I offer writing, tools, and resources for understanding fear patterns and creating the habit of courage. My mission is to empower people to live bold, courageous lives--for the benefit of themselves, their families, communities, and ultimately, the world.
I used to think that the point of self-help work was to become happy. I was going to double-down on my negative thoughts, stop buying in to limiting beliefs, and start seeing the bright side of life—at which point, I’d be happy.
Except when I’d step into the work, I found that things still came up: frustration, sadness, and oh, the grief. It was like I’d been walking around wearing heavy armor, and as I started to take off the armor all of the sunlight was allowed to flood into my body—which was delicious—but at the same time, all the grief that had been enclosed in the armor was now free to flow out.
In other words? It got worse, before it got better. (Somehow, no one had told me).
I do feel quite fortunate in that someone told me that it was through the crying and raging, that I’d find my way to happy. I didn’t believe them, at first. When it came to taking responsibility for my intentions, attention, and responses, I was kicking and screaming the whole way to doing that work, wanting to do anything but actually…do the work.
Eventually, though, I made my way there. I figured out that if I wanted to become happy, I’d need to make room for frustrated, depressed, anxious, sad, grieving, hopeless, enraged, furious, shamed, annoyed, and all the rest. When you process through all of the feelings that you’ve been trying not to feel, freedom awaits on the other side.
I used to think that the point of self-help work was to become happy; I now think that the point of self-help work is to become whole.
Rather than striving to become happy, I want to see myself being a human. That means I’ll need to feel. Some may wish for a brand of enlightenment that involves being impervious to criticism, always taking the moral high road, and unfailingly seeing potential and hope even when the world delivers some of the worst things that humanity has to offer.
I wish to become happy in a way that’s less numb and more authentic: when people are critical, I own that it hurts (rather than pretend I don’t care); when the world hurts I am willing to tap into my despair (even as I am also willing to choose hope after I honor the despair); when someone is a jerk, I’d like a little room to drop the f-bomb (before I reach for compassion).
The more I’ve honored all the feelings that lead to being whole and human, the happier I’ve felt. Also, the less control they’ve had over me. Feeling the feelings isn’t bad, and the more you are willing to feel them the less they can hold you back.
If you want to become happy, just know that part of the journey will be facing yourself, facing all the things about yourself that are difficult or uncomfortable or unfair, the mistakes that you are ashamed of…yes, all of it. Not part. All.
So many women preface their questions, their stories, their ideas with, “I might be over-thinking things, but…”
It’s a short little phrase that implicitly says, “Don’t attribute too much power to this idea” or “This idea might be way, way too outlandish so I’m okay if you dilute it,” because after all, “I might just be a silly little woman over-thinking things, again!”
What I see most women call “over-thinking things,” is really a set of complex skills: careful consideration, evaluation of all the possibilities, taking the temperature of all the different perspectives from different participants so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings, assessing the nuances that are often not readily identifiable, think several steps into the future, contemplating options.
What I see is that most women have been conditioned into this “over-thinking things” as a way of staying safe. We are tasked with it, in fact, in scenarios from what to wear and how to behave on a date, to making sure other women don’t think we’re “a bitch,” to the day that we have children and become household managers by default.
If a woman is assaulted, she’ll get some kind of message about how she didn’t consider things carefully enough, didn’t evaluate all the possibilities, didn’t notice the possibility of danger, didn’t think several steps into the future to see what she should have seen as inevitable.
If a woman is called a bitch by other women or is dismissed as not being liked, she’ll be told she didn’t do enough to notice other people’s perspectives, didn’t think ahead enough to how that comment or opinion was going to be received by the group or how it would hurt other people’s feelings.
When women become mothers and are “asked-without-being-asked” to assume the roles of mother and household manager, it’s part of the job to constantly assess and consider, think ahead, think of what everyone else needs, contemplate all the options.
Basically, women are taught to do something and then scolded for doing the thing that they were taught to do. Women are taught from an early age to “over-think things” as a way of both keeping the peace for others at the expense of themselves, and as a way of staying safe (because if you don’t “over-think things,” it’s your own fault if you get hurt).
