“This is going to be so long, I won’t be able to finish it in a day.”
That’s what I told Matt Slaybaugh. Matt is my writing partner on occasional Sundays, often at the Roosevelt Coffeehouse.
As I dove into this piece, I felt I needed to warn him that I wouldn’t be finished by the end of our time together.
Was that a fear I was expressing? Was I afraid I would not finish? Was I afraid I would disappoint Matt?
This Post Is Not About Fear.
A week ago Sunday, with Matt, I wrote a (complete) post on fear. It summarized my fears — the long-standing fears, the emergent fears — and it was exquisite. There are few topics on which I am a more gifted writer, because there are few topics on which I am more ready, able, or motivated.
In the end, I didn’t post it. It languishes in the draft folder.
I’m not going to proofread and post it. While I love to share my best writing — based on earnest thoughts and heartfelt feelings — I thought that the piece would deliver the opposite of my intention. It wouldn’t calm you. It might scare you.
I feared I would scare you.
And I feared you would contact me and say: “Me, too!” Or: “There, there.” Or: “It’s not that bad.” Or: “It’s worse than you think.”
I didn’t want to hear any of that. And I didn’t want you to join me in my fear.
So this piece is not about fear.
This Is About Fear Not.
Last week, I met with a room of CEOs and business owners. It was the regular monthly meeting of a Vistage peer group named YES AND. They meet every month to challenge each other’s assumptions, to encourage one another, to help expand perspective, to become more enlightened employers. The peer group runs like a Test Kitchen For The Half-Baked.
Given the world — and my fears and apprehensions (which I disclosed to the group) — the members offered a brainstorm on
How To Manage During Changing Times
(How To Model Handling Anxiety)
Here is a summary. (The members of the Vistage peer group, bound by confidentiality, gave me permission to share these ideas here.)
In no particular order, their suggestions for me, for each other, and for their employees and families — and you…
A Defense of Fear
Fear is Mother Nature’s radar informing you of a potential threat.
This post isn’t about ignoring Mother Nature’s radar.
This is about the difference between using fear as data, perhaps inspiration, and yet refusing to let fear become a personality trait.
First, Reduce News Consumption.
There’s nothing new about this on Net Cotton Content. I’ve made the case that almost all news is designed to startle and agitate the audience, which — in turn — keeps the audience tuned in and often returning, because the primitive brain is ignited with FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). In FUD, we are in fight/flight and crave more information to escape or overcome.
Don’t we need to know what’s going on? Isn’t it a civic duty to be informed? Yes. Yes.
And no. Because it depends on how up to date, how continuously.
If you are a currency trader, you need to be breathing news. If you are a cardiologist, a weekly dose is all you need. (Sample different news vehicles, so you don’t get only one bias.)
As the Buddhist monk said, “The news, especially the local news, is designed to depress you.”
As the reporter said, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
As my father said, “It isn’t news when an angry person kills another person. With the prevalence of angry people and the easy access to killing methods, murder of ordinary citizens isn’t news; it’s probability.” Dad wasn’t cold to the suffering. He was cold to the sensationalizing without intention to alter the probabilities.
Turn off the news, friends. The news is alarming. You are what you watch. Try a weekly dose.
In the current, charged political environment, am I asking allies to fall asleep — to fiddle while Rome burns? No.
All I’m asking: consider the dosage. Are you overdosing?
Reduce Social Media Consumption.
If your social media community is filled with people who are angry, afraid, or both, you aren’t going to walk away from a social media experience feeling better.
You know this is true. If you don’t, pause the next time you are in mid-session. Ask yourself, “How do I feel?” Are you holding your breath?
If the Long-Term Scares You,
Shorten Your Planning Horizon.
If four years, or the rest of your life, seem like a long time, and therefore unmanageable, then thinking of these long periods of time is bound to frustrate and scare you.
Think short-term: the next batch of cookies. The next pat on the dog’s head. The next smile to a stranger. The next tree beside the sidewalk.
