A few weeks ago, I ran my first half-marathon. Until the night before the race, I was totally freaked out. I hadn’t really trained, my sneakers weren’t broken in, my race shorts hadn’t arrived, my hip was hurting, blah blah blah. I had a million reasons why this was a bad idea.
Sitting in bed the night before the race, my mind wandered to fantasies of how I could get out of my commitment. I’ll spare you the details, but one fantasy involved somehow magically manifesting a mysterious illness. Geez.
Once I caught my manic mind and reeled her back in, I had to get real with myself. Was I going to run this race or not?
Yes, I wanted the sense of accomplishment that finishing the race would give me, but I was afraid. I decided to look a little deeper…
I quickly did an exercise in practical pessimism…with a feminine twist:
This exercise is from The 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss. Here are the questions that Tim posed and I answered (the book contains more questions, but these were most relevant to my specific freak-out):
Instructions: If you are nervous about making the jump or simply putting it off out of fear of the unknown, here is your antidote. Write down your answers, and keep in mind that thinking a lot will not prove as fruitful or prolific as simply brain vomiting on the page. Write and do not edit – aim for volume. Spend a few minutes on each answer.
1. Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering. What doubt, fears, and “what-ifs” pop up as you consider the big changes you can – or need – to make? Envision them in painstaking detail. Would it be the end of your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1-10? Are these things really permanent? How likely do you think it is that they would actually happen?
2. What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily? Chances are, it’s easier than you imagine. How could you get things under control?
3. What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios? Now that you’ve defined the nightmare, what are the most probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal (confidence, self-esteem, etc.) or external? What would the impact of these more likely outcomes be on a scale of 1-10? How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome? Have less intelligent people done this before and pulled it off?
4. What is it costing you – financially, emotionally, and physically – to postpone action? Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action. It is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where would you be in one year, five years, and ten years? How will you feel having allowed circumstance to impose itself upon you and having allowed ten more years of your finite life to pass doing what you know will not fulfill you? If you telescope out 10 years and know with 100% certainty that it is a path of disappointment and regret, and if we define risk as “the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome,” inaction is the greatest risk of all.
The Feminine Twist:
I realized that part of my fear of running the race was that I didn’t trust myself to take care of myself in each moment (“What if I’m injured but keep going anyways?” ). In speaking with other women over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that I’m not alone in this. Being natural nurturers, women tend to want to make sure everyone is happy. This nurturing nature is beautiful, but when part of its manifestation is sacrificing our own well-being and happiness, it’s unhealthy. In the past, I have often disrespected my own boundaries in an attempt to make other people happy. As it turns out, the people I love want me to be happy, too.
If you haven’t always made the healthiest choices for yourself or listened to your gut, you will naturally feel unsafe when stepping into new territory. This is, in part, because you don’t trust yourself to have your own back! The best way to express your beautiful nurturing nature while going after what you want, is to be sure your self-care stays intact.
After answering the questions above, I added these 2 questions:
5. What is the first sign of being off-track? Rather than wait until I am crippled at the side of the course, it would be good to know what the first sign of trouble is and adjust accordingly. I wrote down the first signs that I felt my body would whisper.
6. What can I promise myself? It would be easy to hear those first whispers – the first signs of trouble in my body – and ignore them. I had to make a promise to myself that I would continually bring myself back into my body to check-in, and if there were warning signs, I would act on them.
I finished the race! I ran the first 12k (only stopping for water) and for the last 9k I did run/walk cycles. I stayed connected with my body, listening to her (not my mind, which encouraged me to bail and go eat a cheeseburger), and heeding her wisdom. I felt so proud that I burst into tears at the finish line. I didn’t know what I was capable of until I did it. <tweet it>
Why Being Negative Can Be Positive:
If you, like me, have read a zillion self-help books, you’ve probably learned plenty about the value of positive thinking. While I consider myself an optimist (I generally assume that people’s intentions are good, for example), I can’t deny the fact that I have fears. Rather than ignore them, invalidate them, “conquer” or “crush” them, I choose to give them a voice. Why?
> Sometimes what I mistake as fear is my intuition trying to tell me something, like “Hey, don’t cross the road yet, there’s a car coming”. I should at least listen.
> When we don’t hear out our fears, they can generate inaction. Have you ever thought of doing something, only to be met with the thought “Yeah, but what if ______?”. When that happens, we often stop dead in our tracks and immediately start thinking about something else; we ditch our desires. We’ll never move ahead if we don’t engage with fear.
STEP 1. Think of something you’re considering doing, but are afraid of doing.
STEP 2. Take out a piece of paper and a pen and answer the questions above. Here they are again:
1. What is the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering?
2. What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily?
3. What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios?
4. What is it costing you – financially, emotionally, and physically – to postpone action?
5. Once you start, what is the first sign of being off-track?
6. What can you promise yourself?
STEP 3. In the comments below, share what tips and strategies you use to overcome your worry or fears. If you’re feeling inspired, share what you’re going to take on in your own life, as as result of this exercise.