How I got free from fear

In which I use dangerously new-agey sounding terms like “reality” and “consciousness” without once giving a sarcastic smirk.

I’m scared, to some degree, almost all the time. Let me rephrase that. Until recently, I was scared almost all the time. Fear’s exit has been so sudden and complete that I haven’t yet gotten into the habit of referring to its presence in the past tense.

You see, my life has been a battle of pushing and pulling with fear. It’s motivated just about every single decision of any magnitude I’ve ever made. I haven’t run from it since I was a small kid, choosing instead to challenge it.

As a result, I’ve done some amazing things. I’ve pushed my body to extremes to excel at things that haven’t come naturally. I’ve taken on huge challenges and risks in diverse fields because I was fighting against a voice that said “you can’t do that, you’re not good enough”.

Through it all, despite some remarkable success and costly failure, the voice never wavered, never faded. There was no sweetness achieving a goal. No rest in victory or waning need in failure. Fear ruled. Constantly. Completely. Fear robbed me of satisfaction and pushed me to take the difficult path, time and again.

My particular brand of fear was a one two punch of fear of failure and fear of not measuring up. Recently, fear had clamped down on my ability to be creative. I was trapped in a loop: I need to be creative in order to do my job, but I can’t be creative if I’m scared. If I don’t do my job, then something horrible will happen, so I need to be creative but I can’t because I’m scared. Sound familiar to anyone?

I’m sharing this with you because I know this is a relatively universal phenomenon. Through reading, thought, and experience, I stumbled on a very easy way to permanently break fear’s grasp. This is a remarkably simple method. I don’t know if it will work for you, but it certainly did work for me.

Step 1: I accepted that my reality is a construct of my perception and beliefs. In other words, my senses take input that is fed through the filter of my experience and belief system, and a model of the world around me is created in my consciousness.

Step 2: I accepted that my beliefs might be wrong. I’m reading “Mind Hacks”:http://www.mindhacks.com/, from O’Reilly. Through it (and a number of other books on neurology and physics), I’ve learned that my beliefs about reality as I perceive it are sometimes flawed.

Step 3: I realized that if my beliefs can be wrong, then my model of reality can also be wrong.

Step 4: I applied this logic to my beliefs about my fear. My fear was based on the belief that if I failed, something horrible would happen (exactly what would happen changed with the subject at hand). Examining this belief in the light of my actual experience, I learned two things: failure is just a step on the way to success, and despite innumerable failures, nothing catastrophic had ever happened to me. My belief about my fear was wrong.

Step 5: I adjusted my view of reality to accommodate this updated belief. There was no magic to this step. I simply accepted what I already knew.

Note that there was no deep soul searching for the root of my fear. God knows I’ve done enough of that to little result. Instead, I objectively looked at the subject of my fear (something horrible happening) and measured it against my experience of reality. Clearly they didn’t measure up, so I adjusted my beliefs and went on about my business.

My constant fear has gone. Totally and immediately. With it went my creative block and tendency towards avoiding difficult or unpleasant tasks. Free of the belief that failure and doom lie just around the corner, I’m able to focus on success on MY terms.

It’s amazing that I made it through 35 years before I realized what was pushing me. I’ve only recently come to realize how pervasive and predominent fear has been in my life. That realization was the turning point to relieving myself of its constant needling.

I credit that realization with the meditating I’ve been doing recently. Meditating doesn’t _feel_ like it should do anything. And yet it’s effects are pronounced and pretty immediate. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I’ve become completely addicted to it. My meditation practice made huge leaps recently with the discovery of “zencast”:http://amberstar.libsyn.com/ via Merlin Mann’s “43Folders”:http://www.43folders.com/. Mediation lessons via podcast; does it get more new age than that? Check it out if you’re interested…

WordPress theme give away #1

Ages ago I told you we’d be offering a new WordPress theme every month or so on The Blog Studio’s “Express”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/express page. The idea is that we’ll use that space to stretch our creative wings and do work just for ourselves.

The first theme is “Branches”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/images/freesample-large.jpg. It’s compatible with both WordPress 1.5 and 2.0. The theme uses a couple of plugins – they’re included in the zip file (as are the installation instructions).

