Why Is it So Hard to Grow In Joyful Ways?

How to move from begrudging growth to joyful growth.

Louise Schriewer, Ph.D.
Work. You. Love.
9 min readApr 25, 2024

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Photo by Miquel Parera on Unsplash

Hi friend,

These days, I write weekly articles on Substack. If you want to see more of my writing, you can subscribe for free here. Hope to see you in your inbox. :)

With that being said, here’s my latest article from Substack:

Over the years, I’ve noticed a pattern: whenever I committed to a particular niche (as a coach, course creator, or writer) challenges arose that directly related to that niche.

For instance, I used to introduce myself as the “Work You Love Coach.” A few years later, I found myself writing an article about how I secretly had started hating my work.

My husband and I taught a course about spiritual relationships. As if on cue, we suddenly started arguing more. (The solution was simple: no more relationship courses, hah! )

I could give a few more examples but I hope this suffices to describe the principle. It’s as if once we publicly claim some level of expertise in something, the universe immeditately enrolls us in an elite post-graduate program in that particular area of life.

[Or maybe that’s just me?]

As a result, we (re-)experience the same challenges other people might be facing in that area. This makes our work more powerful but it also kinda sucks while we’re going through it.

[Side note: This is also why I never ever want to start writing or teaching about health. I have no interest in finding out what challenges might arise if I claimed that as my niche…]

Anyway, what does this have to do with my current project?

Well, when I first came up with the idea of creating a publication around “joyful growth”, it felt great. Joyful growth was something I was starting to implement in my own life, something I hadn’t heard other people talk about, and something I wanted to share with others.

However, the truth is that I’m struggling with this whole “joyful growth” thing. In fact, I’m probably more on the “begrudging growth” path at the moment.

[Probably?!? Ya think?]

Before sharing more about my challenges, I should probably clarify the concept some more.

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What is joyful growth?

A few years ago, I was going through a particularly challenging period in my life. At some point, I came across a book by Sanaya Roman. In this book, Sanaya’s guide Orin explained that we can grow in one of two ways: through suffering or through joy.

Based on seeing these two options, I started thinking about two paths we can choose:

  • the Joyful Growth Path, and
  • the not-so-joyful growth path (a.k.a. growth through suffering which has been the default option on this planet).

As young children, many of us had experiences of growing though joy — the pride of taking our first steps, or learning a new word, or managing to climb up somewhere.

As we get older, we often forget how to do that. That’s when we start growing through struggle instead of joy.

For instance, if you are in a bad relationship or job and really should get out but don’t, you might experience more and more suffering until the pain gets so intense that you finally can’t bear it any longer and make a change. That’s growth through suffering and we’ve (probably) all been there.

[Yupp, can confirm!]

Because it is so important for our soul to grow, we don’t really get the choice to avoid growth. What we do get is a choice in how we grow.

Basically, here’s how I imagine the exchange between our big Self (Soul) and our small self (ego/personality):

Soul: “Would you like to grow through joy or suffering?”

Ego: “How about not at all?”

Soul: “Suffering it is!”

[Yes, souls can be assholes. There, I said it.]

Now, I should say that I love growth. I am, as my husband has called me, a “growth glutton.” I also dislike suffering (this probably goes without saying).

So, the idea of growing in joyful ways deeply resonated with me.

However, implementing it is more challenging than expected — particularly since I started writing about it.

What’s so challenging about growing in joyful ways?

That, my friend, is an excellent idea. I’ve been asking myself that, too.

And it’s only today that I found the answer. As Abraham Maslow wrote,

“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again”

In other words, growth brings up fear and that’s hard. I know that growth brings up fear — I’ve been giving talks on fear for 7 years or so by now. However, in a bout of “optimistic amnesia”, I forgot all about it when I embraced the idea of “joyful growth.”

I now realize that growth can bring up feelings of fear regardless of whether we grow through suffering (the default/fallback option once we leave childhood) or grow through joy (a conscious choice).

For instance, I would say engaging on Substack is part of my joyful growth process. That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel uncomfortable or even a bit scared. Joyful growth doesn’t keep me from experiencing fear. It just means that my life tends to get better every year (more on that in a future post).

However, here’s the important bit:

It’s not that my joyful growth is causing the fear, it’s that fear is part of being in a body (just like getting to enjoy cuddles or tasty meals is a part of embodied life).

As long as we are in a human body (which comes equipped with an amygdala), we can’t fully escape fear. Shying away from growth only means that you choose one fear (“what if I regret not doing this?”) over another (“what if I regret doing this?”).

So, we might as well go with the fear that’s more likely to give us the life we want.

Or, as Jim Rohn put it:

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”

How to feel better when faced with fear

I have explored the depths of fear for years. In writing and, more importantly, in life.

[Pretty weird brag, but okay, I’ll allow it.]

These days, I’m using the following 3 approaches when faced with fear:

  1. Turn fear into excitement (aka focus on the positive),
  2. Identify and meeting your needs, and
  3. Making friends with your fears.

