Making a Friend of Fear

January 15, 2018

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t consider myself brave. My first reaction is to shrink back rather than charge forward. “I am afraid” is one of the limiting beliefs I’ve been doing battle with all my life. And while I’ve found work-arounds for times when I need to push through feeling fearful, I’ve never actually thought about fear in a positive way.

Until last week.

Last week I picked up a pretty and deceptively simple little book, My Friend Fear: Finding Magic in the Unknown (2018, TarcherPerigee), by Meera Lee Patel. Just like reading The Upside of Stress changed my attitude towards stress, reading My Friend Fear triggered a change in my attitude toward fear by helping me see it in a new way.  

Some tidbits:

“Fear is a friend, and it’s here to support you. Like all friendships, the one you have with fear is a two-way street. It requires time, hard work, and honesty in order to become and remain healthy. It requires us to sit with it, listen to it, and try our best to understand it—even though we don’t always know how. Like any friend, fear can help you only if you let it.”

“Becoming aware of fear is the first step to befriending it. After all, how can you become friends with something you’re pretending doesn’t exist? 

“It’s okay to be afraid. All it means is that there’s something you care deeply about. It’s okay to have fears, as long as you are willing to explore them. It’s okay to hug fear closely, to poke and prod and discover what’s underneath that heavy, dark cloak.”

“Fear is here to help you uncover your greatest wish.”

As I was finishing up My Friend Fear, I picked up my copy of Susan Jeffers’ classic Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. After a quick skim, I realized these two books worked together to help something click in my mind. (Don’t you just love when that happens?)

Here are my epiphanies:

  • Fear will always be there when you step outside your comfort zone. All learning and growth occurs outside of your comfort zone, so unless you want to stop growing, you will always have some fear.
  • The only way to get over being afraid of doing something is to do it.
  • The doing comes first, then the fear fades.
  • Everyone feels this way—I’m not an anomaly.
  • Fear is my friend. It shows me what matters to me.

My tendency has always been to think something was wrong with me when I felt fear, and to push it away instead of listening to it. Or I’d become paralyzed and overwhelmed—the antithesis of flow

After reading these two books, I’m changing my response to fear. Instead of trying to “overcome” fear, I want to learn how to be comfortable with it, and with being afraid. I’m no longer going to feel like I shouldn’t be afraid, or that I should just ignore fear and push ahead. I’ll be looking on fear as the friend who highlights the areas of my life that matter the most, the areas where I’m stretching outside my comfort zone. 2018 is already giving me opportunities to test this theory, with new writing projects on the horizon, the chance to help teach a yoga and journaling workshop this weekend, and, in October, a chance to travel to Paris with Laure Ferlita and The Blue Walk

Do you welcome fear into your life? What would you do if fear were your friend?


Not the Same Happiness

January 12, 2018

Introduction by Ted Kooser: This is the sixth poem we've published by Peter Everwine, which testifies to how much I admire his writing. How fine it is when a memory arrives from the past to surprise us into happiness. Everwine lives in California, and his most recent book is Listening Long and Late from the University of Pittsburgh Press.

The Day

We walked at the edge of the sea, the dog,
still young then, running ahead of us.

Few people. Gulls. A flock of pelicans
circled beyond the swells, then closed
their wings and dropped head-long
into the dazzle of light and sea. You clapped
your hands; the day grew brilliant.

Later we sat at a small table
with wine and food that tasted of the sea.

A perfect day, we said to one another,
so that even when the day ended
and the lights of houses among the hills
came on like a scattering of embers,
we watched it leave without regret.

That night, easing myself toward sleep,
I thought how blindly we stumble ahead
with such hope, a light flares briefly—Ah, Happiness!
then we turn and go on our way again.

But happiness, too, goes on its way,
and years from where we were, I lie awake
in the dark and suddenly it returns—
that day by the sea, that happiness,

though it is not the same happiness,
not the same darkness.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2016 by Peter Everwine, “The Day,” from New Letters, (Vol 83, no. 1, 2016-17). Poem reprinted by permission of Peter Everwine and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


One Word to Rule Them All—A Closer Look at Choosing a Word of the Year

January 08, 2018

One day in December I was cleaning out our pantry while listening to Marie Forleo interview Tim Ferriss. Something Tim said struck me as I stood in my kitchen, clutching cans of black beans and tuna: 

“What would it look like if it was easy?”

I realized I’m not used to expecting things to come easily. I’m used to expecting to work hard, to struggle, to sweat, to grind it out. What is this concept “easy” of which you speak?!

Because even when “it” is easy, I find a way to make it hard.

It’s my superpower.