Then, when they dare to use such skills powerfully in other arenas that require decision-making, women are expected to use phrases such as, “I might be over-thinking things, but…” as a way of diminishing their own power and ideas.
It’s another concession to others so that we don’t appear too forward, too opinionated, too bossy, or “too much.”
Concessions like these are tiny little paper cuts to our ideas and our vision, to stepping into our full sense of personal power. In the moment, it might feel easy to toss off such phrases in order to keep the peace, all while forgetting that it is not our job to keep the peace. It’s not our job to make sure everyone else is comfortable, before we can put forth our vision. It’s not our job to spend our lives taking the temperature of others in the room before we can let ourselves show up, fully.
Of course there is always a need for empathy and for interdependence, but “I’m probably just over-thinking things…” is not a cue for empathy or interdependence. It’s a way of being first in line to undermine our own ideas.
Some women have told me that when they say, “I’m over-thinking things,” what they mean is, “I’m feeling anxious and am having some trouble settling on a decision.”
My encouragement? Say that, at least to yourself if not to others. Denying feelings of anxiety when making a tough decision is a patriarchal idea that prioritizes only the final outcome—the decision—while denying any space for the process that lead up to that decision. Deal with the anxiety (the fear). It’s coming up for a reason. Face what’s coming up and allow yourself the room to have a process with that. Decisions end up coming much faster, that way.
I’d like to sound the call for everyone to notice where we use this “over-thinking things” phrase and choose something different. Here are a few swaps:
Instead of “I’m probably just over-thinking things…”
“I have an idea that I’d like to share with the group, for consideration.”
“I’ve noticed fear has been really loud as I work through this issue, and I’m not ready to commit yet to a specific decision—but I will share the specific things that have been coming up for me.”
“When thinking about this, I tried to envision several scenarios, and I notice that they all have pros and cons.”
“I’ve been contemplating several possibilities, and here’s my biggest concern. I’d like to run through that with you.”
“As I think about the options, I notice I’m torn between a few of them—and here’s why.”
“My idea is _______________. If I’m making it more complicated than it needs to be, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can simplify this.”
“I’ve got a big idea, one that I don’t want to dilute. Hear me out, and I’d love your feedback.”
You can speak into the fact that the decision-making process has been challenging, that you’re unsure of which option you want to go with, and you can own the fact that you have a fear/concern/worry with a particular option. You can still solicit other people’s feedback or thoughts.
You can do all of that, without diminishing the power of your words or ideas, first.
You’re not over-thinking things. You’re executing a complex skill-set of weighing options, rather than barreling through a scenario without a plan.
You are allowed to have bold vision. You are allowed to have fear at the same time. You can honor both, without apologizing for yourself or for the fact that you have a process.
Need some help dealing with disappointment? That’s the subject of today’s podcast episode. When you’ve really wanted the big dream, and you’re dealing with disappointment because things didn’t go as you’d hoped, it’s important to avoid going into a space of avoiding your disappointment. Today’s podcast episode lays out the essential pieces of processing feelings of disappointment.
When you’re dealing with disappointment, you’ve got to feel your honest feelings. Trying to bypass them will only make them churn beneath the surface.
You are allowed to give yourself time when you’re dealing with disappointment, rather than thinking you need to be farther along or more evolved. Trying to be too smart to process disappointment is a form of putting on armor in order to not feel vulnerable.
What if things not going as planned…worked out even better, in the long run? That’s a powerful reframe to consider when you’re grappling with disappointment.
I was reading Tim Ferriss’s book, Tribe of Mentors, in which he asks a set list of questions to different people who have attained success in their fields. This got me curious–how might you and I use the Tim Ferriss interview questions in our own lives? What might those questions tell us about who we are, how we tick, and our way of being? I’m going through each question on today’s podcast episode, and you’re welcome to join in!
Commit. You want to learn something? Commit to learning it. Stop making it into, “It would be nice.” Set a time each day, and go do it. That’s commitment.
Bank on consistency. You’ll get a better return on investment for all of that time and effort, being consistent, than you will with a binge of effort. It’s great if you meditate one hour on one day, but you’ll likely see more of the benefits of meditation if you implement ten minutes a day across six days.
