Do It Scared

You want to ask for a raise from your boss but you chicken out. There’s no way she’ll give you one. You want to get on the new project team but put off asking. Pretty soon, the project is launched and you are sitting on the sidelines. You want to run in that 5k but you have never done one before. You are afraid everyone will be laughing at you (or at least judging you). Fear can stop us in our tracks.

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I recently read Take the Stairs by Rory Vaden and he espoused, “Do it scared.” Being scared can paralyze you into inaction. I have been paralyzed by fear before and I realized that I did decide that I would do it scared. So Vaden’s words resonated for me. If you wait for the fear to dissipate, well…that could be a long wait. There are some things I am still afraid of. One example that comes to mind is a bridge in Western North Carolina that is called “Mile High Swinging Bridge.” I saw my son and brother walk across that perilously high moving bridge, but my acrophobia hijacked my brain. I just couldn’t do it. I froze. On the other hand, there are many examples of how I did step into fear, and it’s made me a stronger, more confident person.


So here are ways to Do It Scared:


  • Reframe it as a challenge.  In Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Upside of Stress, she writes that instead of saying you are nervous about the speech you are giving tomorrow, reframe it instead into a positive, like “I’m excited about the speech I’m giving tomorrow.” I actually explained this to my husband after I read the book and he holds me accountable for my language. So if I say, “I’m nervous about this facilitation I’m doing tomorrow.” He’ll say, “Aren’t you excited about the facilitation tomorrow?” This helps me regroup and dampen down the fear.


  • Find your why.  I have a white board in my office that says “Make a Difference in People’s Lives!” This is my why. So when I’m doing something scary like facilitating or speaking with a group  I am not familiar with, I make sure I set my attention to make a difference in their lives. I want at least one person in that room to have a takeaway to improve their life. That’s not as intimidating as “I want everyone in the room to love me.” I am just there to change one person’s life. If there is more? Great. But one person out of that roomful of seventy people having a take away is definitely possible.


  • Don’t wait to be comfortable.  Vaden wrote, “Do it uncomfortable.” I have fallen for this before. I’ll want to wait until all the conditions are perfect, but perfect never comes. Pretty soon procrastination takes over. I’m waiting on one more data point. One more piece of feedback. When I was standing next to that bridge, I was waiting for the wind to stop. It didn’t. Comfortable never comes so you never take the first step.


  • Find an accomplice.  The first time I spoke in another state, I brought my husband along. I knew I was going to be nervous because it was a big group, and the facilitation I was doing was new to me. I wanted support, so I brought it with me. I think I might have walked across that bridge if my husband was there to hold my hand. Wind or no wind. Put together a personal board of directors–your team to help guide your life and/or business. I have “Cathy’s Brain Trust”, who help me with topic choices and editing my blog. I feel accountable to them to have a new post every week. Having support helps me face my fears.


  • Jump.  It’s funny but on that same trip to Grandfather Mountain and that darn bridge, my son and I did a zip line trip. I had never been on a zip line before but it sounded like fun. Of course, I hadn’t really thought it through. Which was probably a good idea. First you sign your life away. Then they start suiting you up with a hard hat, gloves and straps. Next thing you know you are following a group of 8 people up to the platform to take the leap. Maybe I didn’t want to chicken out in front of my son. Maybe I didn’t want to chicken out on myself. I took the leap and it was a blast. Sometimes thinking it through paralyzes you. Jump.


  • One day at a time.  I usually have a facilitation or speaking gig a few times a month. There was a time where I worried about it for weeks before, especially if there were five different topics scheduled that month. I learned that by looking at it a week ahead and preparing (i.e. review the materials, gather flip charts and PowerPoints, post it notes, etc.), I spend less time worrying about the event. I felt more confident and don’t let the fear of public speaking hijack me. Prepare one day at a time.


This is not to say that every event has been flawless. Sometimes I talk too fast or forget an important piece. But that’s OK. At least I stepped into fear and did it scared. The more I do it, the easier it gets. Oh and that darn bridge? It’s still on my bucket list. What do you need to do scared?

How to face your fear. What to do when a tornado is approaching.

