How to Unstifle Yourself Long Enough to Pull off Your Dreams
How much of your life do you spend stifled?
I hate that feeling — being stifled. The divine side that wants the best for you is screaming at you “DO IT! DO THE THING!” But then you don’t do it.
I hate the feeling of moving through the world a little bit too guarded. Why can’t I just be my full-self? BOLD. Why can’t I be one hundred percent Ayo one hundred percent of the time?
Why are you so damn stifled all the time?
Why can’t you just bring yourself to tell your boss that amazing new idea that could grow the company? You know it’s a damn good idea that can only help the company, but grow your career in the process. Why on God’s earth wouldn’t you say something? There’s an opening in the meeting to bring it up. Bring it up. C’mon. Ugh. Why didn’t you do it?
You know you want to start that business. It’s not like starting it will literally kill you. You have enough extra money and free-time to give it a try? Why aren’t you doing it?
When you interact with people, from one on one, to group, to online, so the conversation with society as a whole, why are you not your full self? Why are you too timid to be your authentic self?
These aren’t just questions I’m asking you. They’re versions of the same question I ask myself every single day.
I’ve grown in many ways, but I’m similar to you deep down. No matter how much you grow, you can’t ever fully get rid of that visceral fear of rejection, that feeling of being stifled and less than your full self, that feeling that you have to put on this meek mask to survive.
That’s the whole self-improvement game in a nut-shell. Rejection and embarrassment simply feel terrible and being stifled is our defense mechanism against it.
The lizard brain thinks you’re going to die and the tribe will abandon you.
Your mental maps from childhood and adolescence resurface and you feel the pain of the disapproval you felt from your parents when they were your whole world or you time travel the first palpable moment of rejection that branded your soul when you were twelve years old.
It runs deep. It’s not an easy problem to solve. It’s something I work on every day as well as trying to share that same lesson with you.
The question is…what can you do about it?
I spend a lot of time having conversations with myself where I simply try to remind myself that I’m a worthy person who has value to give to the world. I remind myself that it’s only my job to share and communicate that value. Sometimes people will vibe with it and sometimes they won’t. I remind myself that my flaws don’t define me. I remind myself that people are just as preoccupied and afraid as me.
I also try to remind myself that the fear of embarrassment and rejection isn’t as bad as the actual feelings themselves. Those feelings suck, but they pass and pale in comparison to how good it feels to be afraid, do the thing anyway, and come out the other side successful.
Let me remind you — you’re good enough just the way you are. Not in some trite cheesy way. But I’m guessing that if you’ve been on this planet long enough you’ve done something of note, you have some value to give, you have some talent or skills, something. Maybe you haven’t gotten the most from your gifts yet, but it’s not like you have zero gifts.
Here’s how you can get better at expressing them and sharing your value.
First, do like I do and have these conversations of yourself where you remind yourself of your own value. Journal about it if you have to. Understand that you do have some reference experiences of you doing something successfully.
I’ve said many times that you have to brainwash yourself to get self-improvement to work at all. On top of reading articles like this, treat yourself like you’d treat a good friend and give yourself that same guidance. It seems simple the way I’m saying it, but practicing it can cause a profound change in your mindset over time.
Second, you want to create new reference experiences in your life. You draw on your reference experiences each time you face a challenge. You go back in your mind and ask yourself “How did I perform when I tried something similar in the past?”
In the beginning, you won’t have very many reference experiences to draw on, so what do you do?
You just fake it.
You pretend to be confident in situations where you usually aren’t. You perform the actions of a person with certainty and self-direction, even if you don’t really embody those traits. Overcompensate and be a little phony until it sticks.
Why do it this way?
Well, it’s just hard to conjure up certain thoughts that will magically change your life. It’s hard to think your way into a better life. Actions trick your subconscious mind.
Your subconscious mind doesn’t register that you were scared shitless when you asked for that raise at work. It just remembers that you asked. If you do get the raise, it remembers that you rose to a challenge and succeeded. You know have a little neural pathway in your mental army to fight the next battle.
It’s funny. When you feel scared out of your wits, but you do the thing anyway and get it to work, you feel superhuman. You feel unstoppable and feel like you’ll tackle any obstacle in your way. And, sure, if something were to present itself in that exact moment, you’d destroy it. But these feelings of euphoric confidence subside quite quickly.
The next challenge you face on whatever journey you’re on will bring up similar feelings of total fear. What do you do? You pretend to be confident again and then you’re 1 percent less scared than the last time. You become increasingly bold over time until you create a positive upward spiral.
Upward spirals and downward spirals decide your fate in life. Life is a lot like basketball. It’s a game of runs. Each team in the game will have hot and cold streaks. The team with longer and more frequent hot streaks win the game. So, for you, the goal isn’t to be hot all the time but to have enough hot streaks to win the game.
Sustain enough periods where you’re unstifled and fully wielding your value in the world, and it will become easier over time.
Again. These are easy enough prescriptions for me to make. How do you get them to stick? Honestly, there’s no guarantee that they will. It all comes down to whether or not you will care about your own life long enough to get the job done. It’s hard. It shouldn’t be. But it is.
We should all just do exactly what we want with our lives every single day. It seems obvious “on paper” that we should do that, but then real life comes in and gums up the works.
In my case, I just keep using the combination of action and introspection to level up in life. I try things that scare me. I succeed or fail and then analyze what happened.
Overall, I keep asking myself questions to the point they eat at me:
“Why not you, Ayo? Why does it have to be someone else who gets to live an amazing life? Why can’t it be you? What don’t you have that these other people have? You’re just as good as them. You can do it.”
“Ayo, what’s the worst that could possibly happen if you just go for it? You’ll get a little embarrassed and butt hurt? That’s what you’re going to let get in the way of your life? Butt hurt feelings? Come on man. Stop being a wimp. You’re not going to die if you just give this thing a shot.”
“Ayo, you’re going to die one day, man. You do know that, right? What the hell are you doing sitting still at all, for any moment of your life? Death, Ayo, Death. Ceasing to exist. Snap out of it. Live your life.”
Does this process always work? No. Actually, it fails more often than it works. There are still plenty of levels to this life that terrify me — levels that I have not yet gathered the courage to pull off yet. But I just keep trying.
And say I get this to work ten percent of the time. Compared to the average person who gets it to work essentially zero percent of the time, ten percent is a lot.
Just keep going. Action. Introspection. Action. Introspection. Action. Introspection.
Though you’ll never fully overcome your fears — not even close, you at least get a better understanding of what’s going on. You’re fighting ghosts in your imagination. Each time you pass up on an opportunity, you’ll kick yourself because you know, at a deep level, that you really had nothing to lose by going for it. And then you’ll go for it a little more over time until you do pull off some pretty amazing accomplishments.
Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to be truly fearless. Would accomplishments feel good if I had absolute certainty I’d pull them off? Would life be any fun without fear? Probably not.
Also, people who are bold, daring, and confident aren’t totally devoid of fear. They’re just comfortable not being comfortable. They understand that feelings are just…feelings. They’re sensations that arise and subside that don’t have to run your life.
Understanding that logically and implementing the concept emotionally are universes apart.
Spend the rest of your life trying to close that gap.
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.