Stop talking about/thinking about the circumstances that make commitment difficult. Sure, yes, the circumstances do make commitment difficult, but talking about them to others or ruminating on them yourself won’t actually solve the problem of their difficulty. Adopt the mantra, “This is hard, sure, but I’m doing it.”
Create a metric for goals or for your progress. You don’t have to be into goal-setting, to learn something, but you do need to have at least some metric of progress, some metric that lets you know when you’ve learned it to your satisfaction. Otherwise, you could spin on a hamster wheel of endlessly telling yourself that you’re “not there, yet.” And if you know that you hate goal-setting, consider that maybe you’ve been doing it wrong. Maybe you’ve been making yourself a slave to goals, which felt gross and unfulfilling, so you quit setting them. Understandable. Just know that not everyone regards goals this way. Shifting your mindset and how you relate to your goals—making them into markers of pride in your commitment and hard work, and really relishing in that pride—can be uplifting. The choice is up to you.
Stop expecting it to be easy. Learning isn’t easy. There are inevitable frustrations. Stop thinking that because you are overwhelmed, don’t know what you’re doing, or are making mistakes, that you’re not learning. You are learning. When we learn something, we move through three stages: cognitive, associative, autonomous. The cognitive stage is when it’s all mental effort and you have to think very hard about what you’re doing in order to do it. In the associative stage, it’s a little easier. In the autonomous stage, what you’ve learned feels integrated into who you are and you’re not needing to think through each step. If you are learning new communication skills with your partner, practicing positive self-talk, how to forgive, ways to lean into being more courageous? At first, in the cognitive stage, this will feel like all the effort in the world.
Celebrate the small wins, along the way. Too many type-A perfectionists skip this part, thinking that they will save their pride in accomplishment for the end-goal: the accomplishment. Unfortunately, that way of thinking can grind you down into a fine powder. It takes true strength to acknowledge yourself for showing up, for committing, for maintaining progress, for getting just 1% better. If you know you’ve got a long road ahead of you, it’s a sign of health if you routinely tell yourself, “Look how far I’ve come.”
Don’t quit. If you’ve truly committed to something at the outset, you won’t linger for long in a place of contemplating quitting. But if you find that you really, really, really want to quit? First, check in and ask yourself what your track record is with quitting. Do you finish the programs, books, projects, relationships? Or do you tend to quit them? If quitting is not your regular modus operandi, yet you’re really pulled to quit a thing, then okay—you’re probably getting the right signals. But if you’re someone who has a tendency not to finish what you start? Don’t quit, until you’re sure you’ve learned all you need to learn from the situation. Consider, too, that for those who tend not to finish things, sometimes staying the course—finishing the program, the book, being willing to keep talking with the friend until both of you are mutually resolved about letting the friendship go—can teach you something.
Accept that you’re going to learn what doesn’t work, before you learn what works. There’s no “hacking” your way through true growth. You’re going to write bad novels before you write good ones; run badly before your form improves; say the wrong thing before you say the right thing; choose the wrong relationship before you choose the right one.
Let curiosity lead. Watch a toddler learning something. When they try several times and can’t do it, they’ll whine, cry, get frustrated. And then, often, something pulls them like a siren song back over to the very thing that just frustrated them, because they’re curious to try again—particularly if a nearby adult is willing to help them try again, let them know that it’s okay to try, again. Curiosity leads, openness follows. And by the way? You are now the adult in the room who needs to be willing to let your frustrated self, try again.
Identify weaknesses, and put in a little bit of extra effort. When you are learning something, it’s good to identify the places that could use a little bit of extra effort, and apply some attention there. For example: several months after starting CrossFit, I began to recognize that there were specific common lifts with weights, that were my weaknesses. Even though I went to class consistently and really gave my all in each class, I wasn’t really getting better at these specific lift movements. So, I began staying late, practicing just those lifts after class—just a few reps of extra practice. Within a month, I had marked improvement. Had I not put in a little extra effort, I could have gone on for many, many more months just barely being able to do those lifts in class, and I would have been frustrated every time. The actual time that it took me to get better within just a month? An extra fifteen minutes after class. If you want to grow your bank account, think about small deposits. If you want to learn a language faster, conjugate just a few extra verbs each day. If you want to see more connection in your life, nudge yourself for just a bit more eye contact and initiating conversations.
