Sometimes charting your course in life can seem very unclear. If you feel stuck, it might be because the number of choices is overwhelming. You have so many options, but each of them takes time, energy and commitment. So wouldn’t it be great to have a way of knowing for sure which choice to make?
There is a way. Setting your “internal compass” to your true north is as simple as learning to tune in to your emotions. Here’s what I mean: if you don’t listen to yourself very carefully, you are probably missing a key indicator of when you’re doing what you truly want.
What’s the indicator? Fear. Yep. I know that seems weird. I don’t want to do what I’m afraid of. Obviously we have fear for good evolutionary reasons! I fear a growling dog because it’s about to bite me. I fear a car speeding toward me because I need to get out of the way. All very true. But when that fear is combined with the emotion of excitement, everything changes.
Herer’s an example: if you approach a growling dog, or a car hurtling toward you, you probably don’t feel any excitement. If you picture it in your mind right now, there is no sense that you would like to do either of those things. When there is fear without excitement, that’s a very easy decision.
But if you picture doing something you want to do, things change. You will often feel fear, but you will also notice excitement.
Let’s look at an example of where fear and excitement might go together: you want to try out for a part in a local musical production, but you’re petrified. You have never done it before, or haven’t in years, and it feels overwhelming. You’re scared! You might rather approach a growling dog than to set foot in an audition, much less sing and dance in front of a crowd. But at the same time, when you imagine the possibility of actually doing it, you also feel a jolt of excitement. “Really? I could really do that?” “That would be so great… but…”
This cross section between fear and excitement usually leads very quickly down the road of “but I can’t because….” And that’s the last we hear of it. And yet, if we back up a little bit, and just stay with that feeling, it can be powerful. This is the place where dreams begin, or die. Usually they just die quietly, and you probably have a pile of them. It’s easy to see why. Fear is a like an electric fence around your house — a powerful disincentive but also invisible.
We don’t know the fear is there because we move away from it before we even feel it. We know our comfort zone and we stay well within it. The “yeah, but” impulse swoops in way before we feel anything to assure us that there is no possible way we can try out for that musical because we are out of shape, we have kids to take care of, it might interfere with getting up early for work, our spouse might feel neglected, and on and on and on. Excuses and reasons are so very alike that we don’t even notice which is which.
The way to cut through this is to get closer to that “electronic fence” — to see what we want to do beneath the pile of “yeah, buts”. Here’s a quick exercise to get you started: think of something you wish you would be able to do, that would be exciting if you actually tried, but you also feel afraid to allow yourself to do.
Make a list of your excuses. All of them. Now ask yourself: do other people do similar things? Do other adults in town with jobs and families do community theater? They do? The truth is, if anyone else is doing it, you probably can too.
Here’s another indicator that you are on the right track: there would be zero fear if the thing were actually impossible to do. I can’t run an ultramarathon, at least not this year and probably ever, so even if it sounds exciting, I feel no fear about signing up. But I can run a 5k if I train (sadly, if I train a lot!). So signing up might bring up a little bit of fear. I might not want to commit the time and money (excuses) because I’m afraid I can’t do it, or I have social anxiety, or I don’t want to fail something that seems so small. Who knows what fears might come up.
If you slice your goal down to the first step, that step can be pretty small. If you feel any fear in taking that step, you are probably on the right track! Will you take the step?