Winning Friends, Influencing People

I am often asked what books or people influenced the most in my life. There are so many books, quotes, poems and stories that have changed my thinking and helped form me to become the person I am now. There are however only a few books that I return to almost every year when I feel that I need to review the lessons written on those pages. I just finished re-reading a classic by Dale Carnegie, a book that has been read by countless leaders and influencers over the past eight decades since it’s original publication. If you are looking for one of the most powerful and useful books ever written, read How to Win Friends and Influence People. The lessons are timeless and applicable no matter who you are. It is a textbook on how to communicate with others and influence others to your ways of thinking. At the end of each chapter is a recap about the lesson of that chapter. I have listed those principles below because I believe they may help others. For more in depth stories about how these principles have been used throughout history, you will have to read the book in its entirety. Enjoy… and take notes.

How to Influence Others
1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Making People Like You
1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
2. Smile.
3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound.
4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
6. Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.

Win Others to Your Way of Thinking
1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
4. Begin in a friendly way.
5. Get the other person saying, “Yes, yes” immediately.
6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
7. Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.
8. Try to honestly see things from the other person’s perspective.
9. By sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
10. Appeal to nobler motives.
11. Dramatize your ideas.
12. Throw down a challenge.

Be a Leader:
1. Change people without resentment
2. Begin with honest praise and appreciation.
3. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
4. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
5. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
6. Let the other person save face.
7. Praise the slightest improvement and every improvement.
8. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
9. Use encouragement. Make the faults seem easy to correct.
10. Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.

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Words Can Kill

Words Matter

When tragedy strikes, especially ones caused by evil behavior like the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, the initial reaction is to look for a motive. Most people are not murderous psychopaths, so our ability to understand why someone could hate their fellow man enough to indiscriminately kill and injure hundreds of them is limited. We understand the tools they use to kill so many, so it’s easy for us to target those tools and weapons. But weapons have no feelings. They have no motives. Law enforcement will attempt to figure out a motive, but I’m proposing that all this type of behavior begins early in life when we all form the beliefs, values and philosophy that forms who we become and how we act. I’m suggesting that something as simple as an “innocent” phrase can plant the seed of hatred towards others. After all, the one thing common in all mass murderers is a blatant disregard the value of human life. We know this is true because often times the killers commit suicide, showing they do not value even their own lives.

Below are common phrases that can be heard in nearly every culture and country on the planet that I believe contribute to the devaluation of human life and mankind as a whole. When reading the list, think to yourself how many times you’ve heard these phrases. Think also, whether you have ever uttered one. Who was around when you did so, or who were you speaking to? What did you mean by what you said? As we will see, words matter. More than you may know.

“Don’t trust anyone.” How many times have we all heard this phrase? Most of us began hearing it when we were children and it drilled into us a sense of fear and hatred towards humankind as a whole. If we can’t trust other people, how are we supposed to live? The answer is a life filled with fear, anxiety and paranoia that can push people over the edge.

“Don’t talk to strangers.” This is a difficult one to stop saying because we all want our kids and loved ones to be safe. However, while this phrase may have good intentions, when combined with the other phrases on this list can and most likely will lead to a hatred of others.

“If you want something done right, do it yourself.” I must say that I’m guilty of this one. Part of the reason for it is that I’ve had experiences, which reinforced a belief that others are not reliable. The truth however, is that by uttering this phrase, I’m simply choosing to focus on negative experiences involving others rather than all the benefits I have received in my life from humans cooperating with each other. The truth is, if you are reading this, it’s because of the incredible capacity for humans to cooperate and create new things for the purpose of increasing the standard of living for everyone.

“You’re all alone in this world and then you die alone.” This is just patently false, but I continue to hear it. If you feel alone, again you are choosing to focus on negative human interactions in your life rather than ones that have brought you joy, income, housing, food or just about anything else in the modern world. You are not alone. Others have been through what you have. Others feel what you feel. It took me a while to realize this truth, but once I did, hundreds of opportunities opened up to me in my life.

“People suck.” Except for you, right? I think this is probably one of the most common negative phrases I encounter. Sure some people suck. Sometimes we suck. Generic, ignorant statements like this do more to create a philosophy of hatred in people than almost anything else I can think of. Be very careful when uttering phrases like this, even if you’re just kidding around. Others who may be in your presence, who look up to you may not understand that. You just may be a cause of their distrust and possible hatred towards mankind.

