Fear & Self-Sabotage

Today I want to write about fear, how that leads us to sabotage ourselves, and how practicing the tools of improv comedy can solve so many of our problems.

Let’s say, for example, you are going into a job interview. This also holds for going home to have dinner with your family or going on a date or meeting with a client. If you are, (let’s just say as an example) afraid that they are going to think you’re not worthy, then one of two things is going to happen, (both of which you don’t want):

  1. (Let’s just take the example of the job interview) —They are not going to want you to work for them if you look and act insecure and fearful. If they are looking for confident, fun, innovative, exciting people to work with and you don’t believe you’re worthy of this job or you’re afraid of some aspect of it, of course they’re not gonna take you.

2. If you are feeling insecure and fearful and you do get the job, it’s because you’ve bumped into somebody who is also on that same level of fear and the lack of self-confidence and that can manifest in a lot of different ways creating a negative work environment.

For example, have you ever worked for somebody who wants everyone to feel inferior to them so they feel superior? Perhaps they don’t actually want to employ somebody who is creative and energetic and full of life and happy because that is a threat to them for some reason... (probably because they don’t feel confident and it makes them feel bad and jealous). So in that situation it’s possible that you will actually get hired by that person but then you’ll end up somewhere in a job with the kind of people you don’t want to be with, and you don’t want that either!

So the question is how do you not feel fear? Which is of course really tricky. But here’s what I want you to think about. There’s things like healthy fear like “don’t walk down that dark alley”, or a self protective/ethics based fear like “don’t go work for that narcissistic asshole”, and then there is the “I’m afraid what everyone’s going to think of me” fear, which is really more about self-worth than fear.

So, the first step is to suss out the difference. Go get your journal and picture a situation involving other people (so not just like skydiving or something), but a situation with human interaction. It can be with your family, your coworkers, your friends, your creative partners or even specifically what we just talked about like a job interview that is coming up.

Now fully picture yourself getting out of your car or train or whatever, and arriving at the door. You put your hand on the door knob and you’re getting a little nervous as you open the door and walk in. Then you look around and what do you see? Maybe it’s an intimidating lobby of an office where you’re applying for a job. Maybe it’s a restaurant and you don’t know your date very well. For the sake of this game, I’m going to stick with the job interview. But you can apply it to whatever you want.

So, now picture walking up to the front desk and the person there looks up at you like “who the hell are you?” So. Are you afraid of this person or are you just feeling judged? Now here’s the projection exercise because this is the only thing you have any control over. Since you don’t have any control over what they actually think of you. What do you think they are thinking of you?

Picture them and write down exactly what you think they are saying inside their head. Write it down.

Now of course this is what you think not what you know they think because you’re literally picturing a fake person at the moment! Or, even if you are picturing somebody you do know, you never really do know what’s going on inside someone’s head at any point anyway so this is always about what you think of you. It’s a projection exercise.

Now why are you doing this to yourself? Ha! OK let’s say you said something like they think you aren’t classy enough for the job or smart enough or old enough or young enough or whatever. Pick your poison. And now the question is why do you think this thing about yourself? Is it true? As Byron Katie would say, can you absolutely know for sure that is true? So let’s say you don’t think you’re old enough for the job. Could it be just as true that they actually think you’re too old?

So again, get yourself shook up off of those beliefs you hold onto so dearly, so that when you walk into these situations, you have more of a blank brain. A blank brain is a neutral, non-judging, present, (very present), generally loving, lighthearted, quiet mind. You are just an observer.

Meditation is a great way to get into this observing and not-judging mode. Whenever I start a new scene in improv I have to be blank-brained if I know the other actor is coming in with a character or some information. And actually, even if I’m the one starting the scene (or we don’t know which of us is starting the scene), I have to have some creativity percolating, BUT ALSO hold my ideas lightly. What I mean is have a possible idea brewing but don’t be attached to it – I’ve used the example of the bird in the hand before: hold it lightly so that you can let it go.

Of course your brain not entirely blank, it’s just not attached, not struggling, not tight or tense, not judging.

Now, imagine a bird in the hand: You hold your hand open, you don’t squeeze it closed and suffocate the bird if you want to enjoy the bird.  Unless you enjoy dead birds. So… if that’s you, I think there’s probably a different blog for you… But for the rest of you: You just let the bird sit there on your open palm for as long as it wants to sit there but it can also fly away.

That’s what ideas are like and that’s what your judgments should be like. So let’s practice that: holding our projections and beliefs and self judgments lightly like that bird. Especially when we go into situations that are fraught with a little anxiety or nervousness or pre-judgments of how it’s going to go and how everyone’s going to be. Notice your thoughts. And then, because it’s hard to just let them go completely, just give yourself permission to let them go.

I think we cling to them because we think it will protect us somehow. If I let myself be afraid or cautious, then I believe I won’t be blindsided, you know? Like, if I protect myself by imaging the bad things that could happen, and then I let myself feel fear, I can’t get my legs knocked out from under me because I already know what everyone’s thinking and what’s the worst that could happen?

But this strategy just doesn’t really work when we aren’t cavemen and it’s not about setting traps for bears. In the modern world, in terms of a job interview, setting up protection like this backfires. It’s just simply not very helpful.

OK, so back to getting what you want. If you guys— and let’s go back to the example of wanting to nail a job interview— if you guys want the job but you’re feeling fear, (and I’m not talking about a little bit of butterflies because that’s just totally natural and normal and fine), but if you walk in just a raging ball of self-doubt, then like I said either they’re not gonna want you if it’s a place that is fairly high functioning where they want happy creative confident people. The other option is that you’ll end up getting hired by a place you would NOT want to work at because they want more fearful people for some crazy dysfunctional reason. So how do you deal with this before you go in that door?

So like we just did, first journal and figure out what you think they’re thinking of you which is really what you are thinking of you, do the inner critic process so you can dispel a lot of those false beliefs, and then figure out what your inner coach really believes about you!

NEXT! Okay answer this: What do you have to offer this place? What you have to offer your family? What you have to offer this date? What you have to offer the world?

You want to be a match to your job, your mate, your friends. So walk in that door being excited and enthusiastic about what you have to offer, what they have to offer, and how you can align to meet both of your goals. That’s your task to work on in your head as you travel between your house and the job interview.

It’ll probably take some of us more than just the commute to get there! So start working on it as soon as you can. This sounds very simple and in some ways, it is, but we also know some of those insidious voices can be very tricky to undo. So again, to reiterate:

First step: do the projection exercise so you can actually see what you’re thinking and so you don’t just believe there’s some truth to the self-doubting belief.

Second: question those beliefs and figure out what you do actually have to offer.

Third: walk in with the intention that you are only going to work somewhere that is in alignment with your best qualities— somewhere that appreciates you.

Good luck!