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Overcoming Fear of Awkward Pain

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I mentioned that one of the new Guiding Principles I’ve created to help me act in ways that are healthier and more productive is “Don’t live with familiar pain out of fear of awkward pain.” Fear of awkward pain is an outgrowth of fear of the unknown, and, by definition, change is the unknown. My default programming told me that if I committed to the stance of getting my needs met in my marriage and other frog-in-hot-water relationships, I would be abandoned and I might not survive the awkward, unknown pain I would experience, so it was better to live with the familiar pain than to take a stand for change.


There is an irony in this. In the day-to-day negotiations for my business, I’m not, and never have been, afraid to take a stance or make a demand. Historically I’ve always been an effective and strong negotiator who frequently gets what I ask for or am able to negotiate a mutually satisfactory agreement. If a negotiation doesn’t work out, I walk away with no regrets. The contrast between the part of me that easily and unequivocally stands up for myself in business deals and the part that wavered in my closest loving rela­tionships underlines the power that I allowed my fear to have over my behavior in the relationships that mean a great deal to me.


My amnesia for pain kept me from experiencing it profoundly enough for it to move me to commit to taking a stance for change. Rationalizing the pain when I did feel it, by justifying it with the cynical view that life is always painful, kept me in the past instead of the present and removed the possibility of change.


It’s a true challenge to be mindfully aware 100 percent of the time, but it’s easy to be in your machinery 100 percent of the time. Instead of being mindful and creating new and more pro­ductive behavior by creating new neural pathways in your brain, you can let the same neurons fire along the same neural pathways and reproduce the same behavior with the same results year after year after year. You can be a frog in hot water and feel like a victim of somebody else (or the world or just life) when the only thing you’re really a victim of is your own default programming running you on automatic pilot instead of your using your ability to couple mindfulness with resolve and choose Door 1, 2, or 3. I created the Guiding Principle “Don’t live with familiar pain out of fear of awkward pain” when, after I stopped being a frog in hot water, I saw how heavily my fear of awkward pain had contributed to my remaining one for so long.


An excerpt from my recent book, Your Mind Is What Your Brain Does for a Living, now available at Amazon.

  • 9 Mar, 2015
  • Posted by Steve Fogel
  • 19 Tags

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