Care eternally. Focus momentarily.
If the Short-Term Scares You,
Lengthen Your Planning Horizon.
Borrow from the Buddhists and think about the long-term. As that celebrated Buddhist, John Maynard Keynes, said, “In the long run we are all dead.”
When I’m cranked up on the bitter sap of the ever-blossoming fear tree, I remember that none of us gets out alive. We’re all dead in the end.
Contrasted to the fear of the current moment, that cheers me up. Go figure.
Similar to the short/long, here’s the micro/macro…
If the Micro Scares You,
Think About The Macro.
If what you can touch causes fear, think about what is global.
If the Macro Scares You,
Think About The Micro.
If the state of the world causes fear, clean your room.
Develop an appreciation for small things: that cup of tea, that ray of sunshine, that breeze, that blade of grass.
My own meditational practice — I’ve practiced Transcendental Meditation on and off for 42 years — isn’t about mindfulness. It’s about mindlessness. There’s a mantra. Perhaps I’m mindful in a mindless way. I don’t understand it. I don’t seek to understand it. (It’s mindless.) As the TM website says, “it encourages a restful state of mind beyond thinking.”
Did someone say “a restful state of mind beyond thinking”? I’m in!
The idea from the peer group: learn a method of meditation that works for you. I love TM. There’s also the headspace app. And here is a description of 22 Types Of Meditation Practices compiled by my friend Joe Grieshop.
Pick one. Try it on.
I can promise this: 20 minutes of quiet, twice a day will improve your life. The act itself is fun — and the most radical act in the context of our go-go-go work ethic.
It makes the rest of life better.
And, over time, meditation becomes less discrete and more an all-day feeling of mindfulness. That’s what’s happening with me. On and off.
Focus on Gratitude
Later last week, after the meeting of YES AND, another Vistage group — this time, a group of chairs in my Vistage Chair Group, led by beloved mentor Al Stuempel (who attended the first meeting of YES AND in 2011) — started with this on the wall:
It is impossible
fear or anger
I would expand that to:
It is impossible
fear or anger
gratitude or compassion.
When I’m fearful or angry, I pause (when I am of sufficient mindfulness) to think of a reason I am grateful (there are innumerable reasons) or to think of someone else who could use my help, who is less well off (and there are innumerable folks who are less well off than I am).
One member of the peer group described her company’s devotion to expressing gratitude — and how that practice leads to greater teamwork, greater job (and life) satisfaction, for little more than the cost of stamps and envelopes. Here’s a suggestion from Becca Apfelstadt of treetree: The Five Minute Journal.
I couldn’t sleep the other night. I was worried.
I listened to Alisa’s breathing, in her sleep. I am so grateful to be with her.
I thought of Srikumar Rao’s suggestion that we not only think about what makes us grateful; we work to feel it. I did more than think about being grateful for Alisa in my life. I felt it. Back to sleep,…
Follow Srikumar Rao’s Sleep Hint
Professor Rao says, “If you have trouble sleeping, it’s usually because you are going to bed with unresolved challenges and incomplete tasks in the forefront of your mind, waiting to be addressed. Who can sleep when there is such work to be done right now? So make a list of three things for which you are grateful. Do it every night. But do more than check them off on that list. Pause to feel the gratitude. Where does the gratitude reside in your body? What is the physical feeling of gratitude for that item? Feel it: physically, then emotionally.
“And,” the professor promises, “you will sleep quickly and completely, through the night, the first night and every night thereafter” while that practice continues.
(For more on Srikumar Rao and his course of Creativity & Personal Mastery, visit The Rao Institute.)
Prayer & Spirituality
I’m no expert on this. But, if you have a religion, perhaps it might be of solace.
Watch Your Thoughts.
Your feelings follow your thinking. The Non-Violent Communication folks advise that we pause to consider how our feelings are the result of Unmet (or Met) Needs. What are the Unmet Needs that underly your current emotions?
