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One trick to controlling our actions (or inactions)

Updated: Jul 29, 2022

Being disappointed in ourselves is nothing new in life. We all do it. Maybe when it happens, we hear a voice from our past, like from the adults that raised us, or a sibling, or a particularly critical partner. The voice might be saying something like, “you’ll never be good at that” or “once a quitter, always a quitter.” For me, the voice is silent, but it clearly communicates a solemn disappointment. It’s a pressure I put on myself, I know. When I share this with others who love me, I’m told, “give yourself some grace”, “it’s about progress, not perfection.”, and while these well-intentioned words are nice to hear, they don’t take away the question of why I held back.

In January, I, along with millions of others, joined a gym and group exercise class. It had been quite a while since I had been in a group class, and I was immediately reminded of the dynamics of the environment. Some of the folks knew each other and there were other newbies like me. Some looked strong and others less so. I was very aware of my apprehension of this new class. Will I be able to keep up? Will I know what the instructor is talking about when they call out an exercise? Will I pick the right amount of weight or chose the right band to use? Since this was my first class, I decided to hold back a little – after all, it had been a while since I did this, and I don’t want to hurt or injure myself. The instructor looked at me a couple of times and said, “Bryan, are you OK with that weight? Maybe get a heavier weight for the next set.” I confidently replied with a “sure” as I knew she was right. The hour went faster than I expected and when it was over, I had this unsatisfied feeling come over me and a voice asking myself “Why didn’t you work harder? Why didn’t you give it your all? Why did you hold back so much?”

So, what can we do when we see that these feelings aren’t serving us well? Do we just accept them as being part of life, or can we grow from them? One of the many tools provided at Discovery Programs in Austin, Texas is seeing that these feelings or triggers are driven by fear. Yup, fear. In fact, all our actions, or inactions, are chiefly driven by our fears. I’m not talking about healthy fears like the fear of falling in a dangerous situation. I’m talking about the unhealthy fears that hold us back or keep us from trying. By understanding these fears, we can make progress in lessening their control of our actions.

In February 2014, I learned about a tool at Discovery that helped me with this. In fact, I’ve even facilitated the exercise that covers this tool! So, why do I still let these old fears control me? Well, because getting very good at something takes a lot of practice. And while I’m getting better at it, it still pops up from time to time. Going back to the group exercise situation, I can apply this tool and I can easily name the fear as being embarrassed in the class. But if I dig deeper, I can see that this is a superficial or “presenting” fear, and if I dig more, I’ll find a deeper fear. In my case, it’s the fear of not being good enough / not being worthy. And by understanding this, I can then try again, and feel good about my efforts.

We don’t always get the chance to do a redo (or a "do over"). But what a gift it is when we can try again. This is the power of learning what controls our actions and being able to face those fears head-on and to try again. That's the trick... stop and think about the role that fear is playing in these situations and you'll soon see your actions change. Oh, and at my subsequent group exercise classes… I pushed harder, and a few times, I had to sit out a set because I overextended. And when I did, I smiled and enjoyed a good laugh at myself!

- Bryan Smith

ANNOUNCEMENT: Closely related to this blog is an announcement of a new program for Discovery alumni. Quite often, we hear from Discovery graduates, those that have completed D1 Base Camp, D2 Ascent, and D3 Summit, that they wish they would have “played harder” when they went through the program. That’s why we created this program... to support our alumni in strengthening or realigning their path. See for details.

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