing every day for a week. Little is fine; often is necessary for the brain to rewire its old responses and for the new behavior to take hold. Notice if new feelings about the activity or yourself also take hold.
How this exercise can strengthen your resilience
The repeated dealing with anxiety as a cue to act re-trains your brain to respond differently to that “signal anxiety.” You’re laying the ground for the brain to choose to respond with action when over-the-top scary things come along, dramatically strengthening your response flexibility for resilience. And when you call to mind the moments when you did choose to act, you have a leg up already on the next scary thing. By continuing the practice, you can gradually expand into doing the truly more difficult ones – having “the” conversation with your spouse, asking your boss for a raise after all.