Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Wanna live a fearless life?

So many people come to me wanting to know how to overcome their fear.

They have the mistaken idea that I'm somehow fearless. Of course I'm not, but I try to keep what fears I do experience to a minimum - to those that are absolutely necessary.

Here's how I suggest they flip their fears into either excitement or having the clarity to understand what part of their fear is not realistic or actually necessary:

First, write down what your life would be like if you were fearless.

As in, "If I were fearless, if I lived life fearlessly --" what?

"I'd walk into a room and look for people I want to meet." (This instead of, "When I walk into a room, I'm afraid that everyone is looking at me and judging me.")

"I would speak up for myself. If that upset someone, I'd automatically know how to deal with the situation confidently."

List literally everything you can possibly think of that you would do and meet head on, fearlessly, instead of timidly or being too frightened to address as you are now. Don't leave anything out!

Remember, this list is all about "what if?" What if you lived your life 100% of the time fearlessly? Be as imaginative as you wish.

The flip side must also be be admitted and worked through.

How has being fearful screwed up your life? Hurt your relationships, work situations? List them - again, as completely as possible. Write down every tiny little "ick" memory of lost opportunities, feeling like a coward, whatever.

Being aware not only that you'd prefer to live your life fearlessly, but how you'd like to act fearless from your first list, you can systematically replace each incident of fear if not being outright fearless, at least coming up with a plan to help you deal with your feelings and act more courageously.

Normally these fears emanate from having low self-esteem. Almost everyone has challenges with self-esteem and there are lots of hints and tips online as well as in books at the library to pump up our self-worth and self-esteem.

Meanwhile, you've already made a map of how you'd like to behave; how you prefer to behave and react to the emotional skirmishes life hands you! It's not that great a leap from declaring "what if" to doing what you claim you want to do in real life.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wanna be courageous?

Long ago I said "the way we deal with fear defines who we are. When abject fear strikes, the courageous or the coward immediately emerges."

As living people and as characters created by writers and actors.

When we find that nexus, where the fear hits the fan, we've defined the core of a person - created or real.

I love talking to my younger actors about this because I ask them, do you want to live in fear, or do you want to be courageous.

They *all* want to be courageous, of course!

So how do you do that?

Because we all hit the wall of fear, and often.

All we need to do is take action.

I don't mean to take a BIG action, because that it in itself will only generate more fear. I mean to take a little action. Tiny, even.

Asking a tiny question might be a good start. Like, "Why am I so afraid?" Just asking that question is taking a big, courageous step, because the answer is going to tell you exactly what action needs to be taken.

Say you're afraid to find out if the person you're dating really cares about you. You're afraid to outright ask because she or he might not care for you as much as you care for him or her. The thought of outright asking only generates more fear.

Honestly? If you have that fear? Um, you may be looking at your fear to look at the truth you know in your heart of hearts.

While you might be afraid of "losing" this person - trust me, living in the truth feels a heck of a lot better than being afraid of the (certain) future!

You have to trust your gut feeling. If something feels wrong, like something is missing or not being said, you need to find out why something feels wrong, what is missing, what is not being said.

You can take tiny actions that take you out of the fear, like ask a simple, single question that would give you an indication of what you are dealing with. Mind you, if your partner really cared about you or were genuinely functional, he or she would simply tell you instead of going into a turtle shell about .. whatever is actually going on.

Remember, when we are afraid to give someone bad news or tell the truth, it's never really about them, much as we want to believe it's about sparing their feelings. It's really about the fear of dealing with the perceived reaction of the other person to what we want to do or say.

The simple, single question to ask might be as short and clear and truthful as, "Something feels off with us. Are you afraid to tell me what's really going on?"

If it's "no," and they share, relieved that you've given the opening, you can prepare for the best - to learn what you need to help create a happy, functional relationship.

If it's "yes," they're afraid to tell you, you can prepare yourself for the worst, including how to communicate about the situation or problems, or make plans to move on, even if it hurts like hell. Who wants to be around someone who doesn't want to be with you? If you do, unfortunately, you appear desperate and massively self-esteem-less, even if you believe you are "meant for each other."

If you are facing a huge problem, how can you break it down into TINY particles to solve, rather than taking on the whole issue at once?

If you're facing a huge homework assignment, how can you break it down into TINY tasks you can complete, building up to the larger assignment completion.

