Island Z: The Unspoken Fears

A lot of us have fears we never speak about. Fears we imagine no one else has. Fears no one else could understand.

And I think it’s important to know what these are for your client.

I’ve been writing a lot about the journey and the key elements of your platform lately.

Here’s a recap if you’ve missed it.

Imagine a young man on an island (which we’ll call Island A). It’s not that great a place to be. But, it’s all he knows, so he goes about his days. Then he starts hearing that his is not the only island in the world. That there are other islands. At first he doesn’t believe it, but the more he visits the docks and meets these visitors the clearer it becomes. It’s true. And then, one day, he hears about a particular island (which we’ll call Island B). And his heart leaps. He wants to go there.

Of course, he needs to get a boat to go there.

But there are so many boats to hire! Which one to choose?

Your business is a boat. It helps people like this young man get from Island A where they’re struggling with some problem (i.e. set of symptoms they don’t like) to Island B where they have the result they want (i.e. something they’re craving).

But if you can imagine that to left of Island A is another island. Island Z. But the catch is, it’s not a real island. It’s an imaginary island. It’s a fantasy. A fear. A phantom. But it feels so incredibly real. If you can imagine Island Z is in a thought bubble above the person sitting on Island A.

Island Z is where they’re secretly scared they’re going to end up if they do nothing.

These are fears like:

  • ‘If i don’t handle my dating life I’m going to end up old and alone.’
  • ‘If I approach that woman I’m attracted to she’ll think I’m a total creep and tell all her friends and everyone watching will laugh at me.’
  • ‘if I don’t keep my mind sharp I’m going to end up with alzheimers like my great grandparents.’
  • ‘I’m so scared that when I’m older there will be no one to look after me and I’ll end up a bag lady.’
  • ‘I don’t want to end up like my father.’
  • ‘If people knew I was struggling with this then __________ would happen.’
  • ‘If I admit that I’ve got these healthy symptoms then I might find out I have cancer like my father.’

These fears are rarely talked about, but they’re deeply real for people. These fears aren’t things you can be ‘known’ for but understanding them gives you an incredible empathy and sensitivity which will allow you to engage the other three more deeply and safely.

And many of us are, secretly, so scared we’re going to end up there.

I think it’s important to be aware of these fears. Because, sometimes, these fears are so profoundly deep and overwhelming that they can’t even acknowledge that they’re on Island A. They can’t even acknowledge that they have a problem because then they’d have to acknowledge the potential implications of that.

If’ I’m in my 70’s and starting to forget a lot of things, I might not tell anyone because if I do they might take away my driver’s license. They might want to do tests. They might tell me I have alzheimers. And I’d just rather not know.

Island Z can be so terrifying that it keeps us frozen in a holding pattern that’s not healthy for us. And it’s exhausting. We spend so much energy trying to avoid look at it.

When you begin a conversation around new and better possibilities for people, it can bring them face-to-face with their current reality and where that might lead.  It brings them face-to-face with the quality of life that they are currently settling for and where that might lead.  Most people know that more is possible — which makes it all the more painful to look at the level they have decided to live at.

This will bring up pain for people.  So, it’s important to realize the mechanisms that people have for dealing with pain.  In fact, these mechanisms are probably what caused them to settle in the first place.  Basically, there are…

6 Ways We Avoid Dealing with Pain:

1.    Denial: We try to pretend that it’s not there.  We pretend that it doesn’t hurt.  It’s like the old Aesop’s fable about the Fox trying to get the grapes.  He tries to trick the crow into dropping them but, when unsuccessful, walks away saying, “I didn’t want those grapes anyway.”

I have heard people describe denial by using it as an acronym for Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying.

We will go to amazing lengths to pretend we don’t have a problem.  Whether it’s as extreme as alcoholism, the state of our physical health or the state of our finances.  We sometimes seem to believe that if we don’t look at the problem it will simply go away.  Denial is the ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

2.    Sedatives and Numbing Out:  We use sedatives of “food”, alcohol, drugs etc. to lower our level of pain.  The use of any of these once a while, isn’t the issue.  The issue is that we use these as a consistent pattern.  But perhaps the worst drug of all is when people tell themselves “it’s okay”.  When we have attempted to create a result again and again and failed – we tend to give up.

When we try to handle our finances in countless ways and can’t seem to get it together we will either step up and take another cut the ball or we will step down and deal with our pain by saying, “it’s okay.  It’s not really that bad.”  