My home was under a tornado warning last week. I remember on the television screen they mapped out the path of the potential funnel cloud to “Walnut Creek 1:14.” It was 1 PM. Fourteen minutes. Suddenly my television screen was locked with a banner across the top saying to go find shelter. Believe it or not, I tried to change the channel. Like maybe I should catch “Let’s Make a Deal” while the tornado is bearing down. Maybe another channel will predict the storm going elsewhere. My cell is alerting me that I need to take cover. So I call my husband “Should I take shelter?” and he said “Yes.” Like I need permission to find shelter. Crazy things you do in the moment of


So I grab a pillow and my dog and headed to an interior bathroom. I feverishly watch the radar on my phone and listen to the television set muted through the bathroom door. I sat there on the slate floor reflecting on the fact that my dog had no idea what was happening. She was free of the abject fear of that moment. As I sat there wondering if that huge pine in the front of the house would fall on us. I reflected back on the book The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. Hmmm. How can I use some of the things she recommends. This is the perfect Petri dish of fear to give it a try.

So here is what I did to face fear:

1. I started by reframing it. I initially thought “I’m scared.” Then I thought about reframing that to “I’m excited.” So I started to appreciate the uniqueness of this situation. “Wow, I’ve never been under a tornado warning before. This is exciting.”
So my daughter was under a tornado warning some 3 hours later in Durham, NC. She was scared. I tried to reframe it for her. She texted, “I’m scared to be all alone :(.” I replied, “We are with you. Rise to the challenge.” I don’t know if it helped her but I know that when I reframed the situation as I sat on the bathroom floor, I used my energy to focus on being proactive by searching radar information and taking my mind off awful-izing what might happen.

So if you are headed to speak in front of an audience of 100 or having to terminate an employee, reframe it to excited energy. Harness that energy to help you move forward through the fear.

2. Find the positive spin. I realized that I was glad I was with my dog. How often do I get to sit on the bathroom floor with my dog? Like never. I appreciated her calmness. She walked around in a circle and sat down like this was as good a place as any to take a nap. It’s hard to be panicked when you’re sitting next to a Zen dog. I started to think about the fact that I was safe at home and not out on the road. This was the safest place in the world. In the text conversations with my daughter, I kept up the positive spin. “The house you are in is a newer house” and “the storm is traveling fast you’ll be out of it no time” and “you are strong.” Shoring up your resources keeps your mind in a more positive state.
So when you step on that stage in front of an audience of 100, think about the positive intention you are going to bring to the folks. And when you are terming an employee? Think about their positive humanity. The upside propels you forward.

3. Find someone to connect with. I was texting my husband and daughter in a group text while I sat on the floor. I was snuggled up next to my dog as she lay on the bathroom floor. As McGonigal wrote, “Connection with others activates prosocial instincts, encourages social connection, enhances social cognition, dampens fear and increases courage. You want to be near friends or family. You notice yourself paying more attention to others, or are more sensitive to others’ emotions.”

While I was texting my daughter as she sat on her bathroom floor, I asked if I could call. We spoke on the phone as the worst of the second storm cell passed over. I don’t know if she felt better but I felt better by connecting with her. I felt like teleporting my dog up to her bathroom floor. There have been several times that I have been on the phone with my daughter and I’ve said, “I am holding you right now.” It might be virtual but I know it helps. If you are unable to connect due to loss of power or phone connection, try a mantra or affirmations. You can also imagine that your mother is there holding your hand. So when you walk up on that stage, make eye contact and smile at one or two people. When you terminate that employee, look them in the eye. Shake their hand when they leave. Connection dampens down the fear.

It’s not obvious my daughter and I lived through three tornados that day. No downed trees, damage or loss of power. But I have to say I learned from the experience. For one, I didn’t succumb to the stress of the situation. I stayed focused and positive. My husband, who had been on a group text with my daughter and me, came home that night and commented, “You did a great job.” He showed me his phone and there were apparently 80 text messages that went back and forth that afternoon between us as two separate tornados spun by my daughter’s home. If you are in a similar situation, I recommend you focus on the upside. You will think better if a catastrophe does happen instead of reacting out of fear.

