Let's Get Off Our Buts

Part Two:
(programmed for failure, perhaps, but)

I once complained to my father that I didn't seem to be able to do things the same way other people did. Dad's advice? "Margo, don't be a sheep. People hate sheep. They eat sheep."


The Good News about the Comfort Zone

The good news about the comfort zone is that all the energy that makes up the comfort zone is yours .

Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or heros.Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly.Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy and strength, if faced with an open mind.Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.


People often want to "get rid of" a "negative" emotion before attempting something new. That's the same thing as saying, "I want to get rid of some of my energy."

Fear, guilt, unworthiness, hurt feelings, and anger are, in fact, tools . Tools are neutral--they can be used either for us or against us. A knife can be used to heal or to hurt. A hammer can be used to build or to destroy. It is not the tool itself, but the way the tool is used that determines its benefit or detriment.

The difficulty lies in a fundamental misperception of "limiting" emotions. The limitation is not in the emotions themselves, but in the way we've been taught to perceive these emotions. We've been programmed with certain attitudes about certain feelings, and in the attitudes lie the limitations, not in the feelings.

In a sense, we play isometrics with our feelings and our attitudes. A certain feeling arises. An attitude says we shouldn't have that feeling, and pushes it down. It's like arm wrestling with ourselves--we can expend a lot of energy and work diligently, but not much is accomplished.

When we see how little gets done, we wonder (a) why so little was accomplished ("I tried so hard"), (b) why we're so tired, or (c) both.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more..


The energy pushing up and the energy pushing down is all our energy. Imagine moving toward a goal and not just removing the inner resistance to achieving that goal, but adding all the energy that was part of the resistance to the forward motion of achievement. Whew! Imagine if all the energy of fear, guilt, unworthiness, hurt feelings, and anger were available to help us achieve anything we wanted.

Well, it is.

Using fear, guilt, unworthiness, hurt feelings, and anger as allies in the journey toward our dreams is not difficult. It is a matter of understanding their true use and function--and remembering that we now know it. (The habit of treating them as "the enemies" to be "gotten rid of" can be strong.)

It's as though someone hung a large rock around our neck. "Oh, how heavy," we'd complain. Later we were told the rock was really a diamond in the rough. "Oh! How heavy!" we'd exclaim.

Fear, guilt, unworthiness, hurt feelings, and anger are diamonds in the rough. They're valuable now, and with a little cutting and polishing, they become priceless.

The next few chapters reveal these gems for what they are. The rest of this book suggests cutting and polishing techniques.

And neither shall we learn to war with ourselves any more.

Fear Is the Energy to Do Your Best in a New Situation

It's all right to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation.


Think about entering a new situation. To meet the new situation, imagine you received an extra burst of energy, your senses sharpened, there was a tingling--an excitement--in your body, and you became more sensitive and aware.

Doesn't that sound great? It seems to be the very thing we need in order to do our best in a new situation. Well, it's precisely what does happen each time we enter a new situation. Most of the time, however, we call it "fear" and we don't like it.

Contrary to popular belief, our parents didn't teach us to feel fear. Our parents did teach us to use fear as a reason not to do something. As I explained earlier, they did this from love. Children cannot logically determine whether their physical well-being is or is not endangered when attempting a new activity.

Alas, at eighteen-or-so, when we do know the difference between the truly dangerous and the merely new and untried, no one draws us aside and says, "That fear you've been using as a reason not to do things--it's really part of the energy to get things done."

The first thing we need when entering a new situation (whether physically or in our imagination) is more energy. A new situation, by definition, will be different, and extra energy will help us meet the challenges of whatever "different" may hold.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I've lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." You must do the thing you think you cannot do.


When we feel fear, adrenaline, glucose, and other energy-producing chemicals are released into the bloodstream. This physiological energy is available to support our thoughts and actions.

In a new situation, naturally we want to get all the information we can. This is where the sharpened senses, sensitivity, and heightened awareness associated with fear are useful--they help us absorb and more quickly process the new information.

Fear also forces us to let go of irrelevancies . We automatically focus on what's most important, "and let the rest of the world go by." When in a new situation, we want to focus on what's central, what's significant. Fear drives thoughts about whether or not grapefruit will be on sale right out of our awareness.

Part of doing our best in a new situation involves learning. There is so much to learn from a new experience--so much to learn about the experience and, more importantly, so much to learn about ourselves. Fear provides a good environment for learning--not an ideal environment (fear is not known for its abundance of patience)--but a good environment nonetheless. Energy, clarity of mind, and ability to focus are excellent tools for learning.

With enough work (doing), we will eventually--without even thinking about it--use fear as the energy to do our best. In the interim--as we break the habit of thinking this energy is a reason not to do anything new--the suggestion is: feel the fear and do it anyway.

