Shift Your Focus from Fear to Freedom

Written by Cindy Leavitt

Outline of a person standing on a rock with arms outstretched.I recently visited my son and his wife, and each night we played a new board game. It was so much fun! One of the reasons that I was able to enjoy playing so much was that I didn’t expect to win (or fear losing) because I was focused on learning a new game each night. 

I was able to contrast that feeling of fun and freedom I experienced learning and playing board games with the feelings I experienced attending a couple of Ohio State basketball games recently. The team struggled in both games, losing one and winning the second in overtime.

I recall being extremely distressed during both games, which I attended with the intention of having fun. As I analyzed why I was distressed, it became clear that I wanted to be associated with a winning team and had tied the outcome of the game with my own self-worth. Any sports fanatic would be able to relate. 

So much of my sense of fun and enjoyment comes from learning new things, meeting new people and solving new problems. It’s easy to feel this way when I am new to a job or situation, but that fun can turn into distress when the things that are being criticized are things that I had a hand in creating because they are tied to my sense of self. 

This insight is helpful to me in two distinct ways. First, it gives me empathy for the people who created the things I am trying to change. Second, when I feel distressed, it becomes a cue for me to change my focus from myself to the impact I want to have on others. It is an opportunity for me to move from fear to freedom.  

What gives you a sense of fun and play? What causes you distress? How can you use your distress as a clue to change your mental habits?