Recently, I received a thoughtful gift from a mentor in the form of a yearlong journal designed to help you face fears and pursue your dreams. On the front in neon green capital letters is the oft-repeated quote “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” I left it on my dining room table with high hopes of making good use of it and conquering the world one day at a time using its positive mottos.
Then a couple weeks ago, I had a day where it was nearly impossible to get out of bed. It wasn’t just that I was sleep-deprived. It was more than that. It was one of those days where between 4-6am in that half-awake, half-asleep hypnagogic state everything started to spin out of control.
Something about those early morning hours always seems to magnify my fears and make my responsibilities and to-do list grow and loom in the most terrifying way. The tasks seem more numerous, the responsibilities seem bigger and more onerous, and the likelihood of all out chaos, destruction and hobo doom seems imminent.
Growing up in the south, we had a polite phrase for those times when things were just a wee bit more than a lady could handle and she decided to quite literally hide under the covers. We called it “taking to the bed,” and on this particular day, that’s all I wanted to do.
But in my experience, taking to the bed on days like these is neither restful nor a treat. With each passing hour, my dread and anxiety grow larger. By the time I end up dragging myself off that mattress, I am regretful and scared and no fun to be around.
It was on one such morning that I walked into my dining room, saw that journal with its bright, motivational text, and immediately thought to myself, “Well, fuck. The one thing that scares me today is just getting out of bed.” If you’ve ever experienced what I’m describing, then please keep reading. There is hope, I promise!
First, know that it’s absolutely okay if the thing that scares you today is simply getting out of bed. Your one daily act of courage doesn’t have to be climbing Mount Everest, accepting a keynote speaking gig or debuting your cat-themed artwork at a local gallery.
But don’t just take my word for it. While writing this piece, I had the pleasure of seeing Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche speak here in Seattle. The Sakyong is the head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and a high lama in Tibetan Buddhism. Translation: he’s kind-of a big deal as Buddhist teachers go.
I assumed that a spiritual master such as the Sakyong probably levitates effortlessly out of bed every morning. However, I was so happy to hear him say that on some days, even for him, just rising from bed requires the Shambhala’s warrior cry of “Ki Ki, So So!” to rouse the head and shoulders and uplift the energy. So for those of us who are sometimes a little scared at dawn, we are apparently in good company.
Second, know that fear often ramps up when we’re really following our best destiny or stepping into a soul calling. In other words, the fear isn’t necessarily a bad sign. Chances are, the more important a calling or dream, the more likely it is that you will experience intense resistance. In those cases, I follow Steven Pressfield’s wise advice in The War of Art: I use that resistance like a compass pointing exactly in the direction I most need to go.
Finally, regardless of what the thing is that makes getting out of bed terrifying for you, I also want to share several strategies that have made a huge difference for me in circumventing the cycle of terror and inaction that in the past has kept me cowering under the covers.
Set Up An Emotional Speed Dial
There are certain people whose work, speaking and writing just lights me up. Their words give me perspective and often connect me to something greater than myself. I am not exaggerating when I say that listening to their podcast or reading a passage from their book can take me from wanting to curl up in the fetal position under my comforter to ready to take on the world. In the words of Abraham Hicks, these folks put me right “in the vortex.”
Who these people are changes over time. Martha Beck has been a constant, but others I am currently addicted to include Tosha Silver, Dr. Christiane Northrup and Mike Dooley. And these sources don’t have to be solely writers or speakers. For my partner, I know the fastest way to get him from crabby back to happy is to play some Otis Redding. For you, it might be a combo of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and watching otter videos on YouTube.
It doesn’t matter what it is. All that matters is that you pick several go-to inspiring sources and keep them on emotional speed dial so you can get back up and running and connected to your most essential, highest self.
Know Your Body’s Needs and Limits
There was a time in my life when my knee-jerk reaction to anxiety, uncomfortable feelings or lack of motivation was to reach for alcohol, pharmaceuticals and/or recreational drugs. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with informed use of appropriate substances or pharmaceuticals, especially if one is clinically depressed, unable to sleep, or in severe pain, for example. For me personally, however, I knew I wasn’t using this stuff in a healthy way and it was taking a toll on my body. So I got clean.
These days, this former high tolerance binge drinker knows that more than one glass of wine is going to make her feel like crap the next day, both physically and emotionally. So I tend to save the libations for special occasions. I also know that should I choose to use marijuana to help my periodic insomnia, that substance seriously affects my subtle energy, physical endurance and inspiration level the next day. It’s a tradeoff I’m not always willing to make.
Bottom line: I know my body’s needs and limits, and I now live as clean as I can. I know that certain substances really seem to affect my mental and emotional happiness, peace, well-being and motivation, so I keep my usage to a minimum and only on certain days where I know it won’t affect my schedule and my work.
I also don’t beat myself up about it when I consciously or unconsciously over-indulge. I know from experience now that every day is a new day, and our bodies and minds are incredibly resilient when you start to give them the love, attention and care they deserve!
Commit to One Teeny Step – and Treat Yo Self!
On those days where you really just want to throw in the towel and try again tomorrow, you don’t necessarily have to scrap the whole day. Even if you got a late start, or you gave in and ate 13 chocolate croissants for breakfast, or you had a blowout fight with your spouse or partner on the way out the door, it is never too late to turn your day around.
After you’ve grabbed one of your go-to mood-shifting sources (see above), commit to doing just one small item on your to-do list. And after you’ve done it, in the words of Donna and Tom from one of my all time favorite shows, Parks & Recreation, go “Treat yo self!”
In my experience, doing the one small step with the promise of some positive reinforcement afterwards generally energizes me to do more than just that one little task. Usually, it snowballs into much more inspired action. But on those days when it doesn’t, I do my one little thing, treat myself and I leave it at that – no self-flagellation allowed!
Know it Won’t Last Forever
In the first couple years after leaving my marriage and career as an attorney, when my path was not so clear and the unexpected grief over the loss of my old life came on like a tidal wave, the days when I would take to the bed were far more frequent. But now that I’m treating my body well, I’ve connected to something greater than me, and I have my inspiring sources on emotional speed dial, my bad days are much fewer and farther in between.
And maybe even more importantly, I know my bad days don’t last. So when I have one, I allow myself to rest. If it feels too scary to get out of bed, I give myself some leeway and compassion to hang out under the covers a few extra hours if my schedule permits. All of this because I now know from experience that the inspiration and urge to take big action will absolutely return shortly. I can depend on this cycle. And you can, too.*
So if the one thing that scares you is simply getting out of bed, congratulations! You’re human. It happens, apparently even to enlightened masters like Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. On those days, be kind to yourself. If you can, muster the strength to simply get out of bed. In my book, that counts as your one daily act of bravery.
But if you can’t, that’s okay, too. If your calendar allows (and perhaps, even if it doesn’t!), be gentle and crawl back under those covers. Sometimes staying there might just be the most courageous, scariest act of self-care. Trust that the sun will rise again tomorrow for another shot at this business of being human and doing one more thing, no matter how insignificant it might seem, that scares you.
* Unless you are clinically depressed, in which case you might need a little assistance to get back to baseline. If you suspect this might be the case, please seek help from a competent professional.