I’ve set some very big, very ambitious goals for myself.
In fact, most of the goals I’ve set for myself easily fall into the category of BHAGs. You may have heard this term – BHAG. It was coined by author Jim Collins in his ground-breaking book, Built to Last, and stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
A BHAG isn’t just any old goal – lose 20 pounds, clean out the garage, organize your photo library. No, a BHAG is huge and daunting. A BHAG is President Kennedy in May of 1961 declaring, “this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” At the time, the most optimistic scientific estimates of success gave it a fifty-fifty chance. Many experts didn’t think it was possible at all.
Given the odds, such a bold commitment was nothing short of outrageous.
Which is an appropriate word to describe the BHAG I’ve set for myself: Help 10 million people completely eliminate fear and anxiety from their lives.
Like I said, outrageous.
At this time, the most optimistic scientific estimates of success gave it zero chance. Every expert doesn’t think it possible at all. Which, of course, only adds fuel to my fire.
Setting the goal is the easy part. Achieving it is another thing altogether because BHAGs are REALLY HARD. Any BHAG worth the label is going to require a great deal of concentrated time and effort and it’s so easy to find a million reasons and ways to avoid or postpone the real work.
However, instead of calling them “reasons,” let’s call them what they are – excuses.
I have committed to posting a video-a-day on the i-fearless YouTube channel. Each one is five to seven minutes long and takes that time, plus about twice that to edit. I’m learning so many creative ways to convince myself that I simply don’t have those 25 minutes. It’s too noisy. The lighting isn’t right. My head isn’t into it right now. I’ve already got three that are ready to go, so I don’t need to think about that today…
I have committed to posting a weekly blog (just like this one) every Friday and sending it out to my growing list of email subscribers. This takes a little longer – maybe three or four hours. There are countless obstacles that get in the way of that weekly task. It can’t possibly be done in several shorter time periods – the writing won’t be good enough. I got caught up in some family to-do items and it’s not my fault that I couldn’t find time. My readers won’t even notice if I miss a week…
I have committed to building a thriving and highly engaged Facebook Group – Fearless Living and Growth Society, which requires daily postings, comments and interactions. I should also be doing Facebook Live events regularly. But the lighting isn’t right, it’s too noisy, there aren’t enough people going to participate, I’m too busy writing the blog…
I’m committed to building a strong following on social media so I can provide the inspiration, tools and resources people need to overcome their own anxieties. But that requires investing in ads with money that’s hard to come by…
I’ve committed to recruiting mental health professionals, life coaches and other wellness experts to help me teach and spread the techniques that allowed me to remove fear and anxiety from my own life. But they’re all busy, COVID-19 has made it hard to network, getting their attention takes time, resources and creativity…
In their moments, every one of these roadblocks is a legitimate obstacle to accomplishing the BHAG that I’ve set for myself. So any failure to achieve it certainly won’t be my fault. I’ll be able to point to hundreds of genuine reasons why it didn’t happen. I’m even making a list of people to blame when I have to admit defeat.
But the truth is that there are no legitimate obstacles, there are only excuses. If I choose to see them as dead-end roadblocks, I’m finished. If, instead, I choose to see them as challenges, against which I measure the kind of stuff I’m made of, they become a game to be played and won. What I lack in resources I can make up for in resourcefulness.
When I look myself in the mirror and ask why I’m allowing this BHAG to get the better of me, I’m forced to admit that sometimes I’m a little intimidated by it and sometimes I’m just feeling lazy. Neither of these conditions serve me. Neither of these conditions take me closer to achieving this audacious and, in my view, entirely worthwhile goal.
Imagine a world that is completely free of anxiety. Imagine waking up every day knowing that you are fully capable of successfully taking on any challenge that arises. Imagine sleeping like a baby every night.
That’s why this goal is worth the effort.
On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd in the stadium at Rice University in Houston. Regarding the BHAG he’d set for the nation he said, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”
What excuses are you using to avoid progress on your BHAG?