If you're Captain Jack Sparrow, you can you protect yourself by taking on the weakest would-be assailant first (say, the wee monkey), before fighting the bigger guys. Or detect the weakness in an opponent before fighting his/her strengths (which, hopefully, you won't have to because you will have taken advantage of his weakness enough to outsmart, outwit and outfight him!).

Break it down.

And here's another secret: you can take a tiny action about something that has nothing to do with the problem to build your courage!

You can take an action you find simple or easy completely unrelated to what you find difficult, hurtful or challenging, and find that you feel more capable ... and courageous.

If it's a difficult thing you have to say to someone? Have the courage to tell the person honestly - without making honesty a weapon. What you may do is break down what you have to say in a way that makes you responsible for your own feelings and going for what you want without blaming anyone else; and prepare yourself for whatever response you receive.

Better to experience the pain of courage momentarily than live in the agony of fear and/or shame forever.

As our close literate buddy Will Shakespeare put it, "A coward dies a thousand deaths, the hero only one."

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Ooooooooooo.... *secrets!*

What is it with people who are so "secretive?"

Or at least try to be.

We somehow always find out what's going on, anyway.

Like the person in the office that everyone *knows* is gay but who pretends to be straight. How painful is that?

Or the couple having the affair who insist they are "just friends." Yeeeeeeeah, right.

Or the dog who swears he wasn't in the garbage while he sits with last night's dinner dangling from his mouth.

It's like lying by omission rather than commission - and the ramifications can be unnecessarily painful for themselves and the people around them.

For most, it's a way to maintain some sort of control of other people and to prevent them from getting close - profoundly close. These folks generally sabotage relationships that start to be too "real." Too intimate - not necessarily sexual, but genuinely positive and close.

I mean, these people claim to be "private" but it feels more to me like they are afraid of sharing who they are. Emotionally parsimonious.

Like a story I wrote long ago called The Feelings Miser. It was about a massively disfigured old woman who tried desperately to conceal her feelings, making her uglier with every feeling she concealed from others - and herself.

She also became more and more desperate to control all those feelings. She caught them before they escaped, shoved them in corners, compartmentalized them, categorized her emotions by color and then locked them away.

Until one day a little girl innocently discovered a feeling the gnarly-fingered woman tried to hide from her - but not soon enough!

The little girl told the old woman she must feel very bitter.

The old woman imploded!

Realizing that even though barely a dollop of her "secret" world of feelings had been exposed, she started to feel vulnerable, scared, fearful, and was suddenly incapable of withholding any of them back! All the colors she had hidden away for all that time escaped from underneath her large black dress - from the area of her heart.

A massive streak of every color with every hue imaginable flew around the room, filling it with ribbons of emotions she had been holding so closely, terrified of showing her real self to anyone.

Interestingly, as her tears fell, as she laughed and cursed and loved and showed every emotion she had attempted to conceal - the gnarled old woman grew younger ... and beautiful! More, she was so excited and happy to not just own and experience her feelings but to share them!

She was amazed at the sheer beauty of every shade she experienced that permeated every inch of the chamber.

The little girl squealed with delight, clapping her hands gleefully.

From that day on, the little girl and woman shared their feelings and secrets, filling their lives with meaning and significance, after which they blew emotion bubbles, which always made them smile, no matter how serious, sad or bleak the feelings they shared that day.

I know people who clutch their emotions and stories so tightly even standing next to them they feel as if they are a tick away from bursting.

But they are too afraid to talk about the feelings that ensnare their minds and lives, preventing them from connecting with others in a healthy, fulfilling way.

I hope one day they appreciate how enjoyable life can be when they release all that pent up emotion, letting everyone around them know who they are - and just what fantastic people they can be - or already are.

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Friday, April 27, 2007


One of the first thing my actors learn from me is that anger is a secondary emotion.

Underlying all anger is either hurt, fear or a combination of both primary emotions.

Unless the actor shows the impetus - thus the layers - of his or her character's anger (hurt, fear or both) the performance is pretty one-dimensional, unconvincing and forgettable.

Showing all the complexities of the character's emotions makes the performance "unexplainably" memorable!

So, next time you get pissed off?

As yourself what hurts ... what you're afraid of ... or what hurts and scares you.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

The only thing we have to fear ...

