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risk taking

Vigilance VS Joy

Last time we talked about how our scared one is constantly vigilant and is chronically stressed. Then we saw the connection between chronic stress and a compromised immune defense system.  It's a paradox.
Our psychological defenses stay up and our immune defenses go down.  The result?  We can get sick.
And this morning I get this from Inward/Outward, a daily bite of soul food I receive.  Its author is Philip Slater and it is from Wealth Addiction:
"Vigilance and joy cannot coexist…. Joy is an emotion that only occurs when we let go of all watchfulness, all concern about outcomes, and simply let experience flood in and feelings flood out. Joy is incompatible with search behavior because there is nothing missing. Joy is feeling complete, full. Wealth addiction is feeling empty."

So I figure it's a synchronous event and that I should pay attention.  And I think he makes a great point. Being constantly vigilant and being joyful are mutually exclusive.  It also makes me see that being in a chronic stress state is to be joyless.

And if that is true then the remedy for being chronically stressed is to go for what brings us joy. What is it that brings you joy?  What are the circumstances in which you can drop your guard, drop your defenses and risk being vulnerable.  Do that.  For me, true joy comes from first getting my ego in check so I can relax.  Then I can feel the joy of deeply connecting with another person that I let past my perimeter to connect with my authentic and imperfect self.  That may not seem like a lot but it's enough,"because there is nothing missing."

No longer alone on guard duty, being in the guard house with a friend is also one of the best stress management strategies ever.



OUR BEST KEPT SECRET A Real Life Example of “Why Normal Isn’t Healthy”

 I started writing a book in 1989. The title is “Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.” I didn’t finish writing and publishing that book until many years later. Why?  Not finishing means not risking. If I finish the book, someone might read it! Then I risk others rejecting the ideas presented. And that rejection, that potential criticism, would be taken personally! Having my feelings of inadequacy reinforced feels so bad that I sabotage completion. If I kill the book I slay those feelings before they occur in reality.

My ‘scared one’ plays out worst case scenarios to avoid exposure to rejection. I stay safe by not finishing the book. Then no one can read it to find out how stupid, unoriginal, banal and superfluous I am. That’s a perfect example of ‘why normal isn’t healthy’. My ‘scared one’ will avoid risk-taking and, thereby, the anxiety inherent with the risk.

Risk management to the ‘scared one’ means to avoid being seen as a flop or a failure in the eyes of the world. By not finishing the book, or certain other projects, for that matter, I decrease my exposure. Playing out the rejection in my imagination reinforces my feelings of inadequacy. “Why should anyone read this book? There are so many good books out there already. What makes me think I have anything to add?!”

As a risk manager, my ‘scared one’ downsizes risk by presenting reason after reason to put off completion: “It will be so hard to organize my material in a concise way for the reader. Besides it will take away from other fun stuff that I really enjoy.”

And when sitting down to write, to work through the internal resistance the ‘scared one’ creates, distraction is always one thought away: “You know, I think I’ll get something to eat.” or “Look at that floor. I can’t believe its so dirty. If the floor were cleaner, I could write better.” or “I need some exercise. Yea, that’s the ticket. I’ll write better, concentrate better after I work out and shower.”

The irony of it is, that the ‘scared one’ is endlessly creative in the distractions he presents to keep me from the task. He will map out detour after detour to avoid reaching the end. And then, to add insult to injury, he says: “You really are pathetic! You’ll never finish that book. You’ve been blowing smoke for years. Why don’t you just forget it!” It’s a perfect example of ‘why normal isn’t healthy.’

It’s normal to let the ‘scared one’ drive the engine of the psyche. It’s normal to be grateful for the detours s/he provides from the anxiety inherent in risk-taking, in doing the new behavior. But, if I am aware of this tendency in myself to sabotage what’s best for my development, for my health, I can watch. I can pay attention. I can see when I am being my own worst enemy. And, my energy follows my attention.

Paying attention, energy is then available to deal with the ‘scared one.’ In a metaphorical sense, I reach over, turn off the engine, and take the keys. “I know you. I know what you’re trying to do. You’re the ‘scared guy’ and you’re anxious about exposure. You don’t want to stick your neck out, ever. It’s too risky, too scary. So, I have to stop you now. I’m taking over. I’m going to drive now. You get in the back seat. I know you’re anxious and I honor that by feeling scared too. However, I’m going to act in spite of my fear.