There are four great reasons to rid your life of anxiety and worry.
1. It just feels awful
It sucks to be anxious all the time. In fact worry is one of the most unpleasant emotions that we experience as humans. It saps our energy, our strength and our motivation and there’s a powerlessness that seems to take over, preventing us from taking positive, constructive action. Anxiety comes with its own kind of psychic suffering that can (and does) immobilize you.
2. It accomplishes nothing
Worry contributes absolutely nothing to your life, to the lives of those around you or to the world. It has never improved any situation or solved any problem. While there are some who might fool themselves into believing that their worry will lead them to a solution to whatever perceived threat is hanging over their heads in the moment, it’s never true.
3. It blocks your potential
With every new bogeyman, we dream less, we hesitate more and the sphere of our infinite potential shrinks. Our potential and performance as human beings is stifled and we back away from the great things of which our unbridled imaginations are capable. Worries are constraining, restricting, limiting. In the face of them we believe less, try less and become less. They cause us to set limits for ourselves before we’ve even tried.
But the reason I want to focus on today is…
4. It makes you sick
It’s been more than well documented that stress, worry and anxiety are injurious to your health. From skin conditions and irritability to high blood pressure, ulcers and heart attacks, constant worry simply isn’t good for you.
The Mayo Clinic reports that anxiety can result in restlessness, panic attacks, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, feeling weak or tired, trouble concentrating and gastrointestinal problems. Healthline adds depression, headaches, irritability, heart palpitations, muscle aches and loss of sex drive as resulting from worry.
Are we having fun yet?
You’ve also likely heard of the hormone Cortisol. Often referred to as “the stress hormone,” it’s produced by your adrenal glands and can be thought of your built-in alarm system. One of its primary roles is to help fuel your body’s “fight-or-flight” instinct in a crisis situation. Whenever cortisol is produced, your body goes on high alert, muscles tighten, breathing increases, heart rate goes up and you’re ready to take on whatever might be threatening you.
Obviously, like the city fire department, it’s an extremely useful resource and we wouldn’t want to be without it. But, also like the fire department, the best days are the ones in which we don’t need to call on it.
Cortisol and the fire department are both designed to respond to emergencies. The nature of an emergency is that it doesn’t last too long. We respond to the crisis, solve the problem and then go back to living our normal lives.
But if your body’s “code red” status lasts too long, if worry and anxiety become chronic, some nasty things begin to happen. Too much cortisol compromises your immune system, making you more susceptible to disease. Relationships have been found between cortisol and diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease.
More recently it’s also been discovered that too much reliance on cortisol can also take an early toll on your ability to think.
A study published in 2018 in Neurology found that responding to everyday challenges with worry and anxiety, and the resultant release of cortisol, can have negative impacts on the brain by the time we reach early middle age. The study of more than 2,000 people, most in their 40s, learned that those with the highest levels of cortisol performed worse on tests of memory, organization, visual perception and attention.
The study also discovered that higher cortisol levels are connected with physical changes in the brain. In fact, the total volume of certain regions of the brain actually shrinks. This is often seen as a precursor to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This connection is reinforced by other research that has shown that weaker-than-average performance on these types of tests can indicate a higher risk of dementia in later life. The link between high stress and anxiety and dementia is becoming clearer.
The study indicated that these effects seem to be most evident in women. But it’s uncertain whether middle-aged women are under more stress than men or simply have higher cortisol levels as a result of the same levels of stress.
So what should you do about it?
The last thing I want you to get stressed about is stress. So at the risk of sounding cheeky, don’t worry about it!
Dr. Sudha Seshadri, the lead researcher on the study says, “An important message to myself and others is that when challenges come our way, getting frustrated is very counterproductive.” She also says that other research has shown cortisol levels can be reduced with adequate sleep, exercise, socializing and relaxing mental activities such as meditation. Other research shows that some fairly simple activity and lifestyle changes (such as those we show you here at i-fearless) have been shown to change these levels.
