For many of us, the start of each New Year coincides with an enthusiastic commitment to improve our lives in some form of a New Year’s resolution. A membership at the local gym, more trips to the salad bar or pledges to cut down on unpleasant habits can each make for a commendable effort for self-improvement.
But what if our New Year’s Resolution was to become an artist, a sculptor and inventor of our lives, a Da Vinci? What if we resolved to jump into our lives more fully? In order to do that we must commit to move out of our comfort zone and take healthy risks.
For the last 15 years I have displayed a magnet on my refrigerator that states: Do one thing every day that scares you. –Eleanor Roosevelt. However, for a large part of my life, I unconsciously prescribed to the converse statement: “Avoid everything that scares you.” Eventually my desires grew greater than my fears. I stopped standing on the sidelines of life and became an active participant. While my life is much juicer thanks to taking risks, the juice can always grow rancid if I get too comfortable or get kidnapped by my fears.
Fear can be like a frozen river that keeps us locked in place, stagnate and unaware of our own light. Sometimes we have the comfort of a secure job or good friends and tell ourselves, “This is enough, I don’t need more.” When our basic needs are met, we can grow content. However, a life of insulation inhibits our ability to experience newness. When this happens, we lose our sense of aliveness and the opportunity to stumble upon new edges of our being.
So what are healthy risks? Risks that challenge you to go to your edge and that make you feel alive. Healthy risks are most successful when they are motivated by what your soul desires. So how do we create a fulfilling life?
- Learn about what your soul desires. We get daily feedback about our desires by paying close attention. For example, do you find yourself envious of something that someone else has done? If so, say to yourself. “This is an opportunity to recognize a need that burns inside of me.” Think back to a time or an event in your life where you felt connected and energized. What was in that scenario that created that feeling? Was there a moment in that experience where you felt fearful but went forward anyway?
- Taking risks should be incremental. You don’t have to climb Mount Everest. You can start by joining a mountaineering club that climbs locally. Mount Everest is a metaphor here but can be literal as well. When our goal is too large, we can sink into paralysis. Start small and build momentum incrementally.
- Work your risk-taking muscle daily so that it packs a good punch. Challenge yourself to talk to that neighbor that you always wanted to get to know, speak up at a meeting or ask questions when you are confused about something. In other words, take risks in your day-to-day life in the areas where you feel yourself holding back. In time, they will transfer into bigger risks with bigger rewards. When we feel the fear from an activity and do it anyway, our risk-taking muscle becomes well-defined and begins to bark out: “Bring it on.”
- Notice the thoughts that hold you back. Sometimes you can deflate your fear by identifying the exaggeration in your thoughts. But even if the feeling of fear wells up, realize that it won’t suffocate you. The feeling of fear doesn’t have to be a stop sign. Remember that the definition of courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Exhilaration starts with a combination of adrenaline and uncertainty.
I believe that we can all be Da Vinci’s of our own life if we are willing to work through our fears and be true to our desires. If not now, when? And if not you, who?
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. –Mark Twain
Elizabeth Grant, LPCC, provides psychotherapy services in Los Alamos and is taking new clients. She can be reached at 505.660.5796 or email@example.com.