“You can’t depend on anyone but yourself.” This is much like the “do it yourself” phrase that is so prevalent. Both statements are patently falsely and serve only to reinforce a philosophy of hate.

“Human nature is evil.” Sure. It is also kind, selfless, caring, greedy. It’s all those things and more. It just depends what you choose to see and focus on.

“Mankind is dangerous.” This is true, but nature itself is dangerous for all living things. Anything mortal faces constant danger from its environment.

“Rich people are evil and greedy.” You can replace the word rich with whatever you like—whites, Jews, bankers, business owners… It doesn’t really matter. What you’re doing by perpetuating these types of slurs is to create a lack of harmony between groups of people. In reality, there are no groups of people. There are just people. Any person is capable of certain behaviors or characteristics. The color of the person, their financial situation, their sexuality, all of that has no bearing on who they are as a person. The only thing that truly matters is the set of beliefs and philosophy they live and act by.

“Marry inside your own race.” This may seem like an “old school” belief, but it’s still found in the world today. I’ll say it again, your race has no bearing on who you are as a person. Your philosophy and values do. These phrases are so destructive, especially to impressionable young people. They serve to create discord and fear towards those we see as “different.”

“They are not like us.” Really? Do “they” eat, sleep, work, bleed, love and die? Oh! Then they really are more like us than you think.

Most of us have heard or even uttered some of these phrases. Let me pose a question: what good has it done? Another question: what harm has it done? The harm is unknown because everything we see and hear affects us to a degree. This is especially true among young people who are just beginning to develop their philosophy for how to live. Let me be clear, saying these phrases doesn’t not make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you hate people. It only means that you hold certain beliefs that cause your to be distrustful of other people. My request is only that you not let your distrust of others plant the seed of hatred of mankind in others. We cannot always know how our words affect others. Let our words be those of harmony, love and strength rather than hatred, violence and fear.

Is Pain Controlling Your Life?

The Real Problem With Pain

This blog began as a way for me to discuss how to find freedom and happiness despite having adversity and struggles in life. My thought was that even though everyone encounters pain in their life, not everyone realizes that others share in similar experiences. We are all on the same journey in life because we have been programmed genetically as humans to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. Of course, no one can completely avoid pain and often times we mistake discomfort for pain and addiction for pleasure. Therein lies the real problem with both pleasure and pain- it blinds us to reality in the moment.

Pain is especially insidious in its ability to distort clear thinking. When we experience pain, depending on the severity, we will look for and do almost anything to stop the pain. That’s not the problem. The problem is that pain itself is a symptom of something else and it’s often the case that while experiencing pain, we cannot correctly identify the source of the pain. You may have a chronic shoulder or hip pain and blame it on a past injury or the fact that you have been sitting too long during your workdays. However, the real problem underlying the pain could be that your movement patterns during physical exercise are causing stress on the joints and therefore muscular imbalances. Again, it’s exceedingly difficult to diagnose the cause of pain unless the pain has subsided to the point where we can engage in clear thinking again. Then, once the pain is gone, we often forget to research the cause of the pain, or we just get distracted by our daily lives the the endless cycle of pain continues.

Another common experience among people in pain is they find that their ability to be patient and empathetic towards others declines rapidly. We forget that pain is not unique to our human experience, but something shared by all. The worst is when people have arguments over who has more pain! Have you ever seen this? It’s like a competition for who has the most ailments and who has the most difficult life. It’s as if the need for significance compels us to bring up everything wrong in our lives with others.

It’s important to remember that nothing lasts forever, especially pain. No one should believe that because they are in pain, they will always be. Moreover, the pain you are experiencing may or may not have been caused by something you have done. It’s impossible to know for sure because the pain is keeping your from thinking accurately. Trying to diagnose the correct cause of the pain during the suffering of the pain is not the best course of action. Neither is it wise to engage in important conversations (especially with loved ones), business transactions or making important life decisions. Take it from someone with chronic pain, nearly every argument, blow up in temper, terrible decision or major mistake I have made is because my thinking has been obfuscated by physical or emotional pain. It would have done me well to acknowledge that I was in pain and was not thinking clearly before I took any action.

