How to Overcome Fear and Self-Sabotage

The following is a chapter from my book “Walk Your Soul Path”

Roadblock #1: Fear

There are two voices that live inside each of us, or at least it seems they do. We know them intimately. They’ve been with us our entire lives.

There is some question as to whether they are coming from inside us, but I’ll get into that later.

One of them is our friend, our ally and the supportive cheerleader in all we do. The other one, however, seems to have it in for us – it’s the judgmental, pessimistic, petty voice of fear that attempts to sabotage us every chance it gets.

Even as I sit here in this cafe overlooking the ocean, spending my time doing one of the things I love the most, fear is present.

It’s outlining all the ways my work isn’t good enough, how the things I’m writing have already been said and how I can’t seem to write under pressure.

It tells me that writing is too hard. It’s too much work.

It tells me to take a break, move to another cafe or distract myself with something that feels better.

It has suggested many times that I give it up and go back to what I was doing before – to create more design products since it’s a safe bet. I make good money doing it and passive money at that. I have a lot of reasons to not write (this book).

After all, writing it opens the door to an entirely new life. One of teaching and being more exposed.

The spotlight is not something I grew up dreaming about. In my teen years, I dreamt that I’d be working behind-the-scenes, as a television commercial producer, or something of that nature.

I did end up moving in that direction, sort of, eventually owning my own design agency. But I realized there’s no true leadership role that’s behind-the-scenes.

As I found more success on my entrepreneurial path, people were interested in having me speak and hearing my story. And still, I would shy away from nearly every opportunity that came up, unless it was a written article or something that felt safe.

Slowly though, as I started to build more confidence, I pushed myself to get on camera and start speaking in front of small groups.

It got easier with practice but each time I approached a new threshold, some new unknown, the fear would kick in all over again. And I would have to talk myself down for days just to get through it.

You know those people who fear public speaking over death, I was one of those.

All kinds of fear-based ideas and projections would flow through my mind – thoughts that I wouldn’t be able to breathe, that my mind would go completely blank or that I would pass out from my rapid heart rate. These thoughts and images played repetitively in my mind keeping me hiding and playing small for years.

So now, moving into a life of speaking and teaching (with this book being a catalyst for that), I came up against some serious roadblocks to writing it for obvious reasons.

There is a part of me that would rather remain behind the computer, in the safety of my own home, making pretty things to pass the time, building my income and creating more stability.

So why shake things up? Why start all over again?

Because I believe it’s time for a major shift on this planet, one of awakening like we’ve never seen in human history. Because I believe we are the teachers and the healers the world is waiting for… and it starts by admitting our own fallibility, by forgiving ourselves and helping others to see their own magnificence. Because I believe that choosing love and standing up in the face of fear is the reason why we’re here.

And it is for that reason – that feels so deeply resonant in my soul – that I am committed to the work I’m doing. I just can’t imagine living my life any other way.

The origin of fear

Fear is a biological mechanism of the human mind, passed down through our ancestral lineage, adapted only slightly over the thousands of years it took to get to us. In prehistoric times, our ancestors relied on it for their very survival, to flee from large carnivorous animals and provide them with the chemical cocktail they needed to fight.

Although we’ve moved into this modern world, where threats to our life rarely exist (depending on your geographic location of course), this fight-or-flight response lives on.

I’ve heard it said that the one’s who were the most afraid were the ones who survived – which makes sense – thus passing down an even stronger dose of fear through our bloodline.

The good news is, because of their excessive fear, we are here today. The not so good news is that, because of this, we’ve got some work to do. Although, the work might not be what we initially think.

It’s important that we approach the topic of fear with a healthy dose of respect. It does, after all, keep us alive. This fight-or-flight response may wreak havoc in our lives at times but still, it is a gift – reminding us not to run out in front of trucks or jump from tall buildings.

It’s an essential part of our biology so we have to find a way to make peace with it.

My friend Aaron and I had a conversation about the fear-based mind over lunch one day. We talked about how it incessantly worries and creates all kinds of fictitious stories to try to pull us into its’ drama.

He told me we can look at the mind just as we do our hands. “You’re not going to go up to someone and randomly slap them, you have control over your hands. It’s the same thing with the mind. You can listen to it and understand why it’s reacting but you don't have to take it personally or follow what it’s telling you to do.”

Fear of the unknown

When we look up at the sky and learn of the expansiveness of the universe, we can hardly hold it in our awareness. So too, when we learn that everything is made up of energy, our minds can hardly grapple with it.

The world seems very concrete, full of objects and things.

We touch the table and it feels hard. We see the space around it, the space where the table is not, thus we create a definition and label it.

We see a person sitting across from us, we don’t see particles or energy. Thus we define them as another human being, perhaps your husband or best friend (further labeling and defining).