I’m not going to allow that anxiety to keep me from standing up for myself and expressing how I think and feel. I believe Kirkegaard was right, anxiety is our best educator. I’m not going to allow anxiety to keep me from new learning.” Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that I can be my own worst enemy. If I can be my own worst enemy, I can also be my own best friend.

Because I have feelings of inadequacy doesn’t mean I’m inadequate. Because I have a risk-averse ‘scared one’ inside doesn’t mean I have to avoid risk. But it does require that I am awake to the workings of my own psyche so that I can watch when the ‘scared one’s’ attempts at self-sabotage appear. Energy follows attention! By paying attention, I have the energy to deal with this internal terrorist and disarm him. It doesn’t require being judgmental or critical.

I don’t have to beat myself up because I have a ‘scared guy.’ He will always be present and play his ‘scared guy’ role in the movie of my life. But he doesn’t have control of my performance. He will make appearances, but if I’m paying attention to my life; to my thoughts, to my feelings, to my behavior, to my body, to my health and to my relationships, I’ll see him pop up.

If I fall asleep at the wheel, and the ‘scared one’ takes over, it is really helpful to have a supportive community of friends to hold up a mirror and reflect back to me the image of the ‘scared one’ at the controls. Their care and concern lovingly nudges me to wakefulness. Fully alert, I see the situation with clarity.

By paying attention, energy flows differently: “Ah ha! I see you clearly now. Your turn is over. Give me the keys, get in the back seat, shut up and hang on! We’re gonna have an adventure. Life can’t be an adventure without risk. And with risk comes anxiety. But, remember Kirkegaard’s comment that anxiety is also the dizziness of freedom. Yahoo!!”

Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that some people, even people who love us, people in our own families, don’t know how to give healthy support. When we’re too scared to jump, they belittle us, thereby reinforcing our feelings of inadequacy. Or they push and push and push us over the edge. Their energy was required for the leap, so they take the credit. “Well, you wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been there.  So we relearn what the ‘scared one’ never forgot. I’m inadequate. But that’s not true.  It's a con. Because we have feelings of inadequacy doesn’t mean we’re inadequate !

Of course, another aspect of ‘why normal isn’t healthy’ is that to even ask for help or support means to risk being seen that way. “Need some help?” “Nope, I can handle it.” It’s also normal, but not healthy for some people to think that supporting us means to help us stay stuck where we are with a friend. “You know, I think I’ll just forget about doing that stupid book. It’s so hard to fit it in with the other work I’m doing. Besides, everything’s already been said before. Why say it again?”

“Yea, you’re probably right. Why stress yourself? I’ve got tickets to the basketball game. Let’s go have some fun.” Or “Yea, I know what you mean. Say, why don’t we go to the shore this weekend. We’ll put on some steaks, drink some martinis, smoke some fine Cuban cigars and relax. No one reads books anymore, anyway.” It’s normal, but not healthy, for some friends to tell us what we want to hear. And let’s face it, a lot of what the ‘scared one’ is hoping for is a helper, a friend to support us in taking the detour away from risk-taking exposure.  “Whew, I’m off the hook!” I think to myself, “that sounds great.” I say out loud.

“But wait,” you say, “I don’t feel inadequate.” “That’s great!” But let me ask you something. Why are you running around doing project after project? Why do you have lists of lists or projects? There is the immediate list. Then the long-term list and of course, the list of what to do if you can’t find any other list. Compulsively ‘doing.’ You’re always so busy. What is your busyness all about?

Wouldn’t you admit that much of the economic wealth in this country is built by people running full speed trying to prove how adequate they are? In fact, we’ve built a country that provides an opportunity for others to come and prove it also. If not, what are they and we trying to prove? Could it be that if you get enough done, complete enough projects, serve on enough committees, you will finally reach that critical mass of accomplishment to establish once and for all that you are adequate?!

Or even better, superior!! Superior. Interesting concept. It surpasses adequate as the next level of value. A superior piece of workmanship is worth more than something merely adequate. In fact, the adequate job is now inferior by comparison. So, superior is better. Having a car made with superior engineering costs more because of the added value of the design, etc.

