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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Fear-setting vs goal setting: getting past "I don't know what I want" stuckness

Have you ever been asked about your five year vision and thought: “I have no idea”? Do you find yourself gazing at others and thinking: “I wish I knew what I wanted, then I would have their drive, clarity and confidence”? If you work with me you’ll know that saying “I don’t know what I want” is not an answer you can use for very long (read on or see the video for a bit more on what's behind "I don't know what I want").

You see, it’s impossible not to know what you want. At the very basic level, bringing it back to the present moment, you at the very least know that you want to take your next breath. The cells in your body want to use energy to function, repair themselves and do their job. Your conscious mind isn't thinking about it, the life impulse is just there wanting to live. At any given moment, you could be of some use to your ecosystem. Heck, you could just pick up the phone to tell someone how much you appreciate them and make their day. “Yes, but that’s not the same”, I hear you say. ENTER THE STOICS. if you’re experiencing “I don’t know what I want”, the chances are that what you want is perceived as risky and your mind is short-circuiting your desires out of consciousness… As a Western philosophy, Stoicism (forming the basis of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)) is the closest counterpart to Eastern philosophy in the sense that it encourages us to accept things as they are, master our emotions AND develop exquisite self-awareness of how the mind can trick us in to living a contracted (rather than expansive) life. Both use self-reflexivity as a tool to articulate our fears, evaluate their validity and ultimately see their emptiness. Both provide a system to get out of limbic hijack – the mechanism by which the primitive emotional brain takes over your thinking and reduces your capacity for wise, creative thought. For better or worse, within our dominant human culture, the mind still primarily functions as a loss-aversion, survival mechanism (avoiding loss or pain is more important than gaining something or pleasure). Therefore… You know what you want at a deep level but your chattering, fear-mongering mind is getting in the way. What you want is going against the grain of your societal and early life conditioning so your mind is making up all sorts of excuses for not taking action including “I don’t know what I want”. FEAR-SETTING TO UNCOVER YOUR GOALS Most coaching approaches would get you to identify a goal first, but that clearly won’t work if you’re in the “I don’t know what I want” mindset. Some coaches won’t even work with you if you can’t articulate a goal. Tim Ferriss – of The Four Hour Work Week fame – says fear-setting is the most powerful exercise he uses to move forward in life and he does it up to once a month. He attributes his biggest career and personal success (as well as avoiding catastrophic mistakes) to naming all his fears one by one and having a dialogue with himself to put them in perspective. DIY CBT. Behaviour change psychology supports this approach, in that your mind needs to see that the benefits of an action outweigh its costs. The more advanced approach exposes the emptiness of all thoughts and taps into your natural motivation. But let’s stick to basics for now. Instead of trying to invent a goal and motivating yourself to do it, how about naming your fears – the chronic fears - and working through them until you reach clarity? How about getting to know fear – its smell, shape, colour and most delicate contours and intricacies – as intimately as possible?...Invite it for a cup of tea and ask it what an extraordinary life might look like. NAMING IS LIBERATING: As one of my coach mentors teaches: your secret dream, lives with your secret fear. Uncover your biggest fear and you will find your biggest dream. If you’re in the “I don’t know what I want” mindset, you’re probably closer to your dream than you think. Last week we talked about the emotional cycle of change and how your fears will kick in as you approach the point of transformation.

So, if you’re in the “I don’t know what I want” mindset, try sitting down and naming what fears reside in your mind and body right now. Is it fear of wasting time/making the wrong decision/being overwhelmed? For most in Western influenced societies, there’s a deep fear of relaxing completely and trusting yourself. It’s the chronic stress of inadequacy driving the economic system we live in, and threatening us with visions of poverty and a lonely, painful death should we stop being productive or step outside the system…So we live as though a sabre-toothed tiger is about to pounce at any moment. A simple exercise in naming your fears is the “worst case scenario”: what’s the worst thing that could happen to you, not in relation to a specific goal but in general? Losing your job? Losing a relationship? Losing everything?

  • How likely is it to happen?

  • Can you mitigate the effects? What information do you need?

  • If it does come to pass, how long will it take to recover?

  • If it does come to pass, will you gain something else or learn something?

  • When was the last time the worst case scenario happened? What happened afterwards?

Take a deep breath and feel tension lift. These questions should help you put any underlying fears into perspective. The fear may not go away completely and the thing you fear may still come to pass, but you’ll end up with a clearer and more balanced view; and I guarantee you’ll start to take action and move forward. As a side benefit, “I-don’t-know-what-I-want” will no longer be part of your lexicon. Don't let your fears blind you. You can do it. Amina Reinventing careers, transforming lives. Liked it? Share it! TAKE ACTION:

Interested in my six month Career and Life Transformation process. Read on for more information. I work with a limited number of people; and blend deep coaching with strategic planning. Results from past clients include:

· their dream job in medicine

· better relationships and team dynamics

· consulting contracts with intergovernmental organisations

· making a higher income than ever before through promotions or consulting

· long term funding for passion projects

· being more at ease and relaxed with their path. See here for a range of testimonials. The process may be suitable if: · you’re passionate and hard working but not sure how to move forward; · you’re going around in circles and your confidence is dropping; · you want to feel inspired and clear again, sharpening your strategy and strengthening your intuitive wisdom; · you want to use your talent to have a positive impact in world and use your medical or professional skills differently; · you have a niggling voice/inner-critic that holds you back and you’re fed up with it. If you think that’s you, let’s find out! Email or book a free initial consultation here: The full process for starting coaching with me: 1) Email with “I’m interested!” in the subject line 2) I’ll send you a questionnaire to fill in (this will be a useful exercise for you to get more clarity on your career and life) 3) If I think I can help you, I’ll invite you to a Career Turnaround Session (here we’ll go deeper into your career aspirations, what’s in the way and leave you with a plan and feeling inspired again!) 4) At the end, I’ll share my reflections and we’ll talk about whether there is scope to work together further.

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