Identify the need to focus the thinking that creates the feeling.
Don’t Scare Yourself.
“All the world is a narrow bridge,” taught Nachman of Breslov. “The important thing is not to scare yourself.”
This is often misquoted as “…the important thing is not to be afraid.”
But fear is not bad. And scaring yourself is a choice.
Vistage speaker David Bardsley makes a powerful case for exercise in the morning, because it re-aligns your neurotransmitters for the day. “If the benefits of exercise were put into a pill,” says Dr. Bardsley, “it would be heralded as the miracle drug of the century.”
Feeling afraid? Stand up, if you can. Start walking, if you can. Walk faster, if you can.
Socialize With Happy People.
My teacher and friend, John Schuster, told me of two friends getting together recently. Due to national politics, one was injured by fear. The other was relieved, happy, optimistic.
“That sounds hard for the person who was afraid,” I said, “to get together with his friend celebrating the same situation.”
“It was at first,” said John. “But he soon realized that it was healthy to be with a happy, newly optimistic person. All his other encounters were with kindred spirits who were in the doldrums. It helped his heart — and didn’t hurt anything else — being with a person who was feeling good about the state of the world.”
That’s been one of the many blessings of chairing CEO peer groups. My members span the political spectrum. Sure, many of them recently went from joy to fear. But just as many just passed them on the road, going the other direction, from aggravation to newfound optimism.
Spend time with someone who’s happy right now. If that seems impossible to do, learn how to do it.
And here is a more descriptive way, from Dr. Rebecca Heiss, a Vistage speaker (who I am working to bring to Columbus):
Get away time. Stop responding. Make sure you get moments away (meditation), and days and weeks away. Restore.
Turn off all push notifications. What part of “push notification” sounded good for your mental health?
Walk In The Woods.
Find your local park. Use it. Consider it part of your home. You own it. That’s the idea of communal, public space. Walking out of doors is not an extravagance. It’s cheaper than therapy and, sometimes, downright therapeutic.
Build Meaningful Relationships.
I’m a fan of peer groups. Find peers — people who neither look up nor down at you — and meet regularly.
One of the members of YES AND said, “Share with those you trust.” Added another: “Find a place where you can be vulnerable.”
Live, learn, earn with purpose.
Have an intention, an objective, a goal. Martin E.P. Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, teaches that happiness can result from the daily ability to measure progress against a worthy goal. Or, as our friends at Highlights For Children have long suggested, “Fun With A Purpose.”
Fear travels like fast-spreading illness. As ethically possible: quarantine the most ill, and offer remedies. Nurture good health.
If you are spreading the Virus Of Fear, stop it. (That’s why I didn’t post my Gorgeous Essay On The Fear In My Heart & Mind.)
Read and Watch
- Stumbling On Happiness: the book and the video.
- The Book Of Joy — a week-long interview with two of the world’s leading moral authorities, during a visit by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the home (in exile) of the Dalai Lama. I’m reading this and finding it calming, reassuring and instructive. They teach eloquently about the difference between feeling pain and suffering.
Ask Yourself The Question.
This, too, comes from Srikumar Rao. Some of the members of YES AND have studied with him.
Dr. Rao asks us to question ourselves throughout the day: “Who am I being right now?”
And, then: “Do I like being this?”
And, then: “What do I want to be?”
And, finally: “How do I get there?”
Don’t Let Fear Make You Fearful.
When she lost a child, Connie Smith said, “This makes me sad. But it doesn’t make me a sad person.”
When the world scares you, you still have a choice: you don’t have to be a fearful person. (And you can still act on your fear in the best interest of yourself and the world.)
The Final Word (For Now)
Think about what you are thinking about. This comes from Jennifer Kuntz, a founding member of YES AND. It’s a way of life.
Rather than simply thinking willy-nilly whatever pops into mind, be intentional at the meta level: think about what you are thinking about.
What are you thinking about?
I’m thinking and feeling gratitude and compassion for the members of YES AND.