I’ll also be releasing a couple of plugins in the next week or so. The first, called cssoptions is used to give site owners extreme flexibility in the layout and colour of their sites. Stay tuned…

Fear in evolutionary context

Fear keeps us from achieving our dreams. Fear keeps us in jobs and relationships well past their best-before dates. Fear keeps us from taking up causes we know are right, and from taking a stand when we see wrong done. Fear keeps us locked into small little prisons of our own creation.

Living with fear can be a horrible thing. Fear can paralyze a smart, well intentioned person. Fear keeps us from committing to our goals and making tough decisions. Fear keeps us up at night, and affects our ability to be on our best game. Fear can rule and ruin our lives.

But what is it? I’m no neuroscientist, nor am I a philosopher or religious scholar. But I’ve read widely on the subject of all three, and have an intimate knowledge of my own fear. Here’s what I’ve discovered: fear is an old emotion – one of our oldest. It’s been fundamental to our survival as a species. But it’s horribly outdated, and can cause more harm than good.

We can’t control fear; it’s an autonomous response. We have the ability though, to listen to its warning and choose to heed or ignore it. Here’s an example:

I have a horrid fear of failure. My natural reaction is to run from situations that might cause my safe little reality to collapse. But in my job, I deal with the potential for drastic failure every day. So how do I juggle my fear and my reality? Simple really. I’ve listened to my fear, and have made the conscious decision that it is, bluntly put, full of shit.

At even the smallest risk, my fear says “fail at this and you’ll lose your business, have to sell your house, will get divorced and lose your kids, and end up living on the street.” Experience has taught me though, that failure, even spectacularly large failure, hasn’t caused any of the above to come true. I’ve crashed and burned many a time, and am all the better for it. Each failure has been a step forward, because I’ve learned lessons success wouldn’t have taught.

In modern industrialized life, ancient fear kicks in to protect you when no loss of life or limb is imminent. Realizing this can free you to examine your fear, and decide on it’s appropriateness relative to your actual situation. Another example:

Asking one’s boss for a raise can be a terrifying experience. Often, our fear screams “don’t ask for a raise because you may lose your job, be forced to sell the house, your family will leave you, and you’ll be a bum on the street”.

Reality though, is much milder. Usually, the worst case is that your boss will say “no, not at this time”. You’re still ahead in two ways: your likelihood of getting a raise has just gone up, and you’ve taken a step to break fear’s reinforcement loop.

The more one does this, the weaker fear’s grasp on one’s actions becomes. Fear never goes away, but it becomes easier and more comfortable to live with it. I’ve been practicing this for years, yet I still find myself locked in panic and anxiety on occasion. Those experiences are becoming less regular though, despite my greater exposure to the things that would once have caused me to run and hide.

There’s a trick I’ve learned to short circuit my fear response. It goes like this: *just do it*. Nothing makes fear stronger than giving up a desire because fear prevented you from moving towards it. Just do it. Move forward. And fear’s grip on you becomes a little less tenuous.

Start small. Succeed or fail, it doesn’t matter (do I sound like Yoda?). Each outcome, if observed in the cold hard light of fact, likely proves your fear wrong. Each success and each failure, however small, is a step towards separating yourself from fear’s grasp.

With practice, you can learn to use fear as a tool. Listen to it, heed it when it’s right, ignore it when it’s not, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your dreams.

Web Developer Needed – the sequel

We’ve actually decided to do away with the in-house requirement for the web-dev position I wrote about recently. It’s a full time gig, but we’re willing to go virtual for the right candidate. So if you, or someone you know, are looking to fill your days doing cool stuff with the web, shoot me an “email”:mailto:peter@theblogstudio.com

Web Developer Needed – the sequel

We’ve actually decided to do away with the in-house requirement for the web-dev position I wrote about recently. It’s a full time gig, but we’re willing to go virtual for the right candidate. So if you, or someone you know, are looking to fill your days doing cool stuff with the web, shoot me an “email”:mailto:peter@theblogstudio.com

Web Developer Needed

Hey there blogo-readers. We’re looking for a code guru to join our happy little family here in Toronto. If you know anyone who fits the bill described below, please pass this along to them. Thanks!

“The Blog Studio”:http://www.theblogstudio.com is currently looking for a full time web developer to join our busy design studio.

The ideal candidate will be fluent in xhtml and css, with strong skills in php, and javascript (in particular the ability to write scripts that target the DOM). An interest in social media and passion for the web’s ability to connect people is a definite plus.

