Saturday, August 23, 2008

Emotional Energy: Mobilizing for Change

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anais Nin

The chapter on emotional energy in Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s book, The Power of Full Engagement (The Free Press, 2003), is subtitled “Transforming Threat Into Challenge.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.

Remember our discussion last month about facing fear? If not, it's in the July postings here on the Life Turned On™ blog. Fear provides information that something needs our attention. It’s like those lights and gauges on the dashboard of your car.

When I’m facing difficulties sometimes I begin to feel overwhelmed and stall out, finding ways to ignore, deny, or procrastinate about what the fear is telling me rather than experience the discomfort and move forward. Then it’s like I have unplugged the sensors connected to the gauges or put a piece of tape over the lights so I won’t see them. “Out of sight, out of mind,” right?

Meanwhile, the cluttered closet, the unresolved relationship conflict, the persistent ache in the belly, the worry about finances, the nagging feeling that life is more than just survival are consuming life energy that could be used to address them. Like an overdue bill, the interest continues to mount as the principal goes unpaid.

I will neglect things that need attention and repair (including/especially my own body!) rather than face the fear that I’m inadequate to deal with them. Am I really incapable of solving these problems? The evidence is no. I have taken on many challenges and worked through them. Maybe not always gracefully, maybe with hindsight thinking I could have done it better—but I’m still here, my spirit today is stronger than it has ever been, and my life has become a fascinating—and sometimes scary—adventure.

When I was a therapist, clients would sometimes ask me if I could guarantee that if they faced the fears that limited them and did the hard work of changing lifetime habits would they get the outcomes they wanted? And I had to say, “No, I can’t promise if you take this on and face your pain that you’re going to have everything you want. What I can promise is that if you don’t try, the odds of things changing are about zero. And I can guarantee you’re going to have a different experience starting right now if you accept the challenge and ride out to meet the dragon than you will if you hide in your cave and wait for it come get you.”

Even if it kicks your butt, go show the dragon what you’re made of. It’s not your enemy, it’s your training partner.

Practice exercise: moving from anxiety to action

What have you been putting off dealing with? What are some steps, however small, you could take this week to come to grips with it? Be specific about what you’re going to do, write in your calendar when you’re going to do it, and tell a supportive friend or family member beforehand what you intend to do and afterwards report on how it went.

We’re looking for progress here, not perfection. Recognize and reward your efforts to change. Don’t believe the voices of blame and shame. Simply by facing the dragon you have become a hero.

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

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