I’m being left behind.
I’m a failure.
I’m not doing enough.
I won’t succeed.
I am fundamentally flawed.
One of the first things I do every morning is get up and begin to clear out my mental space to create room for the day ahead.
Each morning, as I do so, I am usually staring down a set of stories similar to the ones I’ve listed above.
When I share the stories that my fear is selling me, people are often quick to reassure me or try to negate the stories.
“Oh, you’re not at all like that, don’t worry!” or, “Adam, you should really be nicer to yourself”.
People go to this place quickly because that’s what we do to ourselves. We don’t have much capacity to simply be with our fear, and the voice it uses to speak to us.
So instead of just allowing these stories to be exactly that (simply stories spinning around in our head), we make them significant.
By significant, I mean that we make it really meaningful that we have particular stories.
When you make something meaningful, it’s a lot harder to be with it. If my story that I’m a failure is meaningful, then it’s no longer simply a story I woke up with. It’s a fact. “I’m a failure” is something I have to address. I need to get into action and resolve this story.
Once a story becomes meaningful, there are a couple of things I can do about it.
I can get into a lot of action to prove my story untrue. If I’m a failure, I better go out and start creating a bunch of success. Maybe I make fifty calls to create new clients, or I get really ruthless with my work output. I “courageously” sacrifice my well-being and down-time in service of putting in more hours at work and really grinding this story that I’m a failure into the dust.
The trouble with this is that all of that work is built on top of the underlying story that I’m a failure. So, even at its very best, I end up with a life that is the expression of “I’m a success, because I’m afraid I’m a failure”.
Even when you win, you lose.
Another popular approach to these underlying stories is to try to shout them away. Shouting away a story is like layering an affirmation over the top of it.
If you woke up with the story that you’re worthless, then you might plaster the affirmation “I am perfect!” over top of it. Again, the trouble here is that your affirmation is basically in active resistance to the underlying story of your fear.
Hanging onto, and (loudly) repeating that affirmation to yourself is like trying to make a beach ball go away by shoving it under the water.
While we’re talking here about stories you woke up with, the truth is that most human beings construct their lives in opposition to the underlying stories their fear expresses.
The most successful people that walk through my doors are often doing so on top of a story that they might be a failure. (And if they’re not currently a failure, they might become one if they stop succeeding for even a minute).
Holding that beach ball under water becomes the work of a lifetime.
Real freedom begins when we start to look at the stories our fear shares with us, and simply face them.
We let go of the need to disprove them, to shout them down, or to affirm something over top of them, because all of these strategies simply make our fear more significant.
Instead, we learn to become friends with our fear and do our best to lend it no more significance than the oxygen we are breathing. Just like trees have leaves, humans have fear.
Hello old friend…