... is fear itself.

So said US President Franklin D. Roosevelt all those years ago .. but it remains more true than ever today.

It seems to me that I know a lot of people who are afraid of themselves.

Afraid they can't do something that is their passion so they quit instead of facing their fears and doing their best - persevering at any and all odds to experience living a full life because they are afraid of the unknown - they don't know exactly how things will happen, how their efforts will turn out.

Others are afraid of being alone so they get - and stay - in unhealthy relationships believing it's better than not being with *someone.* Again, fear of not being able to find someone to treat them well, afraid of the unknown.

Others are afraid they'll lose their security if they don't do everything in their power to stay in an unhealthy job or an unhealthy relationship from which they believe they derive security. Yep, afraid of getting out there because they are afraid of the unknown, not giving their lives the opportunity to explore other avenues and find true happiness.

Others are afraid that the success they enjoy is undeserved, and they are afraid of facing their fears about that so they run ram shod over others - keeping them at a distance so they won't discover this sad "secret."

More, others start to face themselves, but draw the line at a certain point early on. I know actors who get so involved in activities that are nothing more than diversions from what they really want to do - where they really want to go - or at least say they really want to become professional actors.

As a coach, all I can do is point this out and let people make their own decisions. The toughest part of being a coach is to watch as people wade through the outcome of their less than healthy decisions.

But I see the fear in their eyes - they have to distract themselves because they're too afraid to stay on track. I know each person has a different reason for doing this, and when people don't face themselves early on in their careers - to really know who they are before they start messing with their futures and their characters' lives? It can be scary.

Still others are so afraid of doing anything to change themselves, believing that facing the unknown in anything is just to scary so they literally kill themselves staying with what they know -- whether it's unhealthy, destructive to themselves and others, or simply a means to survive since they're terrified of seeking other ways - or other people with whom to survive.

Many women - and men - in abusive relationships refuse to get the help they need to find healthy ways to relate for fear that they will somehow lose one another. Tragically, they can go on for *years* and *years* playing their miserable cat and mouse games because they are too frightened to face the truth, face the music, and honestly determine who they are, what will make them genuinely happy and how to enjoy truly happy, fulfilling relationships.

A partner who refuses to grow, as we have seen far too many times in our culture, can become homicidal - kill his partner and/or himself rather than allow anything to change - even when children are involved.

In part because healthy intimate relationships are not something they have witnessed personally; in part because each individual in this sort of cat and mouse relationship frequently is in it for himself or herself so they continue to live in their paranoid fear - not in it for each other and the partnership.

As we reach young adulthood, these things are always based on choice. Deciding whether we want to have a healthy relationship and then to learn about them; how to achieve them as well as seek counseling or help from friends who are in healthy relationships.

Great fodder for drama and comedy.

Tragedy, however, and many, many wasted years in real life because it's as if people who live in such stark fear spend their lives in those little gerbil cage wheels. The cute little furry guy looks so adorable as he believes he's going somewhere because he's making the wheel turn.

The faster he makes it go? The farther he believes he is moving.

But we, looking from the outside, know what's really going on.

And those of us who see the truth in the people around us whose motivation is ultimately and almost always based on fear have the obligation to live courageously. To constantly work to face the truth in our own lives so we can live with personal integrity and avoid the misery caused by being afraid to face who we really are - and what isn't working in our lives.

As difficult and frightening as it is to begin the path of exploring the unknown and facing our fears? It becomes more simple and fulfilling as we continue to live that way.

Once you start living this way, however, you really can't go back to unnecessarily cowering again, because you not only know what fear is, intimately, but understand how to react to it when it surges through us.

"Good" fear arises when we must protect ourselves; "other" fear is unnecessary and only paralyzes us from living as fully, capably and enjoyably as we can.

It's important that we learn how to make ourselves feel safe enough to make it through every subsequent step we must take to get where we want to go.

Those who are deeply spiritual - as am I - believe that we are intended to live courageously. I guess it's because I basically feel safe; I don't feel alone and have a deep, abiding belief that I can handle anything thrown at me by life because I don't feel alone.

But like everyone, I have fears; I just choose to move through them to see what's on the other side. My greatest fear is that I will one day fail to live courageously by not recognizing a fear within me.

When it comes to fear, what do you believe?

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