How to be scared and do it anyway

On my less spiritually-fit days, my expectations for life are what one might call "reality resistant." I'm constantly preparing for the worst thing ever to happen. And yet, when the worst thing repeatedly does not happen, my expectations for next time don't always change. I'm reality-resistant.

To complicate things: I also value authenticity more than just about anything else. So while I often expect the worst, I can't help but put myself out there and hope for the best. I talk honestly about who I am on the internet; I initiate difficult and vulnerable conversations; and, this past Saturday, I sang on stage in front of around 2,000 people. Just, you know, because.

This is a bit of a weird combination. It means I am always somewhere in the process of preparing to freak myself out, currently freaking myself out, or recovering from a total freakout.

This may not be the best way of being, but if you're anything like everyone lately, your post-modernist perspective wouldn't allow for a "best way" to exist. I will just say this: if you’re at all neurotic, risk-averse, or anxious, it certainly speeds things up to learn how to do things even when you're scared.

With that in mind, here are seven strategies I use to do the things that freak me out.

1. Pray beforehand. Your prayer does not have to be to God - could be to the Universe, or the collective unconscious, or the doorknob. (Personally, I wouldn’t recommend the Universe; last I checked, her inbox was full full full. Apparently, being the least-offensive, most-inclusive word for God means working overtime.)

Here's an example:

“God, today I’ll be doing something that freaks me out. Help me to be ____.” (And then fill in the things you sometimes have a hard time being. On Saturday, for example, I said: “Happy, preset, lighthearted, and easygoing.” It kinda worked.)

2. Crowdsource. Reach out to the people who matter to you, and tell them "I'm planning on doing X." What types of responses do you get from the people you love? (Don’t just pay attention to the one person who manages to confirm your worst fear. Eeyore can be a great friend, but he can never be your only friend.)

3. Make the commitment - especially if you’re someone who thinks breaking commitments is evil. I don't typically endorse the misappropriation of moral language for neutral events, but in this situation it can be quite the kick in the pants.

4. Tell people about your commitment. Focus especially on the people who won't let you back out, who you can’t easily bullshit. (We all know which of our friends will accept bullshit, and which won’t.)

(Incidentally, if you’re the friend who will knowingly accept bullshit, maybe stop doing that.)

5. Take action quicker than you can talk yourself out of it. That action might be clicking “submit,” sending a text, hopping on stage, or adding your signature.

6. Make room for a vulnerability hangover. This is the period of time just after doing something scary when you feel totally raw and useless. Even if everything went well, you might feel depleted. A long period of low expectations is in order.

7. Manage the replay. You may be inclined (read: compulsed) to replay the event in your mind non-stop. Here are three strategies to address this:

  • Shut the thought down: “Anna, you do not have permission to think about this.”

  • Postpone the thought: “Anna, you have permission to think about this from 3-3:15pm today. Be ready."

  • Accept the thought: “Fancy meeting you here, crazy compulsive thought. Anna, don’t be rude! Say hello to it."


Those are my tips. I can't promise that you won't be scared. (If you're like me, you will be.) I can promise that you might just do it anyway.