Advice for “scary times” like recession, war and environmental destruction

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Training martial arts was one of the best ways I learned about fear.

I studied the Afro-Brazilian style of capoeira, which combines acrobatics, dance and martial arts.  Sparring, called "playing" in capoeira, is not divided by weight class or gender.

So it was common for me to face much larger and more seasoned players.

There was one match I remember very vividly.  I was playing with a visiting master from Brazil.  He was larger, stronger and infinitely more skilled than I.  And I knew, through the grapevine, that he was also quite a slimeball in real life.  He cheated on and abused his wife.  He had been known to hurt some opponents he didn’t like.  Not exactly the kind of person I wanted to invite to a dinner party.

But here he was, nonetheless, in front of me.  He scared me to death.

My first reaction was to tense up.  My movements were slow and clumsy.  Then, as he continually slammed me to the floor, I got mad.  My anger made me try to strike back with force. 

His reaction was to just get stronger and more controlling.  Finally, he held my head against the wooden floor and pinned me to the ground. I felt fear, rage and
humiliation.  It was not my finest moment.

A few minutes later, I watched him play with another woman of about my same size.  But the interaction was much different.  Instead of being totally rigid and serious, she was open and relaxed.  Instead of trying to go head to head with someone obviously stronger and more dangerous, she made the best of her creative and acrobatic skills.  He responded in kind.  Not feeling the same sense of fear, inferiority and rage from his opponent, he relaxed his stance and the result was a very beautiful game.


This metaphor seems very appropriate for our current state of world affairs.

A lot of people are walking around with generalized fears like:

  • What if I lose my job due to the economy?
  • How can I start a business if no one has any money to pay for anything?
  • What if I am harmed in a terrorist attack?
  • What if we destroy the earth?

Thinking of things in the abstract tends to make us more tense, fearful and unhappy.  When real, scary things occur, we react from this mental state.  And, like my face-smashed-into-the-floor-by-a-brutus moment, this greatly limits our ability to handle it effectively.

I found two really useful resources that address this topic.  The first is called The Scary Times Success Manual and comes from Dan Sullivan‘s Strategic Coach. (I first heard of Dan last night from an interview with author Steven Pressfield by my friend Matthew Scott.  I am definitely going to be learning more about him and his work!)

Here are a few gems for ways to "transform negativity and unpredictability into opportunities for growth, progress and achievement":

  • Forget about yourself, focus on others.

    Uncertainty can drive people into themselves, making them feel isolated and helpless. The best strategy here is to go in the opposite direction, expanding your connection with others — focusing on helping them transform their negatives into positives. The more you contribute in this fashion, the less you will need to worry about your own situation. You will become a source of confidence for everyone else.

  • Forget about the "future," focus on today.

    The "future" is an abstraction. It doesn’t exist except as an idea. The only future that has any reality is the one that you continually create for yourself through each day’s contributions, achievements, and results. This is an excellent time to ignore all those experts who never saw the present circumstances coming. Focus on what you can do over the course of each 24 hours, and you’ll be the only expert on the future you’ll ever need.

  • Forget about who you were, focus on who you can be.

    Many people define themselves by external circumstances. When these abruptly or unexpectedly change, they don’t know who they are, so they keep trying to be who they used to be. From now on, take your cues from the inside — from your dreams, ideals, values, and operating principles. These need never change, regardless of the circumstances. Take advantage of external confusion to become self-directed, self-managed, and self-motivated.

There are ten points in total, and they really make sense, especially for those of us in the entrepreneurial world. Read the whole article here.

The second resource is a video from a coaching session with Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is and creator of The Work.  I have written about Katie’s methodology on Martha Beck’s blog.  Here is a powerful example of how she coaches someone through her fear of generalized anxiety in the future (click on link to view video if you can’t see YouTube screen on this blog): I fear suffering in the future.

My biggest takeaway:  "This moment is all there is.  It is all there ever will be."   

Don’t let your fear of the future contaminate your present.  Let’s keep each other strong and connected through these challenging times.   

11 Responses to “Advice for “scary times” like recession, war and environmental destruction”

  1. Hi Pamela,

    Another tactic I really like to use comes from the military. Basically it says that if you’re under attack, don’t panic. Pick a target, aim, and fire. Don’t try to hit everything and anything at once because you’ll hit nothing. Focus on one thing you can target and get rid of it, then move on to the next target.

    So for example if you lost your job, don’t try to do everything at once. Aim at one target at a time. Maybe it’s getting your resume update, getting social security, whatever. Additionally each victory increases your morale and gets the ball rolling!

    I’ve found this tidbit very useful, not just for life events, but also for every day use.

  2. CathD says:

    What so many of us don’t realise when we’re worrying about recession and other major challenges to our business is that, if we’re being challenged by an obstacle, our competitors are probably facing the same obstacles. Seth Godin’s book, “The Dip”(http://sethgodin.typepad.com/) really changed my perspective on obstacles. I’ve written about my paradigm shift at http://mineyourthoughts.blogspot.com/

  3. Erika says:

    I think the example you gave above is beautiful and is a brilliant way to embody the advice in this blog post.

    One of my mother’s favorite sayings has always served me well. If I was too scared to do something because something else could happen she’d always say, “Well, you could get hit by a bus just walking down the street but that’s never stopped you from leaving the house before, has it?”

    Life can’t stop just because the nation is in a bit of a slump. The only way we’ll get out alive is if we keep living as though it’s worthwhile to hope.

  4. Sherry says:

    Hi Pam,
    Thank you for introducing us to Byron Katie – I’ve appreciated being able to pass it along to my adult children – especially as they are now raising children!

  5. Tia Peterson says:

    Hi Pam,

    this is precisely the kind of information that will help to slowly ease the anxiety a lot of us are facing right now. Thanks so much for passing on the flame.

    Cheers!

  6. Paula G says:

    Hi Pam,

    Love the post…particularly like the visual of brutus. Indeed not a fun moment. I recently wrote about Recession Proofing Your Mind for BlogHer. How you think..therefore you go. As a newly full timer entrepreneur the timing of economic instability isn’t swell, but as my accountant says — if you build and do well in this, you’re really good. So that is my plan. You can’t control much but you can control your mindset and that is all you have. If you see the world ending and approach it with a chicken little mentality..that is how you will feel and what you’ll create.

    Will definitely check out some of the resources you shared in more depth.

    So the sky isn’t really falling…we’re just experiencing what IS in each moment..and then experience what IS as it happens in the next moment.

  7. Success in Scary Times

    I’m a freelance consultant and for the past 10 years that’s meant finding the delicate balance between getting the work done today that needs to get done and finding new work to do once my current projects are finished. People

  8. Mark says:

    Pam,

    Thanks so much for this post — a real standout, and badly needed.

  9. We need to focus on all the good things in our lives. We are programmed to worry about the future, but taking time to sip a good cup of tea or coffee and sit outside does wonders for the self created stress. When we take the time to just relax and appreciate what we have the future doesn’t seem so scary.

  10. Jim Kershaw says:

    Your culture teaches that assault, aggression and invasion of personal and physical space is not only the ideal method to gain control and end insecurity, but the preferred solution. I didn’t learn that in Sunday school.

  11. Pam,

    What a terrific piece and video you have provided. I think everyone should watch this video until they can repeat that mantra in their head whenever they step into the future instead of living in the now.

    Thanks for providing it.

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