Bruce McEwen is a neuroscientist and cortisol expert at The Rockefeller University. He was not part of the study but says other research suggests it is never too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle. He says that the brain does have the capacity for repairing and steps like reducing stress, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, getting enough good-quality sleep and finding meaning in one’s life can aid in that repair.
Of course, that’s what i-fearless is all about – showing you strategies and tactics that can help you reduce and even eliminate worry and anxiety from your life. Because life is too precious and offers too much opportunity for joy to be spent worrying.
I always enjoy learning new things. And on the way to acquiring a new skill, one of the most effective techniques is to be able to watch someone else who has already accomplished what I’m attempting to do. On our journey from anxiety to fearlessness it’s both instructive and inspiring to see someone else demonstrate fearlessness for us.
The power of a real, live example is in our ability to point to it, see it in action. We can say, “There! See that?! That’s what living fearlessly looks like! Now I’m going to try it.” In that way we’re able to set a new standard for ourselves. Watching someone else live out the example has a reality about it that is so much more powerful than vague or hypothetical situations.
Let’s look at two examples of fearless living that aren’t the least bit vague or hypothetical. They are both extremely real and very translatable into our own efforts to move from anxiety to fearlessness.
At the recent Democratic National Convention, which was held virtually because of the pandemic, every politician, lobbyist, actor and professional speaker was completely upstaged by a 13-year-old boy from New Hampshire named Brayden Harrington.
Speaking from the safe space of his own bedroom, Brayden told how he and Presidential contender Joe Biden are “members of the same club. We s……. st…… stutt…… stutter.”
As he went to pronounce the word “stutter,” the sound got stuck and just wouldn’t come out. You could see the effort, the determination and the shear fortitude that he summoned to carry on. And in a speech that lasted less than two minutes, this young man demonstrated a courage that left those of us watching in complete awe. Witnessing him struggle with his disfluency, knowing that he was being watched by millions of people, was a masterclass in facing a very real fear and making the decision to not let it hold him back.
As his address went on, Brayden encountered additional words that challenged his uncooperative vocal patterns. But in every case, he carried on. As I put myself in his place I could feel, in the pit of my stomach, the overwhelming temptation to dive for the safety of the covers of his bed that was mere feet away. But again and again, he made the choice to confront any fears, any self-consciousness, and declare that he would not allow them to limit him.
This demonstration of courage had nothing to do with politics. The boy won’t even be able to vote for another five years. The only dog he has in the hunt is his own determination to move beyond the kind of obstacle that so many of the rest of us declare as insurmountable.
I’ve lived five times as long as Brayden so far, but he just schooled me in living fearlessly.
Chelsie Hill was born to dance. In classes at the age of three, she was competing at regional and national events when she was five. As a 17-year-old high school senior she was involved in a drunk driving accident that left her with irreversible spinal cord damage and unable to walk.
During her recovery, Chelsie made the decision that she would not let her injuries and disabilities interrupt her dreams of being a professional dancer. She moved to Los Angeles to study dance and found herself the only wheelchair dancer in the class.
In 2012 she formed the Rollettes, a wheelchair dance team that has appeared on national media including Ellen, the Today Show, the Hallmark Channel and Access Daily as well as others. The group empowers women with disabilities to live boundlessly (and fearlessly) and shifts perspectives on disability through dance.
Nor has Chelsie stopped with wheelchair dancing. She is a speaker and advocate against drunk and distracted driving. She has her own line of jeans designed specifically for women with disabilities and unique body types. And in 2017 she partnered with Tommy Hilfiger and later Amazon for release of their adaptive clothing line.
Two very different people. Two very different challenges.
In both cases it’s easy to feel and empathize with the crushing fear that these two no doubt felt. And yet they made the decision to power through it, knowing that staying on the small side of that fear would result in a life lived from a place of timidity and cowering. But to confront that fear, to understand that it exists only in our minds, and to decide that it will no longer control us, will result in a life without limits.
I like to surround myself with people who inspire and instruct me to raise my own bar. When I watch them in action, see how they respond to challenging situations. I like to have their examples to imitate.