[Bonus “strategy”: spend some time hiding under the covers. You’re welcome!]

While all of these are valuable and work in different ways, I have ordered them according to their effectiveness and ease of use.

№3 tend to be the most effective approach for reducing fears.

When I do this process with a coaching client, I ask people to rank their fear on a scale of 1–10 (10 being the highest). It’s not uncommon to have someone go from an 8 or 9 down to a 3 or 4. However, this process takes a bit longer than №1 or №2. That’s why it’s helpful to learn about all of them.

So, let’s start with the simplest approach:

1. Turn fear into excitement

Anxiety/fear and excitement have a lot in common. We might get stomach butterflies and sweaty palms before a difficult conversation — or before a first date with someone we like.

The main difference between fear and excitement lies in our expectation: when we are afraid, we think something bad might happen (difficult conversation). When we’re excited, we think something good might happen (getting closer to someone we like).

Is it possible to use this to our advantage and turn fear into excitement?

[Ugh, rhetorical questions are so 70 BCE.]

The short answer is: yes! In a 2014 study, Harvard professor Alison Wood Brooks looked at different ways to cope with pre-performance anxiety — and discovered that reappraising anxiety as excitement helps:

“Compared to those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better. Individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies such as self-talk (e.g., saying “I am excited” out loud) or simple messages (e.g., “get excited”), which lead them to feel more excited, adopt an opportunity mindset (as opposed to a threat mindset), and improve their subsequent performance.”

I love that: moving from a threat mindset to an opportunity mindset!

So, that’s the first strategy you can use when faced with fear: reinterpret it as excitement, for instance, by telling yourself that you are excited.

2. Identifying and meeting your needs

This strategy is based on something that is based on something Polyvagal Theory expert Steve Mattus told me. He suggested that we feel safe when we get our needs met, and afraid when there’s a (real or imagined) possibility that our needs won’t be getting met.

Interestingly, this understanding of fear also tells us how to move beyond fear: by identifying and finding a way to get our needs met.

I wrote an entire article about it if you want to find out more. Here’s the condensed version:

  • Think of a fear you have. What need(s) are you afraid you might not be able to meet? For instance, let’s say you want to ask someone out for a date. Your fear is that they reject you, which could make you feel unloved and unattractive. So, your needs are about feeling loved and attractive.
  • How else could you could meet your need? In the example I just gave, there are two aspects: being loved and feeling attractive. Realize that they don’t need to be met by the same person. Perhaps you can feel loved by getting a hug from a parent (or your dog). And you can feel attractive when a friend compliments you on your new haircut.
  • Make an effort to meet your need in a way that has nothing to do with your fear. Hug your parent (or dog). Show off your new haircut to your enthusiastic friend. Then, once you know you have gotten your needs met, do the thing that you fear and ask the person you’re interested in out for a date.

Remember: you can meet your needs in many different ways!

3. Making friends with your fear

This approach is based on creating a different relationship to our fear. Here’s a quick explanation:

In our culture, we typically treat fear as something to avoid. When we see our fear as something negative, we are essentially treating our in-built survival system as an enemy.

Doesn’t that sound kind of… like a bad idea?

[Counterquestion: don’t rhetorical questions sound like a bad idea? Because they should!]

So, what would be a better way of handling fear?

[I can tell you used to be a lawyer. Only asking questions you know the answer to. Smart move!]

Well, how about treating fear like an adviser instead?

You don’t need to follow all the suggestions an adviser has for you — but it would probably be smart to at least hear that person out, wouldn’t it?

The same is true for your fear.

In many cases, your fears actually have some basis in reality. Wouldn’t it make more sense to actually be aware of the worst-case scenario, so that you can make a plan to deal with it?

[Ugh. That sound right there was Cicero rolling over in his grave.]

Once you do that, your fear will shut up and actually let you get to work.

I went back and forth on whether I should try to come up with a short written exercise to help you befriend your fear. In the end, I decided not to — in all honesty, I can’t help you change your relationship to fear in a few sentences. Even though I’m a writer at heart, I also know that some things benefit from a more in-depth approach.

If you would like to learn how to permanently change your relationship to fear, I invite you to check out my video workshop “Tap Into Your Clarity & Courage.”

Takeaways

Alright, that concludes my article on how to move from begrudging growth to joyful growth! To recap:

  • Growth (including joyful growth) can feel challenging because it’s about change, and change can bring up fear.
  • However, remaining stagnant isn’t a great option either, as that just creates other fears.
  • The solution is to respond to fear constructively: turn excitement into fear, identify and fulfill your needs, and befriend your fear.

I hope this was helpful!

Warmly,
Louise

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Louise Schriewer, Ph.D.
Work. You. Love.

I love helping people overcome their struggles and have a joyful life. Professional wizard (I mean, coach…) who used to be a lawyer: workyoulovecoach.com