I grasp, I cling, I obsess, I worry, I engage in procrastination and perfectionism and many other unhelpful habits.

And you know what, I’m tired. I’m tired of struggling, of swimming upstream, of overwhelming myself in “shoulds” and over-analyzing and over-researching and over- everything.

I’m “over” it.

I realized, standing in my kitchen, listening to Tim and Marie talk, that I want my life and work to flow. And just like that, my 2018 Word of the Year (WOTY) presented itself to me.

My words of the year have often appeared this way, without my having to dig around in my subconscious. A word pops into my head or keeps showing up in what I’m reading and seeing in a fashion impossible to ignore. I’ll roll it around in my brain, noticing how it makes me feel. Is it a word that can apply to multiple areas of my life? Is it a stretch, but not so far outside my comfort zone that I’ll feel constantly intimidated by it? Does it have layers of meaning? Do I get excited at the possibility of having it guide me during the upcoming year? Flow fit the bill for 2018.

It’s always fun seeing the ways my WOTY pops up throughout the year, whether it’s in art, music, or words. I’ve already stumbled on several passages that connect to the concept of flow in my mind. Here’s one paraphrased from the novel The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles:

“Life is like a dance partner, and if you relax and let yourself go, you’ll find yourself waltzing.”

Doesn’t that sound lovely?

So in 2018, I plan to focus on putting aside things that impede flow, such as fear and perfectionism. I’m going to take up habits and practices that lead to flow, such as Morning Pages, and remembering to take a few moments to plan out my day so that things will run more smoothly. I’m also going to focus on not over-scheduling, because that leads to rushing, and rushing is not flow.

Working with a Word of the Year is a gentle way to set a tone, intention, or expectation for the coming year. It can be as simple or as in depth as you like. In my experience, it can be a useful tool in advancing your goals and enriching your life. 

Have you ever tried choosing a Word of the Year? How did it work for you? 


A Place in the Pattern

January 05, 2018

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Every piece of the universe, even the tiniest snow crystal, matters somehow. I have a place in the pattern, and so do you.
—T.A. Barron


7 Alternatives to Making New Year’s Resolutions

January 01, 2018

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash
Does anyone make a New Year’s resolution anymore? There’s a lot of talk about how resolutions are rarely kept, and how most people give up on their goals just a few weeks or months into the year. For a person who wants to set and achieve goals, it can be a frustrating dilemma. If resolutions aren’t an effective way to a better and happier life, what is?

Here are seven alternatives to New Year’s resolutions that just might help you make 2018 your happiest year ever:

Choose a Word of the Year

I’ve done this for eight years, and written about it several times on Catching Happiness. I choose my word to focus on an overall theme or feeling I want to carry through the entire year. I choose it to offset tendencies I want to correct, or to remind myself to choose happiness (“delight”). My word for 2017 was “deeper,” and going deeper into life last year added brilliant new dimensions to my experience. My word for 2018? Flow. For a free Word of the Year tool, click here. To explore the concept further, visit

Adopt a “Do More ______, Do Less_____” philosophy

For example, “Read more, watch TV less” or “Walk more, eat less junk food.” Deceptively simple, but baby steps work.

Commit to a 30- or 90-day challenge

Choose a habit you want to adopt or a small goal you want to achieve, and work on it for 30 days straight. For larger goals, make a 90-day plan, treating each week as the equivalent of month (see The 12 Week Year for more inspiration and ideas about how to do that.) 

Make a list of simple pleasures and everyday adventures you want to experience

How often do we pack our goal lists with things we want to change or have to work for? This is simply a list of things you look forward to in 2018. Family vacations, books you want to read or movies you want to see in 2018, or a loved one’s wedding/baby/grandchild belong on this list. Try breaking it down like Laura Vanderkam does with her seasonal “fun lists”

Write a letter to your future self

Include such things as what you hope to accomplish, how you want to feel, what you’d like to leave behind in the coming year. Open it on Jan. 1, 2019 to see how you did.

Start a gratitude journal, jotting down at least one thing you’re grateful for every day

(Read The Gratitude Diaries for an inspiring look at how gratitude can make your life happier.) 

Join the 7 Things x 2018 Challenge

Fill in the following blanks, and you’ve got some goals for the year:
Learn how to ____________
Start ____________
Stop ____________
Take a vacation to ____________
Find ____________
Try ____________
Be more ____________

Growth contributes to happiness, so setting and reaching goals is one way to feel happier. I hope 2018 holds plenty of growth and happiness for you!

What do you have planned for 2018?

Note: Starting today, I’m changing the usual Catching Happiness posting schedule from Wednesdays and Fridays to Mondays and Fridays. Happy New Year!

Look for my travel writing here