Brayden Harrington and Chelsie Hill are just two of the countless people who can teach the rest of us what it’s like to overcome anxiety, leave apprehension in the dust behind you and live fearlessly. I, for one, want to watch very closely, take careful notes and do my best to follow the examples.
A couple of years ago I enjoyed a fascinating day in Mountain View, California, as my wife Gail and I attended the annual shareholders meeting of Tesla, the electric car company founded by billionaire entrepreneur, Elon Musk. (Full disclosure: Gail was the smart one investing in Tesla. I was just arm candy.)
The business portion of the meeting lasted no more than five minutes. The interesting part, about four hours as the multi-talented Mr. Musk told stories about the early days of Tesla, the big ideas, the failed experiments, the almost-went-bankrupt nail-biters and the incredibly successful phenomenon that continues to unfold as this still-new company rewrites the rules on personal transportation.
Turns out that Elon is a truly terribly public speaker, a reasonably talented engineer and a stunningly brilliant visionary. And there’s the key. In story after story he told us that he could see the end results in his mind’s eye. He readily admitted that, at many points he didn’t have a clue as to HOW he would actually get to that end result, but he didn’t for a moment doubt that he would.
I love reading about and speaking with successful people. And the one thing they all have in common is the ability to visualize the goal they are heading towards.
For example, I recently read a great book* by Daymond John, the entrepreneur founder of the FUBU clothing line and multimillionaire member of the team of Sharks on the popular TV reality show, Shark Tank. The book highlights both his own experience and that of a number of other successful entrepreneurs as they founded and built their companies. And in every case, the driving force was the clarity of the vision they each had for what they wanted to accomplish.
So, when you look out into your future, what do you see? Can you describe a detailed picture of where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing? What goals will you be working to achieve? Who will you be serving? Can you visualize this day three years from now?
Notice that I’m using words that all talk about vision, pictures and seeing. The reason this is so important is that it forces you to have tremendous clarity about your goals. If they’re the least bit vague or clouded, the likelihood that you’ll achieve them falls off rapidly.
So when you think about your life 36 months, 1,080 days from today, what color will the walls be? What window will you be looking out? Who will you be calling, visiting? Who will you include in your circle of influence? What will your bank statement say? How will this picture be different from the one you see today?
Like Elon Musk, you might not have a clue about how you’re going to get there. But that’s not nearly as important as knowing where you want to get to. You’ll figure it out, bit by bit, along the way.
When you drive at night, the headlights on your car illuminate only the few hundred feet in front of you. But you can drive from Seattle to Miami seeing only that much at a time. You don’t need to see the whole route, but you do need to see Miami in your mind.
Daymond John makes a great comment near the end of his book that is going to stick with me: “You can’t hit a target that you can’t see.”
What does your target look like?
* ‘The Power of Broke: How Empty Pockets, a Tight Budget, and a Hunger for Success Can Become Your Greatest Competitive Advantage
A lotta things have been changing for a lotta folks lately. And dealing with change can be extremely stressful if we don’t understand its purpose and its role in helping us evolve.
Case studies are always helpful for learning, so I’d like to offer a case study in radical change and the lessons to be taken from it. The case subject is me.
Things in my life don’t look the least bit like they did a couple of years ago. About 85% of the changes have been my idea. The other half have either been imposed on me or are unexpected and unintended consequences. All of them are pushing me so far outside my comfort zone that I’m pretty sure I don’t have one anymore. This isn’t a matter of stretching my old zone. It’s a process of smashing it to smithereens and leaving it in a pile of debris that’s disappearing into the horizon behind me.
During the past 18 months I have:
In short, with the exception of my absolutely and always perfect wife, Gail, there’s essentially nothing about my life now that is the same as it was two years ago.
As proof that you both can and should teach an old dog new tricks, here are a few things that I’ve observed as a newly-minted, Medicare-eligible upstart who set out to reinvent himself at the age when they told me I was supposed to retire.