As human beings we can never escape our biological impulses to avoid pain and seek pleasure. However, we can as humans employ our ability to use reason in spite of the pain. All of us should acknowledge and accept that when we are in pain we are not thinking clearly. How do you know if you are thinking clearly? See( https://libertyandpain.com/2016/04/21/thinking-clearly/.) If we are not mindful that we are in pain, we will do something that leads to regret later on. I know, I know…. EASIER SAID THAN DONE, RIGHT? Nothing worth doing is easy. It’s worth at least reminding ourselves that we need to do the hard work when it comes to thinking clearly and acknowledge when we are being controlled by our pain.

 

In Health,

Sean

A NOTE ABOUT HARD WORK

ON WORKING HARD

There’s an old saying, “It’s better to work smart than work hard.” I think that saying was invented by lazy people to justify not doing the hard work. The truth is, you need to work hard on the right things to get your desired outcome. That’s what working smart really means. It means getting out of your comfort zone and taking MORE ACTION than you think is necessary. Now, here’s the problem: most people underestimate the amount of work that is needed to reach a goal and they overestimate how hard they are actually working. I’ve seen this in the gym and in business. In fact, I’ve been guilty of this myself. I think all of us probably have an example in our lives where we didn’t take enough action to achieve what we wanted. Taking massive action isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Working on the right things is also necessary. But how do we know if we are working on the right things? I would suggest you ask yourself one question to determine if you are working on the right thing…

The question you need to ask yourself, the same question I ask of myself everyday, is, “what is my superpower?” Meaning, what is the thing that you do more effectively than anyone else in your family, company or team? For me, I’m the rainmaker. I make stuff happen. I do best when I’m strategizing and delegating out tasks for others. In other words, if my life was an expedition, there would be people clearing trees, making paths, gathering food and marching forward- I would be the one climbing the tallest tree to make sure we were headed the right direction. I try my best to determine where my company and family is headed and then I come up with the right strategy or tasks that need to occur to allow us to reach our destination. If I’ve done this effectively, I find myself very satisfied because I’m using my superpower to its potential. Anything else I find myself doing other than my superpower, I feel very depleted, tired, moody and unsatisfied. Even if I’m working very hard at other tasks that are not my superpower and I’ve done well at completing the tasks, I know that I still have not worked smart, only hard. Working hard is necessary, but it’s never enough.

This is why I believe billions of people are dissatisfied with where they are in life. Not only are they focussing on the wrong things, they are working on the wrong things because they are not working on the things that are in alignment with their goals. Don’t get me wrong, we all have things to do that we don’t like and may not be in direct alignment with our desires, but my point here is that we should not be spending most of our working life on the wrong things. My assertion is that most of us do. For example, in the gym, if your goal is to have a lean an muscular physique, but all you do is walk on the treadmill, you are working on the wrong things. If you are a CEO or owner of a company, but you are cleaning the toilets and vacuuming the floors, you are working on the wrong things. (This author is guilty as charged with this one!) If you are a parent and your goal is to raise bright, caring, empathetic children, but you fail to read to them nightly and just plop them in front of the television, you are working on the wrong things. If your goal is to earn more money, but you aren’t reading or taking classes to learn new skills so you can take on more responsibility and add value to the marketplace, you are working on the wrong things. (Hint: You don’t get paid for your time. You get paid for the value you bring to the market. That’s why certain people make 8 bucks an hour while others get paid millions a year.) To add value to the marketplace and others, you must work smart on the  right things. You must work hard and work smart. You must learn what your superpower is and embrace it and then cultivate it so you become even more effective.

If you are not where you want to be, it very well may be due to the following traps:
-you are not actually working hard at all
-you have not discovered your superpower
-you are working on the wrong things
-you have not written down your goals
-you don’t believe you are worthy of having more
-you have limiting beliefs about you and other people
-you have faced adversity and failed to learn a positive lesson from the experience
you have not been honest and mindful about when you have fallen into the traps listed above

Do any of the above apply? Be honest. I know I have been guilty of some of these. The key is that I’m mindful of when I fall into the trap and I take action to make sure I get back on the right path and focus on my superpower strengths rather than focussing on things that lead me off the path. Don’t lose sight of where you’re going! Taking massive action on the right things is the key to making sure you get where you want.

