Spring is finally here! I look forward to this time of year, like most people who live in northern climates. The snows thaw, temperatures warm and nature begins to come back to life. It’s time for the fresh and the new; and it’s also time to let some old things go. Yep, Spring Cleaning time! Pull out, dust out, clean out, throw out. Works great for our outer stuff. But what about our inner stuff?
Our inner worlds are also cluttered with old emotional habits and patterns that no longer fit. If we were to analyze our negative internal dialogue, for example, we would likely find that underneath all its layers lies a fear of some kind that holds us back from being or expressing our most awesome selves. The question is: how do you throw that fear stuff out?
Recognize your fear and how it expresses itself.
That’s not always an easy thing. The tell-tale, fear red flags are anxiety or worry. Our bodies are really good at carrying these signs. You might feel your stomach turning or butterflying; you might have a headache; you might feel down or like you’re carrying a heavy weight; your heart might literally ache a little or be beating a little too fast. These physical sensations are usually quickly followed by some self-talk, usually judgemental, mean and self-deprecating. Yep. That be Fear going on inside you.
Here’s a little story from my Life’s Safari to help illustrate. When I began Free Lion, I was making Vegan Leather bags (available through my Etsy Store. I still make them to order). After graduating from Architecture school, I had been a stay-at-home and then part-time working Mom. After my divorce, I had to focus on making a full-time living. I had always wanted to work for myself as an artist/artisan, selling what I made. But, I was broke and terrified, with no real confidence that I could run my own business.
When I sat to work at the sewing machine. I would feel that knot in my stomach and my heart would race a little. Then the thoughts would start. “You’ll never succeed. You think that’s even good enough? No one is going to buy that! Everyone is going to see you have no talent.”
I would argue with those voices in my head to hold them at bay while I sewed. This went on until I noticed that it was taking me forever to make a bag because I was spending more energy and time focused on fighting with the voices than on sewing. That was the day that I started questioning the voices in my head.
Question the Voices in your Head
I was working with a counsellor at the time who introduced me to Byron Katie and The Work, a meditative approach to opening to your heart’s voice and your personal truths. The goal is to be who you ARE, not what others think you SHOULD be. The process is not to simply replace a negative thought with a positive affirmation, a la Louise Hay or The Secret. It goes much deeper than that. It helps you become mindfully aware of your thoughts and the effect they have on you, so that you can change your relationship with them.
Most of us react in situations on auto-pilot, using stress survival habits we learned as children. Katie lays out 4 questions to ask yourself in the face of negative thoughts or fear feelings. My counsellor added one more, which helped me to stop taking on other people’s stuff by identifying which beliefs/thoughts were mine and which belonged elsewhere. Asking yourself the questions gives you a moment to slow down, witness, analyze, evaluate and choose how to respond. It takes you from reacting on auto-pilot to responsively using your own agency.
Here are Katie’s questions, plus the one more from my counselor. Sit with each question one at a time, in order. Go inside and listen for the answers that come up, paying attention to your internal dialogue, body sensations, etc. As in, "What comes up for you?" I found it useful to record my answers in a journal so that I could go back over them, analyze and re-evaluate.
So back to the story of me struggling at the sewing machine with vinyl and voices in my head. Care to walk through the Katie questions with me? Ok. Close eyes. Deep Breath. And then another one. And one more. Blow it all out. Now, take one more. Breathe.
The Statement under question,
"You’ll never succeed."
1. Is it true?
Hmmm. I don’t know. I’ve never run my own business before and actually, I’m just fricking scared right now.
2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
Meaning do I have Actual Factual, tangible evidence that it’s true, that I won't succeed? Uh, well no. I guess i don't. I haven’t done it before so i have no concrete experience or numbers to prove I won't succeed. So it might be possible, right? I might actually be able to do this.
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
I feel sick, my stomach turns; i feel anxious, scared, like a loser, helpless, crippled, disempowered, unworthy, alone, kinda abandoned. Yeah. This sucks.
4. Where did you learn this idea?
Hmmm. My dad, rest his soul. He was a talented artist who wanted to be a graphic designer. In fact, in 1964 he was all set to start a job with an advertising firm in Nairobi, Kenya. Due to family circumstances, he had to join the family restaurant business. He quietly set aside his dreams, and never talked much about his own disappointment, or how he lived with it. He was, however, the voice of doom in all of our own career explorations. Sadly, Dad didn’t have a Byron Katie to help him out. But I do.
Ok, so this isn’t my own belief at all. I learned it from Dad. It's a limiting belief that comes from his experiences and fears. His idea of success was a professional career, not one based on craft or manual labour. I have professional credentials, but I haven't worked in architecture for 11 years. I'm behind on the career track. and the industry has become computerized. I would have to retrain, something I don't have time for. Besides, I would rather run my own business, designing, making and selling my own work.
I am not my father. I don’t have to listen to his fears and values anymore. I don't have to let them hold me back. "Thanks for worrying about me, Dad but I'm not a lesser person for enjoying designing and working with my hands. I am not a lesser person for not meeting your expectations."
This is huge! I can give myself permission to make another choice. I can work at wiping Dad’s broken dream from my inner dialogue, without shame or guilt; I can listen to my heart’s truth; I can shift my perspective; I can focus on bringing my own dream to life, one step at a time. And if I get stuck, I can ask for help. Hell Ya! A hallelujah door just opened up in the sky (cue choir of Angels)!
5. What happens when you believe something else?
When I believe that success is possible, the way that feels true to me, I feel more relaxed, grounded, capable, determined. While I am looking at a mountain to climb, I feel scared yet excited, hopeful. Maybe I WILL be able to do this after all. Woohoo!
Choose your own Adventure
The beauty of this process is that you can CHOOSE your own beliefs, your own feelings, your own adventure. You do not have to be weighed down by beliefs that are the projections of someone else’s broken dreams or expectations. Nor do you have to be wracked with guilt for not living up to them. It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever feel fear or have limiting beliefs ever again--you will. But now you’ll have a method to face each one, break it down, shift your perspective and choose something else.
Did you notice that the answer to the question involving my Dad was the longest of all the answers? That’s not an accident. The stuff that we inherit from childhood is actually the most complex stuff to dismantle and throw out. But it is possible to do. Just go slowly, layer by layer. And be kind with yourself.
Just remember that you were born with abilities, predispositions and talents written right into your DNA. That’s your nature. How you are raised and taught (that's Nurture) can sometimes wreak havoc with your inner balance. So, it’s down to you to honour your own nature and nurture yourself back into wholeness
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team
How do you overcome fears? Do you have a process that works for you?