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Doubt is Your Ally

What happens when we have a preference to experience doubt as the obstacle to what we most want?

“Doubt is too lonely a feeling to remember that faith is her twin sister.” - Kahlil Gibran

Certainty is overrated and may ultimately prove dangerous. As if life offers only binary choices, “yes” or “no,” right and wrong, black and white. Life is always filled with grey. Perceiving the variability, the diversity that is included in each color extreme, black and white, demands that I expand my capacity to see the full spectrum in between the extremes. Photographer Ansel Adams inspired us to see the physical world as a dynamic, ever-changing source of powerful beauty. His images expressed the light and the shadow, peaceful and raging at the same time. As I soften my gaze looking into the photographs I feel the metaphor that the image represents in my own being, in my way of life, and choices I do and don’t pursue.

Fear never disappears from my body. I am wired through my limbic brain to perceive anything that threatens my existence. That’s a good thing for sure. Always believing the signals that the body sends me that a perceived threat is real, stops me from enjoying all that I imagine and want and has consequences with others that are not justified. Why? Our neurochemistry. Our brain evolved to make sense to others of the way we make sense of ourselves. We express our point of view passionately to connect and influence others to engage and believe in our perspective. When doubt arises, our intensity arises too. We either flee, freeze or fight, reacting from our genetic predisposition to stay alive.

These moments present the opportunity, to remember faith is the partner to doubt as we experience the impulse to flee, freeze or fight. I am grateful for doubt and fear. When I allow the full experience of doubt, my emotions, and physical sensations, I am alert, awakened beyond my habit. When I feel the adrenaline, without reacting, I am catalyzed to pay closer attention and channel energy to act, or not. Our brain loves habits and that’s the catch, the barrier to change. We want to perceive and pursue what we want on purpose yet our brain prefers the certainty of habits built from our life experience. As a result, we filter out – based upon our historical experiences – exactly what we must pay attention to in order to see new choices and move toward those. Habits and unconscious bias toward what is familiar and comfortable hold a tight grip on our awareness and presence for a conscious response to learn, grow and change.

What happens when we have a preference to experience doubt as the obstacle to what we most want? Thousands of messages in books, blogs, videos, and friendly conversation invite us to be confident, push past the doubt and just “do it,” whatever it is that we yearn to experience and achieve. Yet, we hold stubbornly onto safety, without questioning whether the stimulus for our doubt is threatening. We also overlook whether not moving out of our familiar and comfortable patterns may be as equally threatening. We stand on a plateau, stuck and left behind as the world continues to spin toward a new moment.

My body feels a tension just before I choose to act. What I now know is that staying attentive to that tension with a curious mindset opens up my thinking, beyond habit, to be more aware of what is actually happening. Seeing beyond my assumptions and historical view, I allow a space of time to continue perceiving, listening within, reflecting on what is new in this experience and holds a promise of something useful and desirable. Moments of doubt, and sustained doubt that I notice and name as fear are not only biologically healthy, the experience, if allowed and listened to carefully, is a fantastic source of motivation and creativity.

Since Valentine’s Day was this past Monday, let’s focus on love for a minute. When the time came to think about a life partner, my imagination created a visual image of the person I wanted. I shared that description with my circle of friends who of course challenged those thoughts and added their own and together the picture of the perfect partner came into focus. Several years went by and needless to say, that perfect partner never showed up in my life. Once I let go of other people’s opinions and relaxed into who I am, allowing that to be and living from the inside out, change happened. Yep, a blind date, created by mutual friends from two sides of the country was how we met. Twenty-one joy-filled years later we both realize that without listening to the voice of doubt, our comfortable life, happy alone, would not have been replaced with the co-creative partnership that is our life together.

Our bodies feel challenged to experience a grounded center in the midst of doubt and fear induced by external circumstances. Release any shame you feel to pause, be still, breathe into and remember your innate capability to create the experience that most respects and honors each person. There are many signs that now is the time to invite change, proactively. Notice that mental health in the workplace is being talked about openly, and normalized as part of our human experience worthy of our attention and care. Create and allow the safety to have a conversation, to speak about racial injustice, mask or no mask, different points of view about leadership or politics. Without a little bit of fear, we could not have these important conversations. In the words of john a. powell, focus on bridging between us not breaking our relationships. Be part of creating faith in our belonging, together.

If you yearn to lead and live with authenticity and sovereignty, if you’re looking to get unstuck from the ‘same old’ while pushing past fear and the tight grip of certainty, then pick up a copy of my book, Invite Change… today, and let your faith in you inspire more than you can imagine!

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Janet M. Harvey, MCC

Experienced with individuals at the Board of Directors, “C” Chair, Executive and Senior Management levels, Janet assists executives in adopting effective habits of perception and behavior to lead and accelerate corporate strategies. Typical engagements address executive development in the following areas: articulate and inspire through clarity of vision, enable respectful challenge, debate and catalyze synergy for strategic business choices, risk/reward critical thinking about investments and shareholder value, plan leader succession and architect sustainable cultural/strategic change.
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