In Health,

Sean

How I Turned Pro (In 5 Steps)

On the left: How I looked seven months prior to earning my Pro Card.
On the right: Earning IFBB Pro Card at the USA Championships.

It may or may not surprise you that one of my dreams as a kid was to be a professional in sports. I think that most kids, especially boys, share this dream. There were a few problems that I realized would keep me from fulfilling this dream. The first was that I have been plagued with severe asthma since I was one year old. I spent a great deal of my childhood in and out of hospitals and on various medications for breathing. Another obstacle that stood in the way of me becoming a professional athlete was that I was a small, skinny kid. My hand-eye coordination was great, and I was fast, but I lacked the mass for football and the endurance for most other sports. In my eighth grade year, I began lifting weights pretty seriously with my father and I was able to gain significant strength. Then, in ninth grade, I made the wrestling team. This sport actually suited me well because I was short and a little stalky. Not long into the season, however, I developed severe back and hip pain. I struggled with this pain for two years, all the while popping ibuprofen like candy.

After I graduated high school, I was misdiagnosed with RA, rheumatoid arthritis. I was prescribed Percocet, Darvocet, and a steroid to keep the pain under control. I nearly became addicted to these compounds. To say that I walked around like a stoned zombie would be accurate. Not only that, I stopped lifting weights. After losing lots of muscle tissue and feeling miserable most of the time, I decided to go back and see a specialist. This time, Holly, my girlfriend at the time and now my wife, went with me. The doctor properly diagnosed with with AS, ankylosing spondylitis, a form of reactive arthritis that attacks the joints and organs. People with this specific disease actually carry a genetic marker, HLA-B27. The recommendation of the doctor was that I stop exercising and begin immunosuppressive drugs along with chemotherapy drugs to lower my immune system and reduce the pain. After hearing this news, along with seeing how sickly the people in the waiting room were, I decided to completely ignore his advice and embark on a journey of health and wellness. No drugs. Lots of weight training and exercise. I would also try to identify foods that were making me feel bad. I knew that most autoimmune diseases are at least exacerbated by poor diets. This led me to becoming a personal trainer and opening my first full-service health club at 24 years old. In 2008 I competed in my first bodybuilding competition. I won my classes as a novice bantamweight and open lightweight. I did two more shows in 2009 and 2010. I won the lightweight class in both of those shows as well.

After 2010, Holly and I decided to focus on the business and start a family. I’m happy to say we have been very blessed with two kids and a successful chain of health clubs. In 2017, my wife Holly decided that she wanted to push herself to do a figure show. I researched a great deal to find her a coach that I thought would be a good fit and she took Holly on as a client. After two weeks of watching Holly’s body transform, I decided that I wanted to test the water again and see if I could make a return to the stage. I reached out to IFBB Pro Bodybuilder Jon De La Rosa, who has long been my favorite bodybuilder after watching him turn pro at the USAs in 2011. Honestly, I was nervous that he wouldn’t take me on as a client because I wasn’t in contest shape and I only had nine weeks to pull it all together. But on April 1st, 2017, after putting in the work and giving it our all, my wife and I competed together at the Governor’s Cup in Sacramento. She took second in her class in her very first show (and many had her winning the show). She look absolutely amazing and I knew that she had a bright future. I also won the lightweight Bodybuilding division and the new Classic Physique (classic bodybuilding) A Class, under 170 lbs. Right away my wife called her coach and told her she wanted to do the NPC USAs, just 13 weeks away! I agreed to continue on with her and compete then as well.

Long story short, Holly got sick and was forced to pull out of the show, but I was able to carry on and earn my Pro Card, becoming a professional athlete. My childhood dream had been fulfilled and the best part was that my kids and coach, (now one of my very best friends) Jon De La Rosa, were present to watch me earn pro status. So how did I do it? A weak, sickly kid with arthritis and asthma?

