“Don’t let the fear of what could happen make nothing happen.” ~Unknown
I knew it was coming.
But as I sat there on the first day of the seminar, my stomach still did a little turn when the trainer announced the exercise we’d be doing over our lunch break:
The dreaded pizza walk!
I knew this was the trainer’s wry (but equally as unnerving) riposte to Tony Robbins’ famous fire walks. But right then, I would have much rather taken my chances with the coals.
The idea is simple: Go into a shop, restaurant, or other public establishment and make an absurd and bold request, i.e.: walk into a hardware store and ask for a pizza.
As we broke for dinner there was lots of nervous chatter amongst the trainees, but I chose not to engage with the others. I wanted to get out there and face these pizza demons as soon as possible.
Now, the aim of the exercise on one level seemed obvious: to teach us to be more forthright, in businesses, in our relationships, in life.
The bolder the requests we make, the less ridiculous they’ll seem, and the easier it will be to make other bold requests. Thus we can go home and feel more comfortable speaking our truth, asking for what we want, and generally showing up in life more confidently.
Or so I thought. Because what I actually learned from this exercise was much more powerful.
After leaving the building where we’d been, I walked down the main street, which was in fact the Baker Street.
So, as I passed Sherlock’s ‘house’ and the eager tourists queuing outside, I began looking around for my target.
There were a few souvenir shops I could pick. A Subway restaurant (of course!), a few bars, but nothing that really took my fancy.
(Or rather, if I’m honest, I knew I had an hour to do this and it all felt too edgy and I wanted to put it off as long as possible.)
So I ducked into a Nando’s Restaurant and had some chicken. (Oh, the irony!)
As I ate my half Piri Piri chicken (medium-hot with rice, if you’re interested), I contemplated my task.
It felt silly to be so up in my head and nervous about this simple, innocuous exercise.
What was the worst that would happen? Perhaps a bemused stare from the shop worker at best.
So why was I shaking just thinking about it?
If you’re thinking I’m being daft and wussy as you read this, I encourage you to try this for yourself. It’s not as easy as it seems. In fact, making that bold request can feel pretty scary.
But then again, is that really true?
Because the insight I had next changed a lot of things for me.
You see, I realized that what the trainer actually wanted us to learn from this experience was something completely different from my original notion.
As the clock ticked away and I saw that we were due back in ten minutes, I knew it was now or never. I had to make my absurd request. I had to do the pizza walk.
I also knew that I had to just get it done, to stop waiting to feel ready and just get to it. Action was key.
So as I passed the next shop, a newsagent, I went in. I strolled up to the counter, looked the guy straight in the eyes, and, poker-faced, said:
“Can I have a cheeseburger and large fries please?”
And it was weird.
My immediate feeling in that moment was actually one of real elation. I felt dizzy but happy, like I’d just nervously jumped out of a plane and now found that my parachute had opened and I could enjoy the float to earth.
Of course, the man behind the counter didn’t appear to be experiencing any of this. He just looked a little confused and taken aback.
Yet I also felt there was something else present in him. Compassion maybe? Concern?
I’d jarred us both out of our day-to-day reality and allowed us to be supremely present with each other. We connected on a deeper level.
In that moment, we dropped out of being on autopilot and a more profound interaction could take place.
(Again, I’m not sure that the man behind the counter assessed it all this way, but I felt it!)
Next he kind of stuttered something about having some sandwiches in the chiller, and I was suddenly overcome with warmth toward him—that even in this bizarre situation he was trying to help this strange man at his counter.
From nowhere I heard myself say:
“It doesn’t matter about the cheeseburger actually. I’ll have a Lotto scratchcard, but can you make sure it’s the winning one?”
I was having fun now. Still totally present and enjoying this interaction.
Thankfully. I think my new friend was beginning to enjoy it too, as he play acted choosing the right scratchcard, which he assured me was the winning one.
I thanked him, paid, and left. As I stepped outside onto that cold February afternoon I saw something I’d not truly, insight-fully seen up to now.
You see, I’d spent the last hour stuck in my head worrying about this event.
I’d been living in an imagined future where the event went really bad, where I felt silly, where I was ridiculed. And these thoughts had made me really fearful of making this silly request. My confidence had dropped and it had almost stopped me from taking part.
But what actually happened was that when I did make the request I was truly in the moment. I was living in real life, not in my imagination about what this might look like.
And more importantly, in the moment I was so much more resilient, confident, creative, and connected than I’d given myself credit for. So much so that I forgot all about that imagined reality and just lived in actual reality.
This insight was massive for me because that’s how we can all be, quite a lot of the time.
This is how we can show up with our careers, in our relationships, in life.
We get so stuck in our thinking that we can almost talk ourselves out of doing things we want to do.
We second-guess ourselves, we make stuff up about what people might think about us, and then we sit with those thoughts and go over and over them until they start to look real. In that process we always underestimate our resilience and our moment-to-moment creativity.
What I really saw that day was that it’s never the future event we fear. It’s only ever our thinking about that future event.
And if it’s just our own thinking—and not the imagined, self-created ‘event’—then why do we give it so much attention?
I see now that there have been loads of times in the past when I’ve worried and stressed about things, only for them to be fine, even enjoyable when they actually happened.
I’m sure you’ve got lots of examples you can recall right now as you think about your own life.
The more we can explore this and shine a light on what’s going on, the more grounded and confident we become.
What would it mean to you if you could use all this anxious energy for good use?
What would it mean if you could quickly drop out of worrying about future events and stay present?
Let’s be clear here, we are only ever able to do anything right now, in this moment. When we live in that scary future world we have no power. We don’t exist there except in our thinking.
By exploring this deeper, I know it’s allowed me to be calmer, more confident, and more productive in my work. A better human being even.
I don’t take things so personally any more. I don’t spend needless hours and days worrying about what might happen.
I stay more in the moment, which means when I’m at work I’m no longer in my head wondering if people will want to hire me, or what they think of me, or if I’m going to be able to get them the results they want. When I’m with friends and loved ones I’m not living in my thinking about what’s going on; I’m enjoying being present and in the now with them.
This frees up my attention to really listen to what they’re saying, to connect with them on a deeper level. And in doing so I can have so much more impact than if I was trying to second-guess the situation or worrying about what will happen next.
How do you stay more present?
Remind yourself that, no matter how real the future event looks in your mind, your feelings don't indicate anything about the outcome of that event; they are just a response to your thoughts in that moment.
Your feelings have no idea what will happen in the future.
Like me, you might just find that what, in your imagination, seems really scary is actually incredibly liberating and enjoyable when it actually happens.
So next time you catch yourself stuck in your head, simply take a moment to step back and notice where your attention is.
Is it in your thinking, or in life?
In asking yourself this you’ll automatically drop back into life, where you have everything you need to really connect with the person in front of you.
And if you were wondering, it wasn’t the winning scatchcard.
You can’t win ’em all!