Curiosity: the Antidote for Fear

I’ve been taking several team coaching courses through CRR Global. Our facilitator said something really thought provoking. Curiosity is the antidote for fear. She posited that you can’t hold fear and curiosity at the same time. I guess this is why Curious George seemed to escape dire consequences because he wasn’t holding onto fear and examining all the “what if’s”. Rather liberating isn’t it? Just be curious and fear will melt away.

As I look back, I think the period of my life where I was consumed with fear and struggled with worrying about all that could go wrong was when my son was two. He was a toddler capable of dragging a tricycle onto a kitchen table and then sitting on it. He lacked any sense of fear. I was tethered to my son’s hand in every parking lot, store, amusement park, Movie Theater….for about three years. He had no sense of danger. No limits. I remember sitting several rows back at a Cirque du Soleil performance and he ran down the aisle to try and go on stage. We caught him just shy of the first step. Crisis averted. His curiosity struck fear in me. Thank goodness they grow up. Thank goodness he and I both survived.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t watch out for our toddlers and let them go play in traffic; but there is a lot to be learned from having an open curiosity about the world. I personally am game for any antidote for fear. So here are some ideas for embracing curiosity.

1. Open. To be able to embrace curiosity, you need to be open. Be available for the experience. I remember going for a zip line experience with my son a few years ago. I initially asked him if he wanted to go try it out and he was game (no surprise there). To be honest when I asked him I hadn’t really thought through that this meant I would be flying through a forest several hundred feet above the ground. I am not a dare devil but I was open. I didn’t come up with a laundry list of why I shouldn’t do it. It was more about seizing the opportunity to do something fun with my son before he headed off to college. When they strapped us into our gear and the helmet was on, well…it was too late to worry about fear. We had a blast and suffered no injuries. Be open. Curiosity: the Antidote for Fear

2. Scientist. Put on your scientist hat…or a lab coat. I remember taking food chemistry lab at Cornell. I was a Hotel Administration major and we spent hours messing with something basic like baking a cake. In one recipe we would double the baking powder, in another, we would leave out the eggs, in another, we would use oil instead of butter. As you can imagine (if you bake at all you know it is a science) the resulting cakes would be vastly different. I could see the cause and effect at work. It was a great learning experience although some of the end products were awful. Tinkering with various aspects of recipes has helped me to be a better cook. Take time to become the scientist.

3. Wonder. To be in “wonder” for me, means to be absolutely present and free of assumption. You need to let go and be. I can remember my kids as toddlers on Christmas morning. The larger presents from Santa would be all set up (i.e. Hot Wheels race tracks, Barbie dream house…etc). There was an overwhelming amount of things in the room but my son would run up to the racetrack and start playing. He would spend 30 minutes before he was ready to move on. He was present in his wonder and took it all in at his pace. Embrace wonder.

4. Talk to your triggers. We just practiced this in my CRR Global class. Being triggered is when you go into fight or flight mode. I get triggered when someone says a sexist statement like “those football players are playing like girls.” Suddenly my 30 year old neighborhood bully named “Joe” breaks out and wants to teach somebody a lesson and I shut down and can’t think. When I separated from my triggered self (through coaching), I could dream up a new way to deal with Joe the next time I get triggered. I can show up as my adult self and keep Joe in the back room by the red phone. Having a plan to deal with your triggers helps keep you resilient, in the moment, and keeping fear in check.

5. Muscle. Work your curiosity muscle on a regular basis. This is kind of like getting out of the status quo. Shake up your routines. Try a different drink at Starbucks, cross your arms the opposite of normal, drive a different route to work, eat vegetarian all day or call your brother you haven’t spoken to in months. It might be a little (or a lot) uncomfortable but it gets easier the more you do it. You can flex that curiosity muscle more easily. Flex your muscles.

The beauty of embracing curiosity is that life becomes that much fuller, more interesting, more adventurous. The view is different there. Lean in.

Untether The Balloon. 5 Ways To Detach From The Outcome.

I’ve just spent a few days on the West Coast and met up with a great college friend. We spent a lot of time talking about “Not being attached to the outcome.” She shared an example of a conference she attended where, a group of 30 had to divide into three learning groups. There was no guidance as to how the groups needed to be put together but that everyone in the group had to agree with the makeup of the group. That’s a tall order. She said they spent two days trying to divide up the groups. She was tracking certain folks she wanted to be with, but the turning point for her was letting go and not being attached to the outcome. She ended up in a group sans any of the folks she was tracking but it still proved to be a great group. Letting go of the outcome let her be open to other possibilities.

I was coaching a client this week who wasn’t sure they wanted to do an Ultra Marathon (over 26.2 miles). So I asked what the worst case scenario was and he said a, “To not finish.” I asked, “What is so bad about that?” He said ” Well, I guess I could try again, especially if it’s an injury”. Exactly. We don’t need to be so tied to the outcome….it is…what it is. Let the balloon go and let it float away.  Let. It. Go. red_balloon_by_snnr

So how do we let go, become untethered from the outcome? Here are some steps to try on for size:

1. Meditation. This seems appropriate since non-attachment has its roots in Buddhism. Spending even five or ten minutes on mediation each day helps you to let go of thought. It’s not like you stop thinking, but you learn to let go of thoughts as they come into your mind for ten minutes like little balloons lifting off. It helps you learn to let go of the story. Let the story balloons go as you meditate.

2. Open. Be open to all avenues. I have several ways to get to work. Some are longer, some have more red lights and some are prettier rides. Mess up your ride today. Go a different route. Quit being on auto pilot. I bet you don’t even remember the last drive you took to work. Let go of the assumptions of what is around the next corner, what will happen if your daughter drops out of college, or if you call back that client you aren’t sure about? What if you let go of the fear of quitting your job. Be open to possibilities.

3. Paradigm. Some paradigms are meant to be broken. A paradigm is a set of rules in your head. Many of these paradigms are built on the back of ghosts. If you struggled for money as a child, your paradigm might be about making a million dollars being THE only sign of success. If you only notice that thin people are successful, you might think you can only find success once you are thin. If you had a bad relationship with someone who is Korean, you might think that your child is doomed if they date a Korean. If you don’t want to be attached to the outcome, examine your paradigms…they are likely built on the ghosts of the past.

4. Acceptance. Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Brene Brown speak on her inspiring new book “Daring Greatly”. As Brene pointed out, it’s amazing how we all spend so much time judging each other. I can be devastated by a friend looking me up and down and assume they are judging my clothing selection. I can lose sleep over the fact that my neighbors must be mortified by our uncut lawn. I can make my child change what they are wearing to hope that they are judged by the pink polka dot socks and the purple suspenders. As Brene pointed out, everyone is busy being self-conscious and worried about their own thoughts. So how would you be without that thought? Let it go and accept.

5. Enough. You are enough. Let go of the struggle. You are perfectly you and no one else is exactly as perfectly you. Don’t wait for the next raise, or to hit the lottery, to lose twenty pounds or to marry the guy with the Ferrari. You are enough right now and forever. If you can be enough…right now in this moment…you can be enough even when you fail. Be enough (because you already are).

I have to say that I’ve been working on this for several years. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you stick with it and reflect on your progress, you will evolve into that floating balloon and let the wind take you where it will…and oh what a ride!