It would be nice if we could have all the right conditions lined up, the guarantees in place, the assurances secured, the permissions granted. But I’ve learned that your parachute can’t open until after you’ve jumped out of the plane.
What about you? COVID-19 has pushed all of us to the edges and beyond of our previous comfort zones. How much of it are you desperately trying to preserve? Why? What might you become if you decided that leaving it behind might not be so scary after all?
Your time and your energy are like strawberry jam – the farther you spread them, the thinner they get. And if you’re anything like me, a thin, barely visible skim of jam on your toast just won’t cut it.
One of the most pervasive challenges I see among so many people who are would like to rid themselves of anxiety is the tendency to spread themselves too thin.
Work begins the second you check your smart phone in the morning and ends… well, it never actually ends. The kids demand your attention, you feel obliged to stay informed with the news, your social media accounts need attention, the grass needs cutting, you wanted to volunteer more this year… Oh, and when are you going to get around to meeting with that financial planner who’s going to solve all your problems with a mutual fund?
Anxiety can creep in when you feel you’ve lost control of your life. So if it seems that you’re only barely managing to stay a step ahead of the freight train that’s bearing down on you, it might be worthwhile to rethink your approach. Operating in reactive mode all the time gives you no opportunity to reflect on where you’ve been or are heading and then to prepare and carry out the plans that will take you there.
Is the solution to have more jam or less toast?
Do you know what you have in common with Oprah, Richard Branson and Elon Musk? You’re all given 24 hours in each day. Not a second more, nor a second less no matter who you are.
As for energy, have you noticed how some people seem to barely drag their butts around through the day while others have so much vitality you want to smack ‘em?
We’re all given a finite supply of time and energy. The difference is how we each make use of them. I like to watch and learn from those who have been more successful (however I choose to define that) than me. When it comes to using time and energy more effectively, I see successful people leveraging and increasing the effectiveness of the supply they’ve got. Here are some strategies I’ve found useful:
Negativity will sap your energy faster than an ironman triathlon. It takes practice to make positivity and optimism your default thoughts, but it pays huge dividends in the amount of energy you have to fuel your days. Focus on the things that are working, the things that are going well, the things you’ve done right. Make a list of all the things that have worked out for you and remind yourself that there’s far more ‘up’ in your life than ‘down.’
Take a look at the list of goals you’ve set for yourself. (You have a goals list, right?) Then ask yourself, “What’s the ONE THING I could be spending my time on that will take me to those objectives the fastest?” When you’ve identified it, set aside at least 50% of your time to devote to this task. Everything else is secondary and can wait. If you don’t have a list of goals, I suggest that preparing one is your ONE THING.
We often spend more time switching between tasks than we do working on the tasks themselves. Instead of losing 20 pounds, earning another degree, coaching little league and starting a Facebook group, pick just one. A really good job done on just one of those efforts will bring you far more benefit than a poor or half-finished job on all four. The other three will wait patiently for when you’re ready. Plus, the success you enjoy in one area will fuel you for the effort in the next.
Ask! Ask! Ask!
Too many of us try to do everything on our own. But there is information, assistance, support, money and time available, if only we would ask. The most successful people are constantly asking others for all of these. The rest of us, though, hold back from asking because we’re afraid to look needy, foolish or stupid. We’ve also convinced ourselves that we’re likely to be rejected, so why bother asking in the first place? We say ‘no’ to ourselves before anyone else has a chance to say ‘yes.’
Surround yourself with successful people
There are people in your life who can simply walk into the room and you’re completely drained of energy. They bring the tension, the stress and the anxiety with them and they love to share it around. But there are others in your life, too. They’re the ones who always leave you feeling better than you did before they came. They bring the energy, the enthusiasm, the optimism and the encouragement. All emotions are contagious. Run from the toxic ones and seek out and breathe deeply from the uplifting ones.