When you have setbacks, declare who you are and why you do what you do. When I first started my coaching business, I had an almost maxed out credit card. The “business consultant” I’d hired to teach me about marketing bailed on a call (and she claimed I had not dialed in for the call, thus she refused to give me a refund). I was scared, furious, enraged, scared, livid, sad, scared, frustrated…did I mention “scared”? I took a walk after that failed call, caught between dual urges to burst into tears or scream right there on the street. And then, I walked my ass back home, resolved. I wrote down everything my business was going to create. I wrote down how I would never, ever treat anyone who hired me in the same manner as I had just been treated. What’s more? I was DONE playing small, I declared. It took more time for me to parse through the feelings, but the declaration of who I was, was a powerful re-set.
Have a plan for a bad day. They are inevitable. Know who you’ll call, what you’ll do, how you’ll treat yourself. Make a list of the options, in case you can’t think straight when the bad day hits. My list includes going to the library to load up on new books, sketching with colored pencils, laying out in the sunshine, calling a friend, window shopping, buying a cup of coffee and people watching, re-reading a spiritual text, visiting a church or place of worship to just sit in silence—things that are free or mostly free. You’ll move through a bad day faster, if you know how you want to handle it when it hits.
Take constructive breaks. Getting tired and overwhelmed and avoiding something is not “taking a break,” even though that might be what you tell yourself or others. Those “breaks” are really just preemptive forms of quitting, letting momentum die down. A constructive break has a purpose and a timeline where you know why you’re taking a break, and you know when you’ll return.
Celebrate when you hit the milestone. Like, full on *celebrate.* Don’t skip the celebration—don’t run the marathon and then not brag it up. When things are going better in your marriage, let your glow show. When you’ve completed the first draft of your book, landed the entry-level job that is going to set your finances right again, your toddler has figured out potty-training, you made a big decision about stepping into faith over fear and you know that it’s a fork in the road, celebrate the accomplishment of that. Don’t just humbly shrug and say it was no big deal. It was a big deal. Absolutely, and always.
Celebrate in the way that is most authentic to you. When I held my book launch party for The Courage Habit, I had initially booked an event space in Berkeley, about an hour from where I live, because it was closer to the people I planned to invite. After a month of my book tour and being in and out of airports, it was book launch party time but…just wanted to be…home. So, I scrapped the event space and let everyone know that the party was now going to be held at my house. Some people couldn’t come because the party was farther away, but I enjoyed myself more—surrounded by friends at my home, and being able to just slip into my pajamas at the end of the night.
Reflect on what you’ve learned as you close a chapter. Who were you, at the beginning of it? And who are you, now? And what territory did you traverse, in between? This stuff matters. It also helps fortify you for the next time, because as you take pride in the path you’ve walked and the work it took, you’ll remember this feeling. Next time something new to be learned stands in front of you, you’ll know how to learn anything. You’ll know how to apply these same tools again, and each time you learn something anew, you’re better able to learn because you’ve had more practice with how to learn anything.
We exist for a short time on this earth, not nearly long enough to really soak it all in. If this fact makes you eager, curious, hungry, then it’s a gift. Let your insatiable hunger to learn be a guiding force in your life.
Want more? Join the Your Courageous Life library and access courageous resources that help you with how to learn anything…including how to release old, fear-based habits and create courageous habits that light up your life. Begin: https://www.yourcourageouslife.com/begin .
In my own life, I am working on trusting right timing–trusting that when things happen at the moments that they do, there is something to the timing of it, and that I cannot rush timing.
In hindsight, I can see so many examples of right timing. In hindsight, I can see how perfectly all the little pieces alchemize like a mad, chaotic chemistry experiment, a dash of pain thrown into the recipe that would solidify and then dissolve so that it could caramelize and sweeten into something worth eating.
I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard, of people who were inexplicably thrown together at the right time.
The crash that happened and for seconds, time stopped, and then everyone walked straight into their role—holding the victim, calling the police, the nurse or doctor who happened to be right there to offer life-saving care.