This is the way the ego, the mind-identified separate self, understands reality – by defining what it is and what it is not. The issue with this point of view, of course, is that we’re missing half the story.

Everything is, in truth, interconnected. Even science is starting to better understand this.

But because the ego sees itself as separate, because it believes there is the possibility of an ending (not understanding energy properly), it does everything it can to protect itself.

The ego is perpetually afraid of death. Death of status. Death of the body. Death of the self.

It’s in a fight against reality because it knows that one day, it will die. So it’s in a mad dash to grab all it can while it’s here – to reach for anything that makes it feel more comfortable, important or special – all in an attempt to feel safe.

After all, we live on a tiny planet floating in a vast system of energy with black holes and other mysteries we don’t fully understand – it’s hard not to feel small and insecure.

Add to this, the gradual and inevitable breakdown of matter, social constructs and belief systems – leaving the ego feeling even more unsafe.

As Alan Watts shares, “There is the feeling that we live in a time of unusual insecurity. In the past hundred years so many long-established traditions have broken down — traditions of family and social life, of government, of the economic order, and of religious belief. As the years go by, there seem to be fewer and fewer rocks to which we can hold, fewer things which we can regard as absolutely right and true, and fixed for all time.”

Reality is constantly changing. There is nothing to hold on to. And this, the ego does not want to hear.

So, in its’ innocence, the ego acts as both our protector and our saboteur – creating its’ sense of safety by attempting to control this fluid-like reality and force it into submission.

It does this by classifying and judging everything, thereby creating the illusion of structure. And by digging up the past for instructions on how to proceed into the future unknown.

When we move towards anything unfamiliar, the future holds so many possibilities for tragedy, disappointment and embarrassment. And without a familiar experience to reference, the mind fills in the blank – projecting every possible failure – in order to devise a plan of safety, creating a wide range of biological responses.

We tend to avoid things that trigger these fear-based emotions, since the reaction can feel so uncomfortable.

Typically people will wait things out until the pain of the current situation is so strong that it outweighs the pain associated with change.

The only way to feel better and move forward with confidence is to learn to trust life itself, even as it’s collapsing and constantly changing form. Easier said than done, I know… but the practices in Part II will give you some perspective to help restore your faith in the universe, I assure you.

Fear of being seen

Growing up in the western world, we’ve been fed so many ideas of who and what we should be. Just one trip to a foreign country and we start to realize how much of “who we are” has been decided by the people around us. From the way we walk and speak to the way we hold our bodies and the beliefs we have about perfection.

I’ve done a bit of backpacking around the world and was changed forever by my experiences.

When I traveled through Italy, one of the first things I noticed was how small the tables were and how close together everything was. It really showed me how our rules about personal space are learned by observation and that how we, in America, have built up so many invisible barriers to letting others in.

It took me a few days to adjust, as people would practically stand up against my body while waiting in line at the train station.

It felt like an invasion of privacy, bordering on disrespect, but I quickly realized that’s just the way things were there. I knew that my own judgements were based on what I was used to (leaving at least three feet of space between me and the person in front of me).

But who says that’s right? And where did that idea come from?

As I traveled through Bali, I would see these little wooden tiki benches scattered throughout the villages where people would just lay down and take a nap in the middle of the day.

They weren’t homeless, they were just resting. It was eye opening for me. In the U.S., there would be so many judgements about that person for being lazy or for fear of their safety. But it’s normal there so no one judges it or even thinks twice about it.

The families too, would gather on the porches, all 17 of them, and just hang out all day. Babies crawling around, kids playing ball in the field and they would just sit. I was in awe of their ability to relax and let go.

They clearly don’t have the same judgements we do.

Later, when I went to Jakarta, Indonesia, which is a primarily Muslim area, all the women were completely covered up – head, arms and legs. I didn’t actually know I’d end up there and had been backpacking with very little clothing.

I remember walking around in shorts and a tank top, mind you it was 90+ degrees outside, but you wouldn’t believe the stares I got.

One woman even rejected the bus I was on because my legs were exposed. In hindsight, I could have went shopping for some more appropriate clothing since I was the visitor, after all, but it really showed me how geographically-based our judgements are.

All of our ideas about right and wrong, good and bad, beauty and ugliness come from the collective belief systems of the culture we were brought up in.

Here in the west, we have some pretty rigid ideas about who we ‘should’ be and what our lives ‘should’ look like. It’s the progressive result of decades of programming, fueled heavily by the world of advertising.

We’ve all been raised on it, the same repetitive, internally-destructive beliefs that we are not good enough. If we don’t have this house, this body, this much money in the bank… if we don’t have these things by this age, then we haven’t quite made it. If we struggle with confidence, fear, jealousy – if we aren’t happy all the time – then there must be something wrong with us.

