The Challenge: Many of us want to live sheltered lives, but by avoiding risks, we miss out on the greatest joys.
The Science: Taking risks, even if they involve failure, can help us reap greater rewards and live life more fully.
The Solution: Embrace life 100%, messy, risky and and all.
My friend and I have this shoe-fork theory of modern life…
Says Martin, a surf instructor who hasn’t worn shoes in months.
“Go on,” I invite, strolling alongside him on the beach in Costa Rica.
Martin explains. “We wear shoes rather than walking barefoot on the earth. We use forks rather than eating with our hands. Basically, we’re always putting a layer between ourselves and the world. Not that those things don’t have a purpose…”
My husband Kiran comments, “Yeah, in India, you eat with your hands. It’s more intimate.”
As we stroll, we come up with numerous other examples of ways in which people put up barricades between themselves and life:
When we travel, many of us check into resorts where we hole up in an air-conditioned room, stroll around a protected, manicured campus, swim in a temperature-controlled pool, and eat the food we’re accustomed to having at home. We say we’ve been to Mexico… but have you?
When we go to the grocery store, we often pick up neatly plastic-wrapped packages of prime rib or fish filets without connecting them to the whole animal. I suspect it’s because we don’t want to think about where our meat comes from.
Why this Shoe-Fork mentality is so prevalent in today’s world?
“It’s like people don’t want to get too close or too involved with the messiness of life,” Martin speculates.
I nod. “I think it gives us the illusion of control.”
“We’re afraid of interacting directly with the world. We need that bubble around us to feel safe and secure.” Kiran says.
So, what can we do to avoid falling into this trap of modern life?
Being fearless means getting in there and getting dirty. By taking off our shoes and tickling our toes with the grass. By exercising in the great outdoors instead of in a gym. (Recent studies show that this is better for us, too: more mood-boosting, motivating, and stress-reducing). By forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones while on vacation—into the city, interacting with locals.
But it’s just as important to avoid the Shoe-Fork mentality from a metaphorical perspective.
Jump in and give things a try. Take a risk.
Whether that be a new business or romance or just an unfamiliar food, give it a shot.
If you fail, so be it. Feel humiliated when your start-up doesn’t get enough funding to survive the first year. Sink into despair when your relationship falls apart, and you find yourself single again. Research shows that feeling positive emotions all the time isn’t necessarily a good thing, anyway. Anger, for example, can help motivate us.
As Woody Allen once said, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”
All these experiences will, if you allow them, help you become less fearful of life because you will realize, time and again, that getting dirty (literally or metaphorically) doesn’t usually cause that much damage in the end. Your ego may be bruised. Or your elbow. But with self-forgiveness, you often emerge on the other side of the failure process, an even stronger, wiser, more compassionate person who is more determined than ever before to try new things.
You’re alive. You’re aware of every moment and how precious it is. And sooner or later, you’ll get into the flow. Not by controlling everything, but rather by allowing yourself to be naturally with things as they are.