‘D’ for Decide: Fear or Excitement

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‘D’ for Decide: Fear or Excitement

fear / excitement

This is the fifth in a series, first published in 2021, in which I explore how to move forward when our journey is difficult. The series began with an introduction and has covered the first three of six TRUDGE practices for long-term resilience: Tell the Truth , Remember, and Unpack Your History.

TRUDGE – being resilient as you move through a challenging time in your life. How you interpret your emotional reactions affects what you do with the energy they bring, particularly the twins, Fear and Excitement. With intention you can flip the fear / excitement switch to best support your needs. 

Picture yourself on a roller coaster.  You have slowly climbed to the top of the hill and the front car is over the edge.  You are barely moving.  Soon the balance will tip and the coaster will scream to the waiting curl of track….  

Fear or Excitement?  You choose.   

The part of your brain that processes emotion looks the same whether you are afraid or excited. Your physiology is the same: stress hormones prepare your body for action. Heart rate and breathing go up, muscles are primed to do something. The cognitive framing is different:


Woo hoo! You have a basic belief that you have what it takes to manage the situation. You lean into the experience. Everything else falls away. You hyperfocus on what it takes to make it go well with the expectation of success. It is enjoyable, challenging and often tiring. 


Holy cow! You have a basic belief that this is out of control, unmanageable and dangerous. That the situation will end badly and there is nothing you can do about it. You hyperfocus on the negative aspects and work to avoid, evade, or endure. It is miserable, challenging and often exhausting. 

These are the extreme ends of what is actually an emotional continuum. Many experiences are somewhere in the middle. The thoughts behind the emotion make a difference in how you experience them. The key to “flipping the switch” is in the stories you tell yourself.  During times of TRUDGE there is often change happening, bringing both risk and opportunity. These can trigger automatic responses in you toward fear or excitement. Paying attention to your options allows you more choice as you move through this time in your life. 

I enjoy skiing. At the top of the mountain, I usually lean into excitement. I see the risks, let the adrenaline build a little, then I use all that energy to focus on my skis, the slope, and the people moving around me. I enjoy the view, the feeling of flying and the snow. Sometimes conditions change and I let fear be my guide. I use the energy to be super vigilant about dangers. I slow way down, slide sideways across icy patches, and take breaks in sheltered areas. It isn’t about having fun it is about getting to the bottom in one piece. Either way, I pause from time to time to weigh my options.  

The Stories We Tell

During times of TRUDGE change happens.  Your body responds in the same way to both fear and excitement. Breathing and heart rate go up.  Your body has the energy to DO SOMETHING. Often you have a default reaction – a pattern of habit. If you can, pause in a “sheltered area” and consider which side of the switch to lean toward in this particular instance. Try out different story lines in your head. What you tell yourself about your potential outcome impacts which side of the switch you are on.  

Running different stories in your head helps you become aware of your assumptive inner thoughts. What are you telling yourself about the risks and possibilities? How plausible are those stories really? Consider the previous steps in the TRUDGE series: What is your truth? Remember you are not alone. Unpack the way your history is influencing your reaction.  Once you have some clarity, use that energy to make the best decision for yourself at this point in time.  

It is your decision. Fear makes you back up, ask for more information, or walk away. Excitement propels you forward, giving you energy to try new things. Change your narrative and free up your energy to take the risk. Noticing that you get to decide is powerful. Part of maintaining resilience during difficult times is using the energy from fear / excitement in a way that best supports your needs. 


Laura A. Gaines

Explore learnmodelteach.com to learn about our course, Shrinking Anxiety to Grow Resilience.