We will reinforce this by hanging around with a peer group that has equally low expectations of life.  This peer group will say things like, “Hey, don’t be so hard in yourself.  Quit working so hard.  Relax once a while.”  But the peer group is not really saying these things out of any sense of true caring for the person the because they don’t want to look at the fact that they are also in pain – and they don’t want to lose their friend.

3.    Rationalize And Tell Themselves Stories:  you can hear a rationalization a million miles away.  They almost always start with the words “Well it’s not like I…” or “At least I  . . .” (followed by the one strong standard they have).

We’ll say things like, “Sure I smoke once in awhile, but it’s not like I’m one of those people who smokes three packs a day.”  Or when looking at our finances, we’ll say, “Sure my finances are a mess but it’s not like I’m $100,000 in debt on credit cards.”  Or we’ll look at their romantic relationships and say, “Sure, it’s not the most fulfilling relationship in the world but it’s not like we’re fighting all the time and hate each other.”  

The easiest way to rationalize lowering our standards is to compare ourselves with people who have even lower standards.

4.    Justify:  We give our reasons:  “I mean I should do this but…” in whatever comes after that “but” is our “excuse” for not taking action.  So, at least we acknowledge that there is a problem, but the way we choose to deal with it is to prove to other people, and ourselves, why we can’t do anything about it.

5.    Using Softeners:  We say, “I’m big boned…” vs. “I’m fat”.  We say, “I’m having a few problems with my finances.”  As opposed to, “My personal finances are a disaster.”  We will use the language that softens the emotional impact — and so we will never ever connect with the pain that could actually drive them to create the change they want in our lives.  Until we face, and ultimately embrace, the pain they are currently experiencing we will never have the energy or motivation to create the level of change we want.

6.    We Blame: We make it someone else’s fault. It’s my ancestors, my family, my friends, my boss, the world, God, circumstance . . . anything but us. Then we get to feel like a victim and get some sympathy (which can feel nice). But nothing changes. All of our energy gets invested in trying to change things we can’t change.

This is different from seeing how one’s problem or fear is actually a symptom of a larger collective issue – e.g. perfectionism – which can be really freeing.

So how do you deal with these deep fears?

With a lot of love and empathy. Many entrepreneurs miss the empathy piece and end up with one the four client repelling traits I speak to in this blog post.

20 Non Empathic Responses to People’s Pain

NonviolentCommunicationMany of the following responses to people’s pain may seem empathic, until you’re at the receiving end of them. Give this a read and notice what responses people give you that don’t feel good – and notice which one you tend to give other people.

None of these will work to address the fears of Island Z or create any sense of safety. These are all borrowed from the very excellent book, Non Violent Communication

1. Advising: “I think you should . . “ “How come you didn’t?”

2. Analyzing: “Well, I think it’s clear the reason this happened is . . .”

3. Arguing: “That isn’t right at all. That isn’t how it happened.” “Boy. I really disagree with you on that.”

4. Commiserating: “That’s terrible. She had no right to do that to you.”

5. Condemning: “I need to call you on your racist shit.”

6. Consoling: “It wasn’t your fault; you did the best you could.” “Everything’s going to be okay.”

7. Correcting: “That’s not how it happened.” “It’s not really that hard.”

8. Criticizing: “You know what your problem is?” “Can’t you do anything right?”

9. Diagnosing: “This is happening because you’re so passive-aggressive.”, “You know, you really have a limiting pattern of always doing _____.”, “You know what your problem is?”

10. Educating: “This could turn into a very positive experience for you if you just . . .” “Well, in my experience, it was very different.” “I have a very different relationship to that.”

11. Evaluating: “If you hadn’t been so careless.”

12. Explaining: “I would have called but . . .” “I didn’t want to do it this way, but . . .”

13. Fixing: “What will help you is to . . .”

14. Interpretations: “I think he did that because . . .”

15. Interrogating: “When did this begin? What are you feeling?”

16. Lecturing: “It’s like I always say. . .” “How many times do I have to tell you?”

17. One-Upping: “That’s nothing: wait’ll you hear what happened to me.”

18. Shutting Down: “Cheer up. Don’t worry. Don’t feel so bad.”

19. Story-telling: “That reminds me of a time . . .” “Oh! That reminds me of this Tony Robbins seminar that I went to once. Tony said . . .”

20. Sympathizing: “Oh you poor thing.”

So, if those don’t work, how do you engage with it?

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure, but here are some initial thoughts . . .