These thoughts are kept alive by the subconscious mind, through well-disguised conversations, repetition in advertising and cultural assimilation.

The story goes something like this: “I am not enough because ____ (fill in the blank).”

And even if we’re in denial about it, our addictions and self-destructive patterns always point back to this underlying belief system.

Bréne Brown has based her entire life’s work on it and launched some of the most successful TED talks in the world; we feel there is something inherently wrong with us, we are ashamed of who we are.

At a deep and very subconscious level, we feel we are unworthy of love and true happiness.

Our images of perfection are at the root cause of this disfunction and a contradiction to the very essence of our humanity.

There will always be one more thing we need to fix about ourselves before we’re ready, before we can fully express ourselves, before we can change.

What I did not realize, until I listened to Adyashanti’s book “Healing the Core Wound of Unworthiness,” was that this problem is much more of an issue in western cultures than it is in the east. I imagine due to both our unrealistic ideals as well as our competitive nature – always striving to make it to the top.

If we look at each other as competition, we are bound to feel isolated and stuck in comparison-mode.

Because we have this fear of not being good enough, held up against the measuring stick of our culture, we have an equal fear of being seen, of being found out.

We forget that everyone is running the same internal programs. And this applies as much to standing on stage as it does to revealing ourselves in the bedroom. We’re afraid to reveal our own imperfect nature.

Although it makes us feel vulnerable, the truth is, the more we expose our flaws and shortcomings, the more people trust us and feel connected to us.

Fear of failure

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And then there’s failure. Or, at least, what we perceive to be failure.

So many of us live our lives and make decisions in an attempt to avoid failure and embarrassment – making choices that feel safe over ones that light us up. Aiming for what seems reasonable over what seems exhilarating.

We’re afraid we’ll disappoint ourselves if we reach too high. We’re not really sure we can handle the embarrassment of falling flat on our faces. But all these ideas come from the collective environment we grew up in.

Some fortunate people do seem to have less of an aversion to failure due to their nontraditional upbringing. For example, I saw a video where the CEO of Spanx ($1 Billion Company), Jan Singer, talked about her childhood.

At dinner, the family would sit around the table and talk about their failures for the day. Not only would they talk about them openly but they would celebrate them. And if they couldn’t find the hidden gems right away, they were assigned to write about the gifts they could find within each experience.

She shared “Failure for me became not trying vs the outcome.”

I contemplated what the world would be like if every parent raised their child in this way. How different the world would be if we gave ourselves permission to fail.

I imagine people would feel more child-like, running towards experience with open arms. Not making up stories about themselves in the face of failure, but seeing everything as an opportunity to fine-tune their soul’s journey, to get more clarity on their unique gifts and why they came.

Although I’ve launched several successful businesses – within each one of them, I have plenty of stories of failure, both how I failed to show up confidently and how I failed to meet some overarching goal.

We have to redefine our concept of failure and start seeing life as it is, an incredibly beautiful opportunity for growth and expansion.

Fear’s purpose

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After years of study and inquiry, I have come to understand it like this; our thoughts and emotions are a lot like colors.

Let me explain.

Contrast is essential to the richness of the human experience. Imagine if suddenly all the colors in the world disappeared and only one remained, let’s say pink hypothetically – imagine living in that reality for just one day.

We’d want out. We’d be bored out of our minds.

All the visual stimulus would cease and we’d be left with a monochromatic, desolate reality covered in fuchsia.

Emotions act in a similar way. Before we descended down to this physical plane, we knew what we were getting ourselves into and we happily took the leap. If it were all love and happiness, we wouldn’t even want to be here.

Without the contrast of fear, darkness and despair, we would have no reference point. There would be no way to experience love.

I heard this quote by Neale Donald Walsch on his audiobook Conversations with God which sums it up perfectly, “Many think that white is the absence of color. It is not. It is the inclusion of all color. White is every other color that exists combined. So, too, is love not the absence of an emotion (hatred, anger, lust, jealousy, covetousness), but the summation of all feeling. It is the sum total. The aggregate amount. The everything.”

And so, as much as we say we’d like to rid ourselves of all the fear-based emotions we experience, that’s not what we truly want.

We want life as it is, not how we think it should be. It is only the ego that has a problem with it.

The soul knows the incredible value of contrast and complexity - and that all of it is required.

So the goal of this life experience, as I see it, is to stop rejecting what is and learn to fall in love with all of it.

To move from the head, with all its’ analytical calculations and judgments, into the heart, where we can perceive the world as it truly is, in all its’ wonderment and profound beauty.

*The article is an excerpt from my book “Walk Your Soul Path”
(Chapter – Roadblock #1: Fear)

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