Amber Rae is is an author, artist, and speaker who has been described by mindbodygreen as "The Brené Brown of wonder." Her new book is Choose Wonder Over Worry: Move Beyond Fear and Doubt to Unlock Your Full Potential, and I personally think it would look beautiful on your coffee table after you've absorbed its life-changing insights.
What I discuss with Amber in this episode:
How we can use wonder rather than fear as a guide to extract what worry is trying to tell us.
The three steps for pushing past fear.
Amber's method for conversing with the many faces of worry.
Why Amber's process for writing a book may widely differ from that of most other authors.
How we can change our own narratives to overwrite the negative conditioning of external forces—like the advertising industry that preys on our sense of "not enough."
And much more!
As human beings, we second guess ourselves constantly. Whether we're creators exposing our chosen form of expression to criticism from the world at large or accountants quadruple-checking receipts for missed deductions at tax time, self-doubt just seems to be part of our DNA. Unexamined, this self-doubt amounts to worrying that stifles us from doing our best work and living our best lives.
But what if worry exists for a reason? What might we learn from it if we dig deeper and let wonder, rather than fear, be our guide? Choose Wonder Over Worry: Move Beyond Fear and Doubt to Unlock Your Full Potential author Amber Ray introduces us to the many faces this worry wears and helps us understand how to confront them constructively and make use of what they're trying to tell us—without being dissuaded from what we really want to accomplish in life.
Worry vs. Wonder
It's no secret that growth to any degree comes from stepping outside whatever we perceive as the comfort zone, and the biggest obstacle to taking this step usually comes from within—in the form of worrying. Everybody knows what it's like to ponder getting better acquainted with the unfamiliar only to hear the nagging voice in the back of our head warning us of what awaits if we fail.
The initial voice of curiosity urging us to ponder the possible is what Amber calls wonder. The inner-ruminating, anxious, and fearful voice begging us to reconsider is worry.
"I remember I walked into an art gallery in lower Manhattan," says Amber. "And when I looked at the mixed media art lining the walls, there was this voice inside of me that said, "It's time to make some art." That was wonder. And then very quickly, another voice said, "Art? Who the hell are you to make art? You didn't go to art school! Like, are you kidding yourself? Come on. Art doesn't make money.
"And you know it took me a while to realize that because often we think, okay, worry is bad, fear's bad, let's make it go away. But that's actually not the aim. It's how do we have a relationship with it? And so what I realized later was that worry, even in that art gallery, was trying to protect me and keep me safe. That seemed unknown, scary, dangerous, unlikely to lead to me being a thriving human, and so worry was chiming in to say, 'Hey! Alert! Danger! I don't know how I feel about this!' But the invitation is that we get to know the two voices and we learn how to work with them and have a relationship with these various internal emotions."
Three Steps for Initiating a Relationship with Worry
"[Worry and fear] are here to keep us safe," says Amber. "We've evolved with them in our brain to protect us from danger. But any time we're doing something new, novel, meaningful, interesting—something that is unknown—it's going to trigger some of those emotional sensations or those voices."
Having a relationship with these emotions rather than letting them boss us around is key—but where do we begin? Amber recommends these three steps.
Name it. Psychotherapist Dr. Dan Siegel coined the term name it to tame it, and that's what Amber considers the first step. It's specifying what kind of worry has shown up and giving it a label to pinpoint the problem it's trying to solve. In herself, Amber identified 27 different kinds of worry, including The Perfectionist, Envy, Shame, and Not Enoughness. Amber jokes that her friend calls this "Multiples of Personality Order."
Talk to it. Amber demonstrates: "As I was writing this book, so many times The Perfectionist would come up and be like, 'Hey, this isn't very good. People aren't going to like this. People are going to judge you.' And I would then talk to that voice. I'd say, 'Okay. Hey, Perfectionist. I see you hanging out here. What is it that you want me to know?' And The Perfectionist would be like, 'Well, you know, I just want this to be really good. And I want a really high-quality end product.' And I'm like, 'Great! Me, too.
We have the same goal! Amazing!"
Make a request. This is the part where you recognize the validity of what the named worry is trying to tell you, and you politely request that it buzzes off to let you solve the problem. Here's how Amber might make such a request: "'I need to get really messy and create a lot of shitty first drafts before I get to high-quality work. Can you go get a massage while I get back to work?' And then perfectionism sort of releases its grip."
Amber stresses that this is a process she does with pen and paper and not out loud in public.
Rewriting the Narrative
We all have some idea of who we are and how we fit into the world, and we may even believe we have sole authorship of this narrative. But as much as we might hate to admit it, large chapters of the story were created by others before we even knew there was a story being written. Parents, teachers, friends, significant others, and bosses are just a few who, if they don't have entire chapters dedicated to them in your narrative, have at least scribbled significant notes in the margins. Sometimes the narrative even comes with irritating advertisements that fall on the floor every time you turn a page.
"I started my career in the advertising industry," says Amber, "and I remember one meeting where the CEO called us in and there was this new product for men to shine their shoes. And he's like, 'So, let's make men feel insecure about their shoes and then they'll buy the product.'
"So everything is around 'how do we tap into people's insecurities or sense of not enoughness in order to design products so that they buy them?'"
Becoming aware of an undesirable part of our narrative is an important first step in overwriting it. The second step is to question it and try to identify where it came from. Once we understand its origin story, we can decide if it's something that should remain in place or be torn out entirely and replaced with something better.
It might seem excruciating to sort through our narrative and deal with the emotions that will inevitably get stirred up in the process, but it's actually a shorter option than letting them linger and affect the entirety of our story.
As neuroanatomist and My Stroke of Insight author Jill Bolte Taylor discovered, it only takes 90 seconds to really feel the physiological impact of an emotion, examine it in the moment, and decide if it's something you need to keep reliving, or if it's something you can let go.
"It's like 90 seconds versus 10 years," says Amber. "It's not what happens and what we feel; it's the story we create about what we feel that prolongs."
Listen to this entire episode to learn more about ways to cultivate wonder, what it means to be a wonder junkie, the effect wonder can have on our physiology, how Amber's writing process probably differs from that of other authors you may recognize, how Reese's Peanut Butter Cups got smeared across the pages of my own narrative, and much more.
Resources from this episode:
Contact by Carl Sagan
The Evangelist Behind Seth Godin's Speedy Publishing by Tim Donnelly, Inc.
The Strategies That Helped Me Write 3 Books in 3 Years by Ryan Holiday
5 Life Lessons from the Book Journey by Amber Rae
This Yoga Nidra Routine Will Make You Feel Like You Got a Full Night's Sleep by Julie Hand, Bulletproof Blog
Headspace: Meditation and Mindfulness Made Simple
The Life-Changing 90-Second Secret by Alex Myles, Elephant Journal
My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor
Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life by Max Lugavere and Paul Grewal M.D.
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