The Power of “I Can” Memories When I’m Afraid

Katherine Cross

Katherine Cross

As I’ve worked with Barbara Bernard and the Live in       Discovery material, I’ve been using a powerful strategy for addressing some fears that have limited my life for too long. By intentionally choosing to draw on memories of my significant successes, I’m better able to meet new challenges. It is always my choice to approach an unfamiliar situation with the fear of “I can’t” or with the confidence of “I can.” I’ve learned that I’m able to keep current challenges in perspective and proceed with greater confidence when I remember the times I’ve taken risks and not only survived but thrived.

Typically, in situations that I see as risky, my thoughts tend to turn to potential mistakes, harm, failure, or embarrassment. Negative experiences have more sticking power than the positive ones. Memories of things I’ve labeled as failures can lead me to think “I can’t.”  But when I draw on my I Can file, I’m reminded of my capacity to face challenges. Every time I do this, I strengthen my belief in myself.

I Can Memory #1:       When I overcame my fear of heights

After a very scary fall from a high perch as a young child, I developed a fear of heights. Then, on a hike some years later in my teens, I found myself approaching a steep and narrow path into a mountainous canyon. I was terrified. But, fearing embarrassment in front of my friends more than the steepness of the trail, I reluctantly started on the path. When we finished the hike, I felt the power of conquering the fear that had held me back. This memory encourages me whenever I’m facing potential risks or possible danger.

IMG_5250I Can Memory #2:     When I overcame my fear of speaking in public

For years I held a fear of humiliation, dating back to a time in college when I faltered and froze in the middle of a speech before a sizable audience. Thereafter, that memory came to mind any time I was called upon to speak in a formal setting where I perceived potential failure or embarrassment. I would look for ways to have someone else take the lead in presentations.

Then came the evening when my colleague was out of town and I had to address a large, emotionally charged gathering. Nervous to my toes, I listened to the group’s concerns and was able to respond honestly. When I sensed the energy in the room gradually shifting from frustration and anger toward trust and willingness, I began to relax. Now, when I explicitly call upon that memory, I summon the confidence to face new challenges both in public speaking and in writing for publication.

I Can Memory #3:      When I overcame my fear of dealing with conflict (even when I imagined it)

Raised largely by women who avoided conflict, I learned early to seek compromise, make concessions, or escape uncomfortable situations altogether whenever possible. Then, not long ago, I found I needed to advocate for an elder who felt powerless. In order to help him have his wishes heard and acted upon, I would have to confront people who were in positions of authority. What I discovered was that the inevitable conflict I’d expected did not materialize. My worst imaginings were unfounded, and the issue was resolved.

Throughout my life I’ve allowed my fear of conflict to anticipate potential disagreements or consequences that were only imaginary. As I’ve become more comfortable facing and resolving conflict, I’m broadening from advocacy for others to advocacy for myself, voicing my own views and wants and needs. Where differing perspectives actually exist, I speak my truth. And guess what? The sky hasn’t fallen.

I know now that I need to remember to:

  • Identify my I Can memories.
  • Practice visiting that memory file frequently to remind me what I’m capable of.
  • Refer to it every time I meet a challenge and allow it to help me embrace healthy risks.

I’ve come to see that the limits I create are largely in my own mind. As I build my personal I Can catalog and consciously refer to it when I’m unsure of myself, I set the stage for living fully in discovery. This has become one of the strategies that I consistently use to expand and grow. Now, when I face challenging situations, I’m more often able to say to myself, “Yes, I can.”