I was at a kid’s birthday party recently where they played musical chairs – a game I used to love, but haven’t played in years. As the kids moved cautiously from chair to chair, giggling in anticipation, I noticed one little girl that was concentrating harder than the rest. She didn’t look like she was having much fun. She made it through a few rounds, but I could tell that the possibility of ending up without a chair, or worse, on the floor, was very stressful for her.
It struck me how useful this game is when learning how to react to things beyond your control.
No matter what our age, we all feel a similar anticipation every time we try something new, every time we launch ourselves into a situation where the end result is completely unknown.
Will we find ourselves out after the first round? Perhaps. Will we make it all the way to the end out of pure luck? Possibly. We just don’t know.
Fear of the unknown
Fear of the unknown is one of the biggest issues we all face on a daily basis. Rarely is a situation life or death. But it is often the difference between remaining socially invisible, and public embarrassment. On a larger scale, it may be the difference between personal happiness and settling for comfort or complacency.
Learning to acknowledge your fears, anticipate the unknown, and respond positively is no easy task. But it is possible. Fear is after all, merely a mental obstacle. Whether you are trying a new food, riding the subway for the first time, launching a new business, (playing musical chairs,) or getting married, the mental stress can be overwhelming… if you let it.
The best way to deal with mental obstacles is to face them head on. Easier said than done, of course – especially if the consequences impact major life issues like family or finances.
Dealing with fears
Everyone deals with fear differently – some use humor to help them through. Some use bargaining. Some plow head on, blindly into the unknown and hope for the best.
Fear and anxiety many times indicates that we are moving in a positive direction, out of the safe confines of our comfort zone, and in the direction of our true purpose.― Charles F. Glassman<br />
One of my favorite tactics is mindful visualization. Take some time for yourself and walk through the best possible situation. Keep your thoughts positive. Be aware of the negatives, but do not dwell on them.
And then leap!
Sometimes it helps to break down the fear into baby steps. Put it in writing. Monday I will go to the subway station and just people-watch. Tuesday I will look at a map and plan my route. Wednesday I will get on the subway with no time limitations, get off at my planned destination… and so on. Baby steps.
Who Moved My Cheese
It’s been nearly a decade since the motivational business fable, Who Moved My Cheese, was first published. It sold nearly 26 million copies, in 37 languages worldwide. I purchased at least five of those.
For those of you who have not read it, Who Moved My Cheese is a story of two mice and two humans who react to a major life event in very different ways. The two mice acknowledge their dwindling food supply and proactively go in search of new food. The humans, however, grumble and accuse others of taking what was rightfully theirs.
The mice soon find food and move on with their lives. The humans, however, have to learn to face their fears of leaving home to venture out into the unknown.
There are several lessons to be learned from the story, but the big takeaways include:
- Anticipate and acknowledging change – nothing stays the same forever and sooner than later you will have to face the unknown. The better equipped you are to emotionally deal with it, the less stressful your life will be.
- Be flexible – if you are calm and helpful in a new situation, it will be easier for others to remain calm and helpful. Which is great, because then you don’t have to face the unknown alone.
- Enjoy change – since it is inevitable, you might as well enjoy the ride. You never know who you’ll meet, what you’ll learn that will change your life for the better.
If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. It’s a quick read and well worth the time.
A couple of parting thoughts
A safe place won’t always exist when you let go of your comfort zone. But the music will always start back up again, and there will eventually be a new chair for you to sit in.
Also, it’s okay to sit on the floor sometimes.
The fear of cheese is a very real thing. It’s called Turophobia
Take down the walls. That is, after all, the whole point. You do not know what will happen if you take down the walls; you cannot see through to the other side, don't know whether it will bring freedom or ruin, resolution or chaos. It might be paradise or destruction. Take down the walls. Otherwise you must live closely, in fear, building barricades against the unknown, saying prayers against the darkness, speaking verse of terror and tightness. Otherwise you may never know hell; but you will not find heaven, either. You will not know fresh air and flying... ― Lauren Oliver, Requiem