Fear, Courage, and Getting Unstuck

My pets never cease to amaze me with their ability to deliver human-applicable lessons.

Most recently, Elbee, my cat, and Jasper, my dog, taught a master class on fear triggers.

Elbee and Jasper are great buddies. They can usually be found wrestling, snuggling, or just happily hanging out.

But a few months ago, Elbee shook things up with a new game: stalk and chase, which he thinks is the best thing ever. Jasper, who’s normally enthusiastic about everything, loathes the game.


The routine of stalk and chase goes like this:

Elbee (the cat) lurks behind a corner.
Jasper (the dog) walks by.
Elbee leaps out.
Jasper freaks and flees to safety, which means finding a human.
Elbee chases after.
Jasper leaps into the nearest lap and buries his head.

After a few minutes, Jasper lifts his head, glances at Elbee sideways, then quickly looks away.
He buries his head a little deeper.
He starts to move, as if to get up, but thinks better of it and re-buries his head.

No matter that he’s packing 4.5 times as much weight or that Elbee adores him. I remind him that nothing bad is going to happen. Of course, he has no clue what I’m talking about. But even if he did, it wouldn’t matter.

Logic isn’t the issue. Fear is. And Jasper’s fear response is firmly entrenched.

Enter the human parallel.

We too get triggered by fear and stuck in a cycle of indecision and inaction.

Any time you start to push out of your comfort zone, fear flares up. We all run into walls of what if, who am I to, or I can’t take the risk.

We flee to, or hunker down in, what feels safe and comfortable, the equivalent of Jasper seeking the safety of a human. We bounce between I wish I could, I can’t, I should, I will, I won’t, and I’ll try, adding indecision and judgment to the emotional stew.

And with one final ingredient to the stew, we convince ourselves that the only way to move forward is to vanquish fear.

All of which is a perfect recipe for staying stuck.


Because none of us can banish fear from our lives, nor is fearlessness the goal. Rarely can we talk our way out of feeling scared, freaked out, or uncomfortable. Just like in Jasper’s case, logic isn’t the issue.

So if becoming fearless isn’t the goal, what is?

To make space for your fear and to expand your capacity for discomfort and courage.

The next time (or right now!) you’re stuck in fear and indecision, work through these six steps:

  1. Calm your nervous system. 

    Five minutes of focused steady breathing works wonders. Ten minutes will do even more. 🙂

    Sit and breathe. Or do a yoga practice, take a hot bath, or go for a walk. As long as you focus on your breath, your nervous system will start to calm down.

  2. Name your fear.

    Whatever comes up, don’t judge.

  3. Make a decision.

    One of the worst parts of being stuck is indecision. You’re neither moving forward nor letting go of what you want. 

  4. Identify ONE small step to move forward. Not a leap, but a baby step.

    What’s the tiniest action you can take? And know that with each tiny step, you’re expanding your capacity for courage.

  5. Sit with the discomfort that comes up before, during, and after you take that first baby step.

    If you’re anything like me and most of the people I know, the urge is to get away from discomfort as quickly as possible! Don’t give in to it.

    There’s no better way to get comfortable with discomfort than to practice.

  6. Rinse and Repeat. Take a second baby step, then a third, and keep on stepping.

    Take enough baby steps, and you’ll travel the distance between being stuck and creating what you want.

“Fear is the raw material from which courage is manufactured. Without it, we wouldn’t even know what it means to be brave.” ~ Martha Beck