So often, when my clients are struggling or stuck, they look at their situation and see no solutions. All they can come up with are bad options, pressure from deadlines, dwindling resources and evidence of their own shortcomings and failures.

This, of course, makes them feel worse. It sends them deeper into fear, and makes their predicament seem increasingly dire.

The worst part is that they believe their eyes. And their eyes are telling them everything’s bad and there’s no way out.

Chances are, that isn’t true.

You know how, when you’re in “the zone,” everything just keeps on working? Great ideas keep coming, problems fix themselves, and obstacles turn into opportunities.

So, what I’m talking about is the opposite of that…

What I mean is, when things start to go bad and you feel threatened and fearful, you go into survival mode.

When you’re in “the zone,” you are expansive, receptive, connected.

In survival mode you contract.

You detach from all nonessential connections — exercise, spiritual practice, rest, relaxation and recreation — things that keep you grounded, positive and give you perspective. You focus on whatever is or could go wrong.

Your thinking process becomes more reactive (meaning, you act reflexively, out of habit). Your mind prioritizes scanning for danger.

This approach makes some sense … if you think you’re being stalked by a bear.

It’s totally counterproductive if you’re trying to balance taking care of your kids while trying to find enough hours in the day to overhaul your floundering one-person business while watching your revenues shrivel as your current contract with your best customer comes to a conclusion.

Everyone thinks they’re seeing reality as it is: 

“I’m just looking at the cold hard facts of my life and being honest.”

What this doesn’t acknowledge is that what you are seeing is being shown to you through the lens of fear.

It’s not designed to connect to you to inventiveness and inspiration. It’s not designed to fill you with hope and possibility. It’s designed to give you a minute amount of advanced warning that you are about to be attacked by a bear.

When I’m working with a client who is facing these circumstances, I ask them first to trust that they are not seeing clearly.

From a contracted and fearful place, you don’t have access to your best self, your best ideas and your best energy.

Second, allow for the possibility that everything might not be as bad as you think.

The mindset of fear will tell you that you cannot afford to consider this, so it usually requires at least a minor leap of faith.

But once you’re able to do it, then you can begin to restore some balance. It sounds easier said than done, but what it really boils down to is the willingness to relinquish the mental position that you are on the brink of disaster and it’s all you can do to fend off a state of constant panic.

I’ve seen it many times, and it can happen in the space of an hour-long session: When people are able to make the choice I’m suggesting — to recognize that they have contracted into survival mode, and detach from their fear — they are then able to shift their energy and focus and connect to their passion and purpose.

They start to focus on what they do want instead of what they are afraid is happening.

By the end of the call they are selling me on the new perspective they have. On the energizing idea that just occurred to them. The sense of possibility they are feeling.

I invite you to consider where you might be stuck in survival mode, unable to see away out, and share your observations in a comment below.

Photo via Flickr by maarjaara

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