HOW I TURNED PRO IN FIVE STEPS:

  1. I first assembled a great team around me. I had my wife, kids, parents and my amazing coach. As Jim Collins says in the book Good to Great, “First figure out who belongs on the bus. Your team. Then you can figure out where the bus is going.” I didn’t know I’d be turning pro this year, but I assembled the right team to do so first.
  2. I trusted the people on my team. When push came to shove and I had to cut carbs, change my training style and add more cardio, I didn’t complain. I did the work as prescribed, knowing that my team cared about me and had that best plan for me. This is very difficult for most people and quite frankly, honest, caring coaches who are qualified and hungry to see others do well are very rare. So, I was lucky in a way.
  3. I believed in myself. If there is one trait that I have that has made me successful in any way, it is my capacity for faith, or belief, if you will. I have always had faith in myself, and those around me, that the best possible outcome will happen. I have never doubted my abilities. I don’t consider myself cocky, but I see obstacles as more of a challenge. Having beaten AS and asthma, I love a good challenge. A Napoleon Hill said, everyone has the capacity for faith, but most are using it in reverse gear and getting the things they don’t want in life, the things they fear. I agree. Have faith you can get what you want and then take massive action to get it.
  4. I had a clear vision of exactly what I wanted and desired. Clarity and focus are crucial to achieving anything. I firmly believe that most people don’t know what they want in life so they resign themselves to boring lives of quiet desperation. In the days leading up to the shows this season, I would meditate and read to control my mind and focus it on my outcome. I think that outcome-focused people avoid becoming problem-focused people. The biggest drug in the world isn’t in pill form. It is problems. We become addicted to our problems because we focus on them instead of what we actually want our outcome to be.
  5. I let fate take its course. This may sound counterintuitive considering the previous four steps, but the truth is that some things are outside our control. This is especially true in the bodybuilding world. It’s a subjective sport where opinions matter, not facts. While this may be difficult to handle, the truth is we live in a world where bad things happen to good people, the best don’t always win, and terrible things occur. Paying too much attention to things outside our control is a sure-fire way to depression and dissatisfaction. Instead, as the Stoics believed, I spent all the time and effort I could doing the things that were in my control and I let fate take it from there. That doesn’t mean settle, by the way. I’m simply saying that we should identify what we do have control over and what we don’t, and spend all of our energy on the things we CAN control!

So there it is, my long journey to becoming an IFBB Professional Classic Physique Bodybuilder. If I’m being honest, it’s still a little unreal. I’d like to thank all my family and friends again for their support. I’d like to thank my clubs, Fitness System, for being the best place to train in California. I’d urge anyone looking to have an incredible coach and human being in their life to look at http://www.jondelarosa.com to find out about his services.

And above all, I’d like to thank my wife Holly and kids for sticking with me through this journey. There will be more adventures to come.

In health,

Sean Covell IFBB PRO

Finding Your Truth

I’ve written previously about how so many people focus on the minor things in life and allow little, insignificant details bog them down and derail their plans. It’s true and will always be true that humans suffer unnecessarily from the false stories we tell ourselves. Most of the problems we have persist in the mind because we assign poor meanings to the events of our lives. In other words, we tell ourselves stories that have no basis in fact (something that can be measured objectively) but rather, our need to assign meaning to all the events in life causes us to offer up a narrative based on prior beliefs, events and values. The bottom line is that we are always telling ourselves a story. We decide what things and events mean to us with these stories. So, why not tell yourself a better story? Answer: because our brains cannot simply be rewritten like computer code. It’s much more difficult to simply delete the stories in our minds.

This is where the phrase “your truth” comes from. This is not to suggest you deliberately lie to yourself or refuse to accept actual factual events. Instead, the phrase is merely an observation that most of what is going on in your head are a bunch of stories that help you to create meaning of what is going on in your life. These stories are “your truth” because you become the story you tell yourself over and over again. If “life constantly beats you down and you have bad luck,” that story will become your truth because you’ll create meaning based around those beliefs. Moreover, you’ll look for, and give extra importance to, the negative events that occur that will reaffirm the story you tell yourself about having bad luck. See, humans are meaning-making creatures. It’s one of the most important distinguishing features between us and the rest of the animal kingdom. So, if it’s in our power to create the meaning about the events in our lives, the answer to living a less anxiety ridden life is to attempt to repeat stories that serve you rather than hinder you in your endeavors.

You. Version 2.0

While rewriting the code in your brain is not as simple or easy as installing the new Mac iOS update on your device, there are ways you can permanently change the type of stories that your brain produces. The first tool that can be employed is to develop a set of rituals every single day. I prefer to start out the day by reading or listening to something that reminds me that I’m in control of my body and the thoughts I produce and choose to listen to. I usually do this alone early in the morning before the day starts. Often, I will do this while doing morning cardio. I find that the easiest way to get out of your head is to embrace your body, and movement is the key. Emotion comes from motion and by radically changing your physiology through exercise, you may quickly find that a flood of new stories pour into your mind.