Once you know something is not physically dangerous, go ahead and do the thing. It may feel uncomfortable (count on it), but keep moving one step after another in the direction of doing it. As you move--as you use it-- the energy will transform from barrier to blessing. You'll have energy, not limitation.

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway reprograms our attitude from, "Fear means, `Don't'" to "Fear means, `All systems go!'"

Guilt Is the Energy for Personal Change

My parents have been visiting me for a few days. I just dropped them off at the airport. They leave tomorrow.


Guilt is anger directed toward ourselves, and anger is the energy for change .

Alas, few of us were trained to use anger for change (except, perhaps, in athletics). Mostly, we use anger for blame and feeling bad . As we will explore in a later chapter, the gift of anger is the physical, mental, and emotional strength to make change.

When we feel guilty and want to use the anger for change (for a change), we have two options: we can either change our actions, or change our beliefs about those actions. If we feel guilty about something that hasn't yet happened (that twinge of guilt we feel when premeditating a "wicked" action), we can use the anger in the guilt to not do it (or, if it's an act of omission, to do it).

If we feel guilty about something that's already taken place, we can use the anger to make amends, to clean things up. (Atonement leads to at-one-ment.)

If there's nothing we can do, then we can use the energy of guilt to change the belief about how bad, wicked, terrible, immoral, despicable, disgusting, and downright slug-like our action was.

Most people use guilt (a) to make half-hearted (but often heated) promises to "never do it again," which they don't really believe any more than any of their close acquaintances do, and/or (b) to feel bad.

Feeling bad is an important part in the mis use of guilt. Part of the "contract" for violating our beliefs is that we must feel bad. We tell ourselves, "Good people are __________ (fill in the perfect human behavior violated by the guilt-producing action), and when they're not, they feel guilty ."

In this limiting system, feeling guilty proves our goodness. Good people feel bad when they do something bad. (After all, bad people feel good when they do something bad.) So, guilt allows us to maintain a mistaken (but admirable-sounding) belief about ourselves while acting in a way that violates the belief.

A more productive use of guilt's energy is to change the belief . Once the belief is changed, the self-judgments stop--the energy is no longer directed toward feeling bad when doing (or failing to do) certain activities.

When such as I cast out remorse So great a sweetness flows into the breast We must laugh and we must sing, We are blest by everything, Everything we look upon is blest.


I'm not saying change your belief about yourself from "I am a good person . . ." to "I am a bad person . . .." I'm suggesting, add a qualifier to the too-rigid ("perfect") beliefs you have about yourself. "Good people are kind to others . . .and sometimes they're not." "Good people stick to their diet . . .and sometimes they don't." "Good people don't yell in public . . .and sometimes they do."

Making these changes is not easy. The habit of using the energy of guilt in a limiting rather than expansive way is deep seated. As B. F. Skinner pointed out, "Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless." It takes enormous energy and perseverance to change our response to guilt.

Fortunately, there's a lot of energy available in the anger of guilt. It's a matter of remembering to redirect it from blame to change--over and over.

You may be wondering, "When do I use the energy to change the action, and when do I use it to change the belief about the action?"

It's an important question. Here are some thoughts.

  1. If you change the belief first, changing the action is easier. Taking the pressure off by changing the belief allows for the freedom of movement necessary to change the action.

  2. Realize you're not going to change all the actions about which you currently feel guilty. We're not perfect, we're human. Nonetheless, in our childhood we are given a seemingly infinite number of perfect images to live up to. We add to these the perfect images we have as adults. I'll discuss this perfection syndrome later, but for now realize that you can change anything you want, but you can't change everything you want.

  3. Change first the actions that physically harm others. I'm not talking about hurting someone's feelings; I'm talking about activities such as hitting people, stealing, child abuse, drunk driving, in which another is or is very likely to be physically harmed by your actions.

  4. Change next the actions that physically harm you--smoking, extreme overeating, high-risk sexual activities, drug or alcohol abuse, and so on. Again, these are not the things that might emotionally harm you (that's quite often the comfort zone), but things that do significant physical harm.

    The wages of sin are death, but by the time taxes are taken out, it's just sort of a tired feeling.


  5. Later in the book, you'll have the opportunity to make a list of your wants, desires, and dreams, then to prioritize them in such a way that you'll know which you have time to pursue, and which you (for now) do not. Work next on changing the actions that go against your primary goals.

  6. If you've handled all those and are still looking for more, well, you're a far better person than I am, Gunga Din!

When used to produce guilt, the statement, "I could have done better!" is false. If we knew better, we'd do better. I don't just mean intellectually knowing better. I'm talking about knowing in the full sense of the word--the way you know to walk, speak, and breathe.

A more accurate statement when we intellectually know better (and do it anyway) is to say, "This will remind me to do better next time--I'm still learning."

Because, of course, we are.

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