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All In

When presented with a new idea or a creative solution, my first internal response is almost always, “Uh … no.” It comes from a lifetime of anxiety and a deep-seated need to control things, but I do my best to keep it to myself. Still, even if I don’t share my reluctance with others, I am fully aware of how limiting it is for me to hold myself back so much.

I know that my hesitancy almost always stems from fear—of the unknown, of the uncomfortable, and of the 10,000 scary outcomes I can conjure up. I also know that my practiced self-protection methods feed on themselves and take me further away from being brave and engaged. As with of my many long-held attitudes and behaviors, this one is getting tiring. Sometimes I’m shocked that the list of things I refuse to do is so much longer than the one with those I’m willing to try. And really, at 66, what could happen that hasn’t already occurred? If there is any better time to take a few risks, I can’t imagine when it will be.

It probably takes less energy to respond with enthusiasm than with dread.

As my life continues to unfold, it occurs to me that this might be the time to start practicing the opposite of caution and self-protection. Instead of my immediate “No,” I’m working on taking a beat and a breath to get myself to “Why not?” The negative response only serves to let me get my dukes up in case anything unexpected flies my way. Holding back never actually keeps anything from me, anyway. It just prevents me from engaging, which ultimately makes me more uncomfortable, not less.

I’m thinking of this as my “All In” experiment. If I’m doing something, I’m going to do it. I’m not going to think about all of the ways I can get out of it, or that it’s stupid, or that I don’t want to engage fully with the people involved. I’ve done that enough times in my life to know exactly what it feels like to remain hesitant. I also know that the more I drag my feet, the less nimble I become. In truth, the more open I am, the freer and more confident I feel. Despite the risk I might think I'm taking, the payoff for being all in is so much richer than what I get by protecting myself. I have become such an expert at sheltering myself from imagined consequences that just saying “yes” feels like a vacation.

One of the ways I feel it most is in conversations with other people. When I lean in, ask questions, and listen for what seems important to them, my brain stops perseverating and I’m simply in the moment. I'm all in. We both benefit and we make a connection that wouldn’t be made if one of us was focused on protecting herself. The same is true with any project I’ve been putting off. Once I adopt an all-in stance, it almost automatically makes me concentrate on what needs to be done and then, before I know it, I’m further along than I’d ever been if I’d kept procrastinating. Postponing difficult tasks is just one of the many manifestations of holding myself back.

Although fear is at the core of all of this, most of the time it’s not even a real fear. Unchecked anxiety can do that. I’m realizing that if I’m simply doing the thing that scared me, then I’m not simultaneously thinking about how nervous I am. And afterwards, once I’m through the dreaded task, I am almost always surprised at how much easier it was than I’d imagined.

The concept of being all in conjures up images of jumping off mountains with no concern for safety, which of course is not my point. More than anything, being all in makes me pay such close attention to what I’m doing that I’m probably less likely to fall than if I were nervously tiptoeing around the edge of something. It probably takes less energy to respond with enthusiasm than with dread.

Nothing in life is a guaranteed success, but I’m more and more convinced that holding back does nothing to improve the situation. It keeps me far away from the other people involved and it prevents me from doing my best thinking and making my most sincere connection. As always, it’s an experiment. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

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