Jim Rohn, one of the original success teachers and Tony Robbins’ mentor, liked to say that “success leaves clues.” In other words, if you hang around and observe successful people you can see what it is they do differently than the rest of us. When it comes to maximizing your finite supply of time and energy, each of these tactics will make your jam go a little farther while still retaining that sweet strawberry taste.
If you were paying attention in 10th Grade physics, and if your memory goes back that far, you may remember a little experiment with tuning forks.
If you recall, a tuning fork is a little metal thingy that looks like a two-pronged fork. When you strike it, it vibrates, emitting a musical tone that’s unique to the size and shape of the fork. A fork that is tuned to sound the note of A, or 440 Hz, can only ever emit an A.
The experiment needed two tuning forks tuned to the same note. When the science teacher struck one of them and it began to vibrate, the other fork, located some distance away, would start to vibrate and emit its note too.
What we’re hearing is a phenomenon called sympathetic vibration or resonance. When the first fork is struck, its vibration sends energy waves outward. Because it’s tuned to the same vibrational frequency, the energy waves resonate with the second fork and it begins to vibrate as well. This is the trick behind the opera singer who can shatter a wine glass with her voice.
Now let’s move on to some advanced physics. (Stay with me, I promise that this is going somewhere!)
Since the late 1800s, and most famously by Albert Einstein, scientists have been learning about quantum physics, the structure and behavior of the tiniest particles in the universe. Among the discoveries are two remarkable notions.
First, the smaller the particles get, the less and less ‘stuff’ is actually there. In other words, what we see, touch and think of as ‘matter,’ the hard stuff of the world is, at its most fundamental level, nothing but energy. When we look at the tiniest ‘things’ through the most powerful microscopes, we discover there are no ‘things’ at all, just vibrating energy.
Second, as scientists experiment with these most minute particles, the results of those experiments actually depend on their expectations. Odd as it may seem, if a researcher expects one result, she gets it. If she expects something different, she gets that. The researcher’s thoughts and intentions truly do influence the experimental outcome.
Researchers are concluding that, like the vibrations of the tuning fork, our thoughts are actually a form of vibrational energy that go out and resonate with other thoughts. Additionally, since everything in the universe is also nothing but vibrating energy, our thoughts also resonate with things that match their frequency. This is the basis of what you’ve likely heard of as the Law of Attraction.
This concept states that, because of their vibrational nature, your thoughts have the power to attract similar thoughts and even events and circumstances that match your thoughts. In other words, if you spend all your time thinking that bad things are going to happen to you, you’re creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s been said that worry is using your mental energy to create a future that you don’t want. If you spend an inordinate amount of time worrying – about money, about love, about your health – it’s extremely likely that your worry is actually bringing those fears into your life. Rather than helping you find solutions, anxiety is making the problem worse.
There are two sides to every anxious thought – the aspect of it that you want and that which you don’t want.
I DO want to be slim and healthy.
I DON’T want to be overweight and sick.
While your brain might be thinking about the “I DO…” or the “I DON’T…” and assuming that those are the significant parts of those statements, your subconscious and your vibrating thoughts are focused on either “slim and healthy” or “overweight and sick.”
Try it for yourself: Close your eyes and focus on the thought, “I DON’T want to be overweight and sick.” Notice the subtle feelings that you evoke. They’re likely feelings of fear and aversion and you can’t help having images of oversized clothes, doctor visits and low energy.
Now close your eyes again and focus on the thought, “I DO want to be slim and healthy.” Again, notice how different this thought feels than the previous one. It feels uplifting, happy, lighthearted and even joyous. The images in your mind are about healthy eating, an active lifestyle and high energy.
Because the emotions you experience are the actual vibrations that your thoughts have generated, both your Reticular Activating System and the law of attraction resonate far more intensely to the feelings than they do to the conscious thoughts. And both will work to bring you closer to the thing that you spend most of your time and mental energy focusing on.
The beauty of both is also that, once we’ve learned how they work, we can use them to our advantage. Rather than using your worry and anxiety to create a future that you don’t want, why not turn it around and use your optimism and hope to create the future that you DO want?