Why You May Want to Own Your Fears

Sevananda hot food counter“You’re focusing on what you don’t want. You need to focus on what you do want.” That’s what a fellow customer in dreads told me, as we stood in front of the hot food counter at Sevananda, waiting to order. The stranger’s quick observation was accurate—I was picking up one premade food item after another, reading the fine print, then putting it back down like I’d somehow find something even mildly upsetting in a health food store where every item is marked “vegan,” “non-GMO,” or both.

Maybe the first problem was I didn’t know what I wanted. I scanned my options and ended up ordering something fairly benign–the broccoli tofu scramble–but the advice stuck with me. What if there were other areas of my life in which I was making choices by a process of elimination and thereby spending more mental energy on what I don’t want versus what I do want?

This isn’t new stuff—unless you’ve never considered it. But I like how Forbes contributor Margie Warrell describes the phenomenon of focus in an interview with Layne Beachley, Australian world champion surfer and Olympic coach—it seems to be all about overcoming fear.

If you don’t own fear, it will own you,” Beachley told the reporter. Instead of right away putting people she’s teaching to surf amid the big waves, she starts them off small and builds on that. Her advice (same advice I got at Sevananda): “Focus on what it is that you really want—on what really excites and inspires you—but then start small, with the ‘bite size’ doable tasks and challenges right in front of you. Courage, confidence and competence are all built in increments.”

And, of course, that’s what the research shows, Warrell writes. “When we put our attention on things that create anxiety and fear, it only triggers past memories of other events that made us feel anxious and afraid.”

And that’s good to know, because I need to fine-tune my focus next time I go to the hot counter at Sevananda: Right now, I’m putting all of my mental energy into one of those rich slices of three-layer vegan chocolate cake. And that’s likely to increase my chances of actually ordering it.


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