With any ritual, however, it must be performed often and with concentration for it to have an effect. Therefore, the second tool is really repetition–if you tell yourself something over and over again, you’ll find it’s like accessing a file. The more you do it, the faster it loads because your processor (the brain) becomes faster at retrieving it. The body runs on neurological pathways and the more you use these pathways, the stronger they become and the faster the electrical signals can fire. The more often you tell yourself an empowering story, the faster and more available that story becomes for you to determine what something means. It’s all just a story anyway, so repeat one that will get you where you want to go, rather than stuck in a fixed position. Another great ritual is to journal every morning or evening. What this does is allows you to take your thoughts and get them out of your head and onto paper where you begin to detach yourself from them. It’s important to remember that you are not your thoughts, but rather the one producing them. By writing down your thoughts, it helps you to remember this very important truth.

The last tool is to permanently delete or damage any old stories that you used to tell yourself. Again, this is difficult but absolutely doable. In fact, you can do anything you set your mind to do. The key to successfully removing old stories is to associate so much pain or embarrassment with them that it causes a physical response in your body. This is like taking a knife and scratching a CD or record so that it will never play properly in your machine again. Instead, it will cause discomfort even attempting to play it. An example may be useful here, so I’ll share a story that I used to tell myself. It was simply that “people can’t be trusted and I have to do everything myself.” To rid myself of this story forever, I began to associate all the pain and loneliness I had in my life due to “going it alone.” I realized very quickly that everything great in my life was due to other people–my wife, my family, my kids, and my friends. All the great memories I have are with other people. All of the money I have made has come from other people. All the roads, airplanes, elevators, I have used were built by others. All of the products I’ve used were created by other people, or at a least the raw materials were gathered by others. All of the books I’ve read were written by others. All of the joy in my life, everything that was good was because of other people. Did I have pain caused by others? Yes, but only because I was choosing to play a story in my head about how they hurt me. I could just as easily tell myself a story about how “my haters” helped me grow into the man I am now. So I did. I began to associate intense pain with being “a loner” and intense joy with building relationships with others. Now, whenever a story pops in my head about how people suck, I think about what my life would be like with no house, phones, electricity, food, books, cars, roads or music. This helps to get me thinking clearly again about how much I value relationships with other people, although I admit I am guarded about who I let into my life. But being careful and being scared or cynical are very different things. Being careful is smart. Being jaded is dangerous.

Takeaway

The takeaway here is that you can and should begin to examine what stories you tell yourself that limit you. They can be about money, life, other people, government, your own abilities–the list goes on. Then, after the limiting stories have been identified, begin to destroy the story by associating so much pain and embarrassment with the story that a new story, one that is more empowering, can be played on the device known as your brain. You do get to choose the meaning behind events. You do this by choosing what to story to tell yourself about what you’re focusing on. So give yourself some new stories that will allow you to get up and take massive action towards your goals and desires. (I prefer the word desire over goal because I think it has more power behind it. Most people give up on their goals, but those same people may give into their desires. By swapping out one word with another, or one story with another, the change in your life can be profound.) So when something happens, remember to ask yourself, “What does this mean or what story am I going to tell myself about this?” Then ask, “What am I going to do about it?” Make sure your story leads to take action in a positive way for you and others.

In health,

Sean’s

Conquer Fear Forever

What’s the biggest problem in your life right now? If you are like most people I know, the “problem” that you have probably isn’t as bad as the fear you have from what you believe will be the result of your problem. Sure, you may have a legitimate obstacle in your life, standing in the way of your desired outcome, but it is the perception of your problem, the fear you have that may be a bigger problem. In other words, people fear a certain outcome before it has even happened, causing them anxiety, worry, nervousness, even depression (the fear that you lack agency in your life, that you have no control over what happens to you or what you do about events in your life). All of these emotions are just fear manifesting itself. Stress is another code word for fear. We feel stressed because we fear something is not going to happen as we like it. I’m going to reveal a big secret here–fear is only possible because of… attachment. 