3 Surprising New Ways to View Stress. It Might Save Your Life.

You have a missed call from your boss and your heart rate goes up. You’re trying to get home for an important event and the highway is closed down, leaving you driving through the hinterland as everything runs amok and confusion is rampant. Your speaker cancels at the last minute and you start sweating as you try and figure out plan B. Your spouse forgets the dinner plans and you react by texting, “Whatever.” Is this your reaction? Better yet do you go around saying, “I’m so stressed!” Turns out, that’s a bad idea.

Kelly McGonigal wrote a break-through book called The Upside of Stress. McGonigal herself had a lot of preconceived notions about stress. We all do. Stress is to be avoided or numbed out (say one more cigarette or beer at the end of the day). As she posits in her book, “Mindset 1 is: Stress Is Harmful. Experiencing stress depletes my health and vitality. Experiencing stress debilitates my performance and productivity. Experiencing stress inhibits my learning and growth. The effects of stress are negative and should be avoided.” This is definitely the way I’ve viewed stress and I bet you do to. Dampen down the feelings and try to escape from it.

What she found with the opposite mind set was, “Mindset 2 is: Stress Is Enhancing. Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity. Experiencing stress improves my health and vitality. Experiencing stress facilitates my learning and growth. The effects of stress are positive and should be utilized.” Skeptical? So was I. How can you embrace stress? How can you see it as your friend?

Check out these surprising healthy responses:

1. Rise to the Challenge. As McGonigal suggests, if you can view the stress as a challenge instead, it’s a much more positive experience. So your heart rate is up? Good, that means you’re excited, you’re focused and ready to act. It’s almost like letting the dam break instead of trying to hold back all the pressure. Holding back the pressure is what is actually harming you. As concluded in Health Psychology, “High amounts of stress and the perception that stress impacts health are each associated with poor health and mental health. Individuals who perceived that stress affects their health and reported a large amount of stress had an increased risk of premature death.” So dampening down the stress and viewing it as bad for your health is actually bad for you. Embracing it as a challenge can increase your life span. Amazing what a little mindset can do.

2. Connect with Others. This was a huge insight for me. I never realized that when I am under stress I want to connect with others but this is the “Tend and Befriend” response. I always viewed stress as “Fight or Flight or Freeze,” I didn’t consciously realize from a biological standpoint, a mama bear is going to automatically protect her baby cubs. I can look back now and realize that, when stressed, I tend to reach out to others by picking up the phone or looking for an embrace from my spouse. The connection response is built into your body.


Another study cited was on volunteerism from The American Journal of Public Health. This study looked at the mortality rates of those who volunteered (re: connected with others) versus those who didn’t. The conclusion was “helping others predicted reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality.” Connection including volunteering helped buffer the stress. It helps your social cognition, lessens fear and bolsters your courage.

3. Learn and Grow. My tendency was to try and shut out stress and certainly not try to “grow” from it. What could be gained by reliving stress? Apparently it’s good for you if you can put it in a positive light. So when you can reappraise the situation “Hmmm. I wonder why I feel my adrenaline shoot up when I go on stage. How can I harness this energy to perform better? What am I learning about my body’s response?” This is actually rewiring your brain to respond differently and more positively in the future. As cited in the American Psychology Association, “Given that adaptive responses to acute stress improve our ability to cope with future stressors, health education programs might seek to educate students about the functionality of stress in an effort to break the link between physiological arousal and negative appraisals.” Seems completely counter intuitive, but you need to view stress as a positive. This is your body responding and let’s ride the wave while we learn from it. Be sure to reappraise the stress in a positive light.

So once I finished the book, I started realizing how often I said “I’m totally stressed” or “I’m so stressed out.” Actually my husband is doing a good job of catching me say it as well. Find someone to hold you accountable for your mindset. Maybe set up a jar and put a dollar in every time you say you are stressed. Now I’m trying to say, “I’m really excited and alert” or “This is going to be an interesting challenge.” This is really tough but if it could extend my life and yours. Isn’t it worth it?