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Don’t ‘but’ your nut

By Sue Ellen Haning
Columnist

Welcome back successful nuts. This week in our quest to becoming graduates, we’ll tackle the “buts” that can halt progress.

But first, a profile of me before getting outside my comfort zone and a story you won’t believe.

A teacher, organizer, left-brained logical thinker wrapped in a dark blanket of fear was Sue Ellen for 56 years. My comfort zone before the Italian experience, about which you can read in “Two Nuts in Italy,” was miniscule, and a few well-meaning friends tried to “help” me venture outside my comfort zone. This resulted in my being pushed over the cliff more than once, causing me to retreat and pull in my CZ’s boundaries — the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

Fear and distrust began early in life for me then, at age 12, I was talked into (against all the warning signals blasting in my head) boarding a huge roller coaster with a friend’s mother who promised me, “You will love it once you try it.” In case you’ve ever questioned it, there is a God. I lived through this experience in spite of the fact that I held my breath for the duration of the ride, had a knot in my neck, crossed eyes, hands that were molded to the bar, and I had to be helped off as I was gasping for air. I was mad at myself for being talked into it, and I learned a lesson about control. From that moment on, control became my middle name. If someone asked me to try something new, I analyzed it, pondered the possibilities and, if I couldn’t see the end or how I could control it, I didn’t embark on the adventure or even attempt to do the new thing. I just knew I was uncomfortable and I didn’t like being uncomfortable. Nor do you.

Oh, yes, the unbelievable story.

Back in the ’80s, a close friend called and asked me to sit with her while her husband had emergency surgery. This is not a request one can refuse. The problem: surgery was to take place 45 miles out of town. At this point in my life, I had never driven outside the city alone.

Instantly, fear gripped me like an industrial strength vise. Muscles tense, I became short-winded, but my friend needed me. Surely someone would accompany me to the next town. I instantly called all my friends. No one could go with me. My guts knotted. A hollow feeling took up residence in my chest, but the sense of loyalty to a friend trumped all and I drove alone, knuckles white with fear, to the hospital 45 miles away. Surgery went well and soon a family member arrived. What faced me next stripped me of my composure. I had to drive home alone in the dark. My two greatest fears had joined forces. I wanted to crawl in the hospital bed and hide under the covers. Not only was I afraid to go anywhere alone, but the dark terrified me. My imagination went into overdrive. In my mind, in the span of 45 miles, all sorts of dangers could materialize on I-27.

Is my story too bizarre to believe? I have more stories just like this in all areas of my life. It is a typical example of the slave I was to fear before befriending the space outside my comfort zone.

You might think this huge step would have helped broaden my boundaries, but it did the opposite. Had I approached this extreme fear by driving a little way outside the city limits, turning around and coming back, that would be enough stretch for one day. The key is to approach and then retreat the scary experience, thought, emotion, or action. Go just far enough to sense discomfort, stay a moment to feel the change, then step back to comfort. Next time, stretch a little farther. This cannot be stressed enough. I have been asking you to extend yourself a little more each week.

“Little is the important word. If you “fake it till you make it,” or force yourself to do something, your efforts up to now will likely be gobbled up.

So what is “but-ing” your nut?

How do we stop doing this?

I mean, really, why would you want to “but” a perfectly great nut?

Some examples of nut “but-ing” might be: “‘But’ I can’t,” or “‘But’ what will happen?” or “‘But’ I don’t have the money,” etc.

People who really want to do something find a way. All the others find an excuse.

This is where we separate the cream from the crop. What is the difference in a reason and an excuse? In giving an excuse you are not taking responsibility for your actions. When you give a reason, you take responsibility. We are pros at rationalizing and justifying what we do. I was substitute teaching at the elementary school not long ago where I witnessed young children already masters at justifying their actions. How do those so young understand and readily practice rationalizing? Could it be the adults around them set the example?

Another way to look at “but-ing” your nut is to see the “but” as resistance. I quote Steven Pressfield from his book, “The War of Art.” “Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, harder to kick than crack cocaine.”

But, I venture to say if you have tasted even one of the gifts outside your comfort zone, like the spice of spontaneity, the courage, confidence, fun, you have all the ammunition you need to kick those “buts” down the street. The taste of success, no matter how small the step you’ve taken, will always trump defeat.

This week, make a mental note each time you think about taking action outside your comfort zone and catch yourself saying “but _____” (you fill in the blank). “But-ing” is often automatic, so you will have to pay attention to your thoughts.

Billy Sunday, famed National League baseball player turned evangelist, said of excuses, “An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.”

Join me next time as we delve into Stinkin’ Thinkin’.

This story was posted on March 7, 2013.