Fifteen Ideas on Dealing with the Fear of Island Z:

  • safety: instead of pushing harder, we want come from a place of being gentler and sweeter. We can to make sure that we are as safe a space as possible. That might mean extreme confidentiality. Making sure they can engage with us in a way that no one else ever needs to know. The more safe they feel, the more they’ll be willing to face the truth.
  • empathy: if they can see that we really understand what they’re secretly scared of this goes a long way. I can’t recommend reading the book Non Violent Communication enough for this. The key is that we want to give empathy first for Island A. Just for the symptoms as they experience them. And, of course, part of the symptoms they experience are the fear of Island Z.
  • normalize the problem: we need to help them understand that they’re not alone. The more we can build the understanding that they’re not alone the better. The more they can see this as a widespread issue that many others share the better. We need to normalize the fear. We need it to not seem like it’s a weird thing to have that fear. As Tom Compton says, ‘the resistance to the disturbance is the disturbance.’ Sometimes the feeling that they shouldn’t be having that fear is actually a bigger issue than the fear itself. If you can share your own story of how it took you forever to deal with this and how clueless you were – this goes a long way.
  • normalize the solution: the more you can make it feel like, ‘hey, everyone is doing this’ the more likely they will be to do it as well. This often starts with identifying your hubs and enrolling them and getting them to spread the word for you. This is the kind of thing you might want to do in partnership with other people who are helping people on the same journey (and maybe with a similar boat even). It’s like a bunch of independent retailers getting together to promote a ‘shop local’ campaign. A core principle of community based social marketing is this: make it normal to do the right thing.
  • realistic statistics: we need to help them understand how realistic this fear is. The fear of a plane crash or being attacked by a shark is blown profoundly out of proportion. More people die in traffic accidents than plane crashes. More people die from pop machines than sharks. Let’s just get real here.
  • case studies of success: this is huge. If you can show them story after story of people who were on Island A and didn’t end up on Island Z but maybe on Island C it will do more than just about anything you can imagine. You can’t have too many stories and real life examples.
  • story telling: when there’s a lot of shame and fear around an issue, the traditional marketing approach of writing in the ‘you’ (e.g. ‘Are YOU struggling with money?’) might be a bit too direct. It might trigger shut down and defensiveness which could kill it way before it has a chance to begin. Try telling the story of a typical client (or a micro story) or the story of what it might be like to work with you. By telling a story (often in the third person) you give it a bit of psychological distance which allows people to read it and approach the story in their own time and find themselves in it in their own way. Remember, these fears are most often unspoken. So, for someone to read their fears laid out in a story (even your own story) can be a bit mind blowing (in a good way).
  • realistic honesty about limits of possibility: one of the best things I ever saw in marketing was from a poster about a holistic nutrition workshop. One of the bullet points said, ‘Come and learn the possibilities and the limitations of holistic nutrition’. Wow. That was so powerful. They were willing to admit to it having limitations. That realism built more credibility than any big claim. Instantly more trustworthy. When things seem ‘too good to be true’ they’re not trustworthy. Tell them what you can help them with and what you can’t. Tell them what you think is possible and what isn’t. Be real with them and they’ll melt into openness.
  • address the shame: the more people can understand that it’s not entirely their fault, that their are bigger systems at play that have helped create their problem and that it’s a normal human thing to go through… the more they’ll relax and open to letting it go. The shame of not having dealt with it yet can keep people from even looking at it and having to admit how bad it is. No shame. No blame. The more your presence can reassure and say, ‘hey, it’s okay’ the more they can begin to open to a new possibility.
  • show them a step by step plan: few things will inspire more confidence than you showing them a step by step plan on how you’re going to get them from Island A to Island B. It moves it away from just being you saying, ‘trust me’.
  • educate them about your point of view: go beyond showing them the plan. Show them WHY you came up with the plan you did. Help them understand not just the route you’re suggesting but the map itself. Help them understand the tides, the winds, the hidden rocks underwater. Help them understand why you’ve made the choices they did.
  • build a relationship over time until they’re ready: the importance of staying in touch over time and building trust by adding value can’t be overstated. Marketing is like baseball and you can’t skip bases.
  • help them see a bigger context: share your why. Share the bigger cause you see it all as a part of. Help them see that by taking the journey on their own, they’re making a contribution to a much wider movement. If they can see themselves as a part of a wider movement, they’re a lot less likely to give up – they’ll feel more accountable and more bolstered by others.
  • community: perhaps the most important of all – can you connect them with real people? It can be done virtually or in person. But can you help to become a hub and foster a wider sense of community?
  • be encouraging: life is so short. Too many people die with regrets (often the same five). Sometimes some old fashioned real talk and encouraging words to live our lives fully goes a long way – especially if all of these other pieces are in place.
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