Driving that car gives the driver a leg up on the other guy in the five year old compact car. It makes a statement to the world of our value, because we can afford it. And, admit it, we feel just a little superior and they may, who knows, feel just a little inferior as they compare vehicles.Our homes, our yards, condos, apartments, cars, boats, clothes, kids, schools, jobs, lifestyles, bodies, mates, friends, clubs, memberships, vacations, and yes, cigars, tell the world where we are on the value scale:

Inferior – - – - – - > Superior.

We constantly compare and compete. Paying attention to these matters we have energy for them. Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that we spend large amounts of money on appearances, on the surface of things. “Well, why not? You only have one chance to make a first impression.” Exactly. If your concern is with your image in the eyes of the world, that’s normal. And if your concern is on making a better impression, that makes perfect sense. Improve and enhance.The ‘fix’ only requires money and the things money can buy. It’s normal, but it’s a trap, a money trap. And you never have enough.

That’s not what really moves me or what we’ve been exploring. An investment of money is not required to carry forward our premise. What is required is an energy investment. And, an interest in exploring what it means to be a fully human person, functioning from a center that makes us unique and distinct, while also connected to the larger family of humanity.

“Even if you don’t know what you want, buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow. Start a huge, foolish, project, like Noah. It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.” (Rumi)

The ‘scared one’ be damned. Let’s kick it into gear and bust out of the confining limits and safe habor of the status quo. The question then becomes, what “huge, foolish project” is only mine to do? Maybe I’m the project and the book a little ship.

“No. Thanks, for asking. But I really want to work on this book. I’ve been putting off finishing it for years. I know it would be fun, but it will be more satisfying for me to finish what I started. So long.”

The book is finished. I’m still working on me.

Avoiding Risk

We have been discussing a secret we all share, yet rarely reveal to anyone.  That is, we all have feelings of inadequacy / insecurity and we have named that part of us, the ‘scared one.’  We all have a ‘scared one’ inside.  All males, regardless of age or achievement, have a ‘scared guy’ inside.  All females, regardless of age or achievement, have a ‘scared gal’ inside.

The ‘scared one’ inside us is fully formed once we learn to be ashamed of ourselves.  This was learned from those we were dependent upon early in our development.  We learned to do things the “right way” by trial and error.  When we erred, we got our feelings of inadequacy reinforced.

“No, don’t do it like that, stupid, do it like this.”  “Come on now, pay attention.  You know better than that.”  “Come on.  You’re not using your brain.  Did your brain fall out?”

To compensate for our feelings of inadequacy, we want to show how adequate we are.

We, as parents, show how adequate we are through the performance of our children.  I mean, how many of us heard our parents say, “Now remember, when you go over there you’re a reflection on our whole family.  So don’t pick your nose or scratch yourself.  Stand up, for Pete’s sake.  Don’t slouch around like that.  How many times do I have to tell you to stand up straight?  And look at those shoes.  Aren’t you ashamed of yourself.  I told you to polish them yesterday!”

Because our children demonstrate our competence as parents we have seen bumper stickers appear on the scene.  “Proud parent of HONOR ROLL student at Maplewood School.

The unwritten message is “I am an adequate parent. Just wanted you to know so I put it on the car.”  You may have seen the take-off on these.  “My kid beat up your honor roll student.”  The unwritten statement is “I’m adequate too!”


I thought we needed another bumper sticker.  “Proud parent, regardless of their grades, my kids have an “A” in my book.”    “A” for love and acceptance, regardless of their performance on the world’s stage.  So I had them printed.( if interested)

Can we affirm, affirm, affirm our children unconditionally?  I’m not saying catch ‘em being good.  I’m saying remind them and ourselves, often, that they are radiant gems that have come through us into the world.  We have them for a short time on their journey.

We need to do everything we can to create a safe, loving environment for learning.  For learning is required for them to be able to take their place in the larger community.  Learning is required for them to have the internal where-with-all to thrive in the jungle that is the world.

And the final common pathway for learning is mistake-making.  When mistakes happen, we need to focus on the learning that is gained rather than the mistake that is made.  We don’t want to reinforce our child’s feelings of inadequacy, but we do want our children to learn new things.  And anything worth learning, is worth failing at.