            Fear always results from feelings or beliefs of attachment to something or someone. Attachment to success leads to the fear of ridicule. Attachment to loved ones leads to the fear of loss or death. Attachment to wealth leads to the fear of poverty. Attachment to a career or project leads to fear of loss of that work. Attachment to a relationship or romantic partner leads to the fear of adultery or rejection. Attachment to beauty and youth leads to a fear of old age. Attachment to a certain outcome leads to the fear of failure and ridicule. Attachment to your own life leads to a fear of death and discomfort. Above all, attachment to things that are not in our control leads to the fear of lack of fulfillment and eventual disappointment. It is clear, to me at least, that fear is only possible with attachment. This leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the answer to conquering fear forever is to remove any attachment that we have in our lives. Right? Right… easier said than done.

As social beings, we have the natural tendency to allow ourselves to feel attachment to others. We develop attachments to things and people and develop strong emotional ties to them throughout our lives. While strong relationships and physical objects that improve our lifestyle are necessary, attachments to people, outcomes and objects is not necessary, nor do I believe it is healthy. Yet, most of us do it anyway. Opinions differ on why this occurs, but I believe, as do many philosophers and psychologists, that we form attachments because of a perceived lack or void within ourselves. The belief that we are not enough leads us to feelings of attachment. Feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, and emptiness are all terms we use to explain the void. Therefore, the only way to avoid attachment that leads to fear is to accept that we are the void. Loneliness, emptiness and the like are natural to the human experience and you do not need to validate yourself with anyone or anything else. When we accept something, we can stop running from it and begin to reason as to what is in our control and what is not.

There are some tools that exist to help us deal with attachment and eliminate the fear that holds so many in prisons within their own minds. The most powerful, in my opinion, comes from the ancient Stoics who used negative visualization–daily meditation on the impermanence of all things and people. By constantly reminding ourselves that “this too shall pass”, we keep from becoming overly attached because nothing lasts. The beauty of impermanence is that is can remind us that life is short, so how we spend our time matters a great deal. Relationships with others can become stronger using this technique too. If you remind yourself that every moment matters, you will be less likely engaging others in triviality, choosing instead to savor every moment with that person. The most important aspect of negative visualization is that it reminds us that we truly do not own anyone or anything, including our own lives. Everything is on loan to us. We are the void. We have nothing. And someone who has nothing has nothing to fear.

The other most effective tool for controlling attachment and therefore fear is developing the ability to recognize what you have control over and what you have no control over. In modern society with the abundance of food choices, you mostly have control over your diet. Therefore, you have some control over your body and physique. You do not, however, have control over whether someone is leaner or more attractive than you. Thus, envy, jealously and the fear that you are not enough is irrational because you cannot control others. Another external factor that humans have a tendency to form attachment to are the outcomes of events. Take a sporting tournament. You may believe that you have control over how you train yourself and therefore how well you will do in the tournament. You may then develop certain expectations for the outcome of the tournament. However, whether you win the tournament is actually outside your control for the reason that you have no control over others and how well they have trained for this event. Therefore, developing an attachment to winning the tournament should not be the goal, but rather focusing on performing as well as possible. By focusing on what is in your control (your performance), rather than what is outside it (the outcome of the tournament), you may in fact win the tournament. Most people develop anxiety and nervousness from competition. By realizing that you only have control over yourself, you will spare yourself the fear of failure and disappointment that comes from attachment to an outcome. The irony here is that by focusing on your performance alone, you are more likely to win the tournament than allowing yourself to become anxious or nervous.

Fear is something that all humans battle throughout life because it is in our nature to form attachments. By remembering that we own nothing and that even our own lives are on loan to us from nature, despite our best efforts to increase our lifespan and quality of life, we can allow all attachments and the fear that accompanies them to fall away. Additionally, by reasoning what is in our control and what is not, we can better focus our energy and time on what we can work to improve, rather than allow ourselves to worry over external events. (Hint: if you look closely, there is always some control you have in any situation, starting with your beliefs about the situation.) My hope is that these tools are of some use to you while navigating through life. Remember, these tools, (negative visualization and reasoning what you have control over and what you do not) are always at your disposal. They are sitting in your tool bag at all times. Whether or not you decide to use them is up to you. As I often remind my wife, most projects that fail do so because the proper tools were not used. I hope this is not your fate.