And then there are the times when things don’t work out, but even those have the power to transform. I will never forget being newly licensed at sixteen years old, driving very slowly past an accident in which a driver had, moments before, hit a pedestrian. The pedestrian was on her back, blood pooling around her body. The driver—she was also about sixteen years old, from the look of her. The shock of hitting and clearly harming another human being had hit her so hard that she had fallen out of the driver’s side of her car, door open, and she was on her knees, screaming No, no, no and it was terrible—
—and forevermore it has stayed with me that in a moment any one of us can make an inadvertent mistake that will change the course of our lives, that presence matters, that we all deserve compassion, because that could have been me, could have been you, could have been any of us who were simply driving, or simply walking across a street. No one wakes up in the morning, thinking, “This will be it. After I get into the car, today, everything changes,” or “This will be it. When I cross that street today, everything changes.”
It came to me that day how short our lives really are, and how much I want to use mine for something more than the acquiring of things, the rushing from one place to another, the not being present until forced to be, the complaining, the settling.
When I take my attention off of how I feel it all should be happening right now, and instead decide to start trusting right timing, I am reminded of how grateful I have always been that things worked out however they have.
I become grateful for the jobs that didn’t work out, even if at the time I was wringing my hands (otherwise, I might not be right here, in this job).
I become grateful for the relationships that didn’t work out, even if at the time I was in such pain (otherwise, I might not have been freed up for this one, right now).
I also become grateful for the hard decisions of those moments, the decision that I was not going to settle. That decision was the catalyst for something more, even if at the time the decision to change felt about as difficult as the decision to let things go on as they were.
Sometimes, when I am in moments of deep suffering, suffering that makes no sense whatsoever, the only thing I can do is decide that at some point, I will see the right timing. Maybe not now, and maybe not for years, but life has taught me that the pieces thread together in their own way.
Life has taught me that we cannot avoid the car crashes, but we can decide to make meaning of them. Meaning-making will toughen you at the same time that it sweetens you. It used to seem pithy to me, frivolous, to think of finding meaning in things that were difficult—the kind of thing only naive people might think of.
Then I was hit by enough situations that would have broken me had I not decided to bend in the direction of finding meaning. The meaning has carried me through, shored up my psychological resolve, stemmed the anxiety of an uncertain world, made it so that I can sleep at night.
We each find our own way, and in the balance of things, I think that each way is its own contribution. Some of us see car crashes and decide to avoid cars. Others of us ruthlessly fight for tougher driving laws so that we can avoid crashes altogether. Others of us will try to make cars safer or evolve the technology.
Me, I accept that in this nonsensical world I will not be able to avoid life’s crashes, but in every moment otherwise I will do what I can with my puny two hands and my voice to act as a sort of modern-day witch, invoking words and images to alchemize whatever pain I can for myself or others.
Meaning-making is the way that I know, so it is what I give.
When you want to better understand someone? Look for the nuance. [I’m operating from the assumption that you desire to better understand your fellow humans, particularly those you regularly interact with, rather than arrogantly assume that your personal interpretation of them is unfailingly accurate—right?].
People are multi-faceted, nuanced.
People are not all of one thing, and none of another.
People are glimmers of light on water, and shadows deep, and if you watch a lake bouncing light on a clear summer’s day, you could never see all of the glimmer and all of the shadows and every ripple of a wave, all at the same time.
People are like that. When we are displeased with them, it’s easy to forget that they are more than just the piece that we are displeased with.
Who someone is in the heat of an argument, is not the totality of who they are.
Who someone is when they are operating from a place of conditioning or bias, is not the totality of how they will always operate.
Who someone is when they write one post on social media or a website, is not the totality of what they think on an issue.
We are reaching a tipping point where the one thing that someone said or did at one little glimmer or shadow in their life becomes a highly reductive interpretation of all of who they are.
I have said and done things in my lifetime that I have felt deep shame about. I have operated from those places of conditioning or bias. I have posted things on social media or my website that I might no longer agree with, that I might now see differently, or that only expresses one piece of what I’m trying to say.
And so have you.
So have all of us.
Look for the nuance
Remember this the next time you are inclined to judge: if anyone followed you around for twenty-four hours a day with a video camera, things would show up on the footage that would deeply embarrass you.