You see, the ‘scared one’ inside us feels safe when doing what is familiar.  Repeating behaviors in which we have already established adequacy allows the ‘scared one’ to feel secure, to feel safe.  Safety and security are the most important elements to the risk averse ‘scared one’.

To do the new or novel is to put the ‘scared one’ in a position where there is a high risk.  If we risk failing at the task or if we try a new behavior in response to familiar stimuli, the ‘scared one’ risks exposure.  So there is a great deal of psychological inertia that has to be overcome to break out of old patterns, even if they don’t work anymore.

As for children, their gaze is upon us.  They watch us and model what they see.  How much healthy risk taking do they see?  Let’s say some change happens at work.

By the way, have you noticed there are a few changes happening at work?  Oh, I know, there are also plenty of changes happening at home.  Change is everywhere apparent.  In fact, it is the one constant in life.  Yet dealing with change is stressful.

Eric Hoffer said, “In times of change, it is the learner who inherits the earth, while the learned finds himself beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

How do our children see us responding? In fact, how did we see our own parents respond when they were stressed?  Was the stressful event used as an opportunity for learning something new or an excuse to go for an unhealthy coping strategy ?  Here’s one from the past:

“Boy, you wouldn’t believe what those idiots did today!  With that kind of management, this company is in for big trouble.”

“What happened?”

“Well, everything has been going along fine.  The business is growing.  We’re making more money.  And now they want to gum up the whole works.”

“What do you mean?”

They want us to change the way we do things.  They actually want us to put everything on computer.  Do you know how long it’s gonna take.  It’s crazy.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  This whole computer thing is just a fad.  It won’t last.  So we’ll switch everything over then be stuck switching back to the way we’re doing business now.  It’s nuts!

“So, what are you going to do?”

“What am I going to do!?  I’m going to fix myself a drink.  Then I’m going to fix another.  In fact, I think I’ll just mix up a pitcher.  Care to join me?”

“Sure, but dinner won’t be ready for a while, so take it easy.”

“Don’t try to tell me what to do.  And why isn’t dinner ready, yet!?  You sit around all day, the least you could do is have a man’s dinner ready when he comes home.  I’m gonna watch TV.  Call me when it’s time to eat.

“Okay.  I’m sorry.  But you don’t have to yell.  Just go in and try to forget about it.  You’re all upset.  I’ll call when dinner’s ready.”

The child observing this interaction watches in innocence.  The grownups act out unaware that their performance demonstrates psychic compensation and risk avoidance.

The father is at-risk at work because he will have to learn how to do something new.  His ‘scared guy’ felt safe doing things in which he has established adequacy.  Now he’ll have to learn something new and what if he fails?  He risks being seen as inadequate.  His anxiety is masked to others by his anger.

Feeling small, he acts out with a big voice as the evil twin of the ‘scared one’, the ‘Big One’ appears.  The ‘Big One’ only appears when we feel little.  His fears are then medicated away with alcohol after he reinforces his wife’s feelings of inadequacy by putting her down.  The TV also serves as an entertaining distraction from his interior discomfort.  It also puts control back into his own hands, albeit remote control!

Mom tries to placate her husband by apologizing even though she may have done nothing wrong.  By doing so she avoids a confrontation and models a behavior for the observing child.  The ‘scared one’ within the child needs to feel safe at home and when there is tension between the grownups invisible sensors in the child’s psyche make note.  The child feels the tension and learns from mom to avoid the risk of confrontation.  No healthy risk taking here!

There is learning, however.  First, change is bad.  Second, when change happens hold on to something familiar, that you can count on to help you cope.  Third, deny the actual reality of the situation and then you can avoid the risk of doing something unfamiliar or new.  As a good friend of mine says:

“I have two constant companions, two friends who never desert me.  No matter what happens they are always there.  I have never faced a problem, crisis or situation I couldn’t handle with their help.  Even in the middle of the night, they are there to comfort me. Those two friends?  Denial and avoidance.”

Know  ‘em?  I do.  Next time we’ll explore looking risk in the eye and see how anxiety may be the “dizziness of freedom”.