As our name would imply, we work with all the major blog platforms. Mastery of WordPress, MT, Textpattern, Drupal, Expression Engine, etc is _not_ required, but would certainly be beneficial.

In addition to our blog work though, we do quite a bit of “standard” web design and development. You will be involved in all aspects of the projects, from planning through implementation.

Your responsibilities will include writing markup and stylesheets, adding behavioral layers, ensuring w3c standards are met, and conducting in-house training sessions.

We are a Toronto based studio, with a shiny new office space, brand new macs, and a relaxed(ish) environment. We are working on some very exciting projects, and need your skill and passion to help move us forward.

Note that this is an in-house position.

Interested parties should submit examples of their work and salary expectations to lucia@theblogstudio.com, referencing job number #09836.

Thanks very much to everyone who responds. However, only those who’s skill set matches our needs will be contacted.

An update on The Blog Studio

I’m long overdue with updating you on the progress of The Blog Studio. For those of you who are new to this site, let me quickly bring you up to speed. “Last spring”:http://peterflaschner.com/archives/99, I launched a new business aimed at the newly emerging blog design niche. I’ve documented the start-up process, and have been sharing the success and pain of growing from a concept to a full-time gig. It’s hard to believe my last update was just over a “month ago”:http://peterflaschner.com/archives/260. So much has changed since then…

The biggest news is that I’ve taken on a business partner. Lucia Mancuso is an amazingly talented woman. Fate threw Lucia at me. Check this out: I met Lucia in Vancouver at the “Emily Carr Institute for Art and Design”:http://www.eciad.ca/www/, where we were both studying design. We were both from Toronto, and had attended the same high school. We knew a bunch of people in common, but were sufficiently distant in age that we had never met each other.

In school, Lucia impressed me with her project management skills, dedication, and overall energy. We had a fair bit in common, and hung out together a bit. Fast forward 12 months, and I’d left Vancouver, and was struggling to keep up with my workload. Lucia called out of the blue one day with news that she too had moved across the country to Toronto. Honest to god, I knew at that very moment that we’d be working together…

There are six of us working full time now, and we’re actively looking for another designer and a coder. We’ve outgrown my basement, and will be moving into new offices asap. Our capabilities have grown enormously, barely keeping pace with demand. My own skills as a designer and coder(!!!) are growing daily. I’ve been interviewed on national TV (twice!), and asked to speak at a number of events (sxsw included). To think that it’s been barely six months since I started doing this full time…

I want to give a huge thanks to my team, to my clients, to my friends, and to my family. It’s been a very bumpy ride. But thanks to all of you, it’s beginning to get a bit smoother. Thanks also to the folks at “zencast”:http://amberstar.libsyn.com/ for helping to teach me the tools to keep this thing on the road.

My profile on ROB tv.

My profile on Report on Business Television aired last night. Watching it was a truly weird experience. There I was, watching the screen, remembering the interview, and there I was, on the screen, speaking the words I had been thinking. Very Escher-esque.

One aspect that’s particularly interesting for me to observe is the pauses in my speech. In my mind, the breaks as I searched for a word were endless. Mentally, I’d pause for an eon. On screen though, the hesitation is barely there. How very interesting to note the difference between inner and outer “reality”.

Once again, the fine TV folks did an amazing job of editing the interview to make me look like I know what I’m talking about. The video is now online, and can be viewed by clicking here (link opens in a new window). I’m the lead off story, starting about 15 seconds or so into the stream.

On a related note: apparently it’s time to lose some weight! Yikes!

Watch me talk about (hipster)PDAs, notebooks, and the benefit of being organized.

The fine folks from Report on Business Television interviewed me last week about productivity tips and tricks, and about my business in general. The first bit aired last night, but is available online here (note: opens in new window). I’ve got the lead story, starting about 10 seconds in.

They did a really great job of editing the piece. I actually look like I know what I’m talking about.

I’m on again tonight talking about my business and business blogging. I’ll post that link when it becomes available.

By the way, this all came about as a result of a post to this blog. The editor/producer/whatchamacallit read a post I’d made ages ago about my “HipsterPDA”:http://peterflaschner.com/archives/108 and called me up. Once we met, and started chatting, he decided to do a profile on my company. How cool is that?

SEE PEOPLE?!? BUSINESS BLOGGING WORKS