Remember this the next time you are inclined to write a quick social media post criticizing someone: if your own moments where you lacked generosity and compassion were pulled from the footage and projected onto a screen—just those moments, and none of the rest to give a balanced context—you would feel it was unfair.
Patriarchy operates from a binary place, a binary way of thinking. In binary logic, things are either good or bad, right or wrong. There’s a rigidity about being “with us or against us” and exclusion of those perceived to not meet the mark. There is little room for nuance.
Increasingly, I think we’re all seeing—and this should trouble us—a lack of nuance in how we interact with one another. Even among some of those claiming to be fighting for justice and the eradication of patriarchy, the mindset of the binary is there: you either agree with my perspective, or you are part of the oppression; you are either with me or against me; if you hold one oppressive view, this must mean that all of you/your life/your interactions are therefore oppressive.
We need to look for the nuance.
Nuance wants to call out oppressive views without dismantling someone’s humanity.
This is the real work, in my opinion. This is where courage is most required—because we’ll need to look closely to see where we can avoid cancel-out culture that shames and traumatizes and doesn’t get us the result we want (cancel-out culture doesn’t change people’s worldviews; it makes them defensive and then they just work to better hide their oppressive world views to avoid criticism). At the same time that we’re trying to avoid that shaming—that taking on of the energy of “good versus bad” that is the hallmark of patriarchy—we’ll need to look at excuse making, because certainly, some who try to avoid shaming oppressive view points flip into the opposite spectrum and make excuses for poor behavior.
In other words, if we step out of the binary and into the nuance, there is more to track—the shaming and the excuses, the unconscious conditioning and the conscious intentional choices, the fact of someone’s good and the fact of someone’s bad. If we step out of the binary and into the nuance, we step towards that lake on a summer’s day, with the impossibility of taking in all of it at one time.
Again—tough stuff. That’s why we don’t choose nuance more easily, as a culture. It’s easier to invoke the myth that someone who has done good things is a hero and someone who has done bad things is evil, and to ignore the edges and the in-betweens.
Look for the nuance. Pause to ask yourself, “Why would someone have this worldview?” and if their worldview reaps harm to others, ask yourself, “What’s the most effective way to encourage them to change?” I promise you, I’ve seen no behavioral science research that indicates that a Facebook pile-on and take-down is the way to do it.
In fact, go one deeper: pause to ask yourself, “Why do I have my own worldview?” Pick any issue about which you feel strongly.
And then ask yourself, “If someone was deeply invested in changing my mind on this issue, what would they have to say to me, to get me to shift?” Then ask yourself if a social media critique, a passive-aggressive blog post that discussed you while never naming you, or encouraging others to join in picking apart your character, would be very effective at truly changing your point of view.
Perfectionism within individuals is also born of this binary, right-wrong, “with us or against us” place. We do it to ourselves, so we do it to others, and then we are hurt and upset when others do it to us.
The weaknesses are only ever a piece of a developing human. So are the strengths. This is not a call to excuse mistakes—consequences are part of how people learn, and people who violate the very worst social norms need to be removed from a group—so much as to suggest that if we’ve seen how damaging patriarchal, binary thinking is, then we must take it upon ourselves to stop practicing it.
Our lives matter far more than we can possibly realize, far more than we can possibly give them credit for. We can never know when, just by being ourselves, we will be someone else’s gift.
We do ourselves a gross disservice when we assume that because of our occupations, or unless we take some kind of massive action, we cannot have an impact. Risk the vulnerability of letting other people know that they matter.
Tough truth? We don’t do what we say we should, if we don’t believe that any of it will actually work. Really, what do you believe? Because if you truly don’t believe that meditation (or anything else) could benefit your life, then there’s no point in even telling yourself that you should try it just because everyone else says that it’s great. Right here, right now, you are able to do what you are able to do, as well as you can do it. All that matters is if you at least try.
Waiting until it’s the right place, right time, yadda yadda yadda is just a delay tactic. There is no right time, right place, right way, or right circumstance for starting the things that are most important to our souls. Now is the perfect time. This is the perfect moment. You are the perfect person. You’ll learn everything else you need, along the way. When you don’t know where to start, right here and right now with you, is enough.