How To Level Up Your Life And Stop Playing Small
To level up your life means to quit playing small and to start playing big.
What is playing small? It’s not asking for a raise; it’s putting up with a job you don’t like, it’s suffering a dead relationship, it’s not being excited every day, it’s letting your fears stop you, it’s not loving the people in your life—it’s living life as a diminished thing.
Playing small sucks. You’ve got exactly one life—every day you spend not reaching for the brass ring is a day that is gone forever. It’s one less day we have in this brief gift of time we’ve been given.
You don’t level up because…
You don’t level up for one of two reasons: You are afraid, or you don’t know how to.
Leveling up entails risk. It requires that you stretch beyond what you think you are capable of; it means shoving yourself right up against the very outer limits of your comfort zone—and then taking one more step.
If you are not putting something at risk, you are playing small.
Putting something at risk means opening yourself to the possibility of loss, harm, or danger. It could be a financial risk, for example, if you sink your life savings into a start-up; or a physical risk, if you are, say, leaping out of airplanes. But as a life coach, my interest is in supporting clients to risk the inauthentic fears that stop us. Fears that will never draw blood; fears that are mostly in our heads, but which still can be tremendously painful. Those fears you encounter when you step beyond your familiar; when you give up playing small.
The second reason you may be playing small is that you don’t know how to play a bigger game. You could be so tied up by the internalized expectations of others or by your cultural fetters that you don’t know how to access the world beyond them. You can be tied down by who you think you should be, how you think you should live your life, or by a false or blinkered understanding of your capabilities.
The fear of leveling up
What are the fears that we are unwilling to risk? They are the fears of failing, rejection, humiliation, shame, and being wrong. That’s it. We don’t take on that big project—what if we fail? Or ask that hot man/woman out for a cup of tea—what if they say no? Or pick up the mic in a Karaoke bar—what if we look (and sound) foolish? Or speak out against groupthink—what if the group casts us out?
These fears are not authentic because they arise—not from real-world threats—but because they arise in our thinking. We have made them up, which is not to say that the often intense feelings of humiliation, shame, guilt, rejection aren’t real. The feelings are real—and they can be extremely uncomfortable. But our thinking or, more precisely, the way we interpret the world causes our feelings. And our interpretations aren’t real; we can change them.
We play small to avoid uncomfortable feelings. That’s it. We’d rather live in our gray lives—not ask for the raise, not change jobs, not ask for that hot date, not do a million things because we’d don’t want to risk feeling uncomfortable feelings. Accepting those feelings is required if you want to level up your life.
Level up your life—step one
The answer then to how to level up your life is easy: accept the risk of feeling uncomfortable. Be willing to feel uncomfortable to achieve more important goals.
Ask yourself, would you rather give up:
- The possibility of a raise to avoid feeling rejected?
- The possibility of launching a start-up to avoid failing?
- The possibility of a hot date to avoid feeling humiliated?
- The possibility of saying what you want to say to avoid the possibility of being wrong?
Put yourself at choice—that is, ask yourself point-blank: Is that raise or new job or hot date less important than the risk of feeling crummy for a few days?
That’s it. Do you want to mortgage your life so you don’t feel crummy for a few days? Really?
If you are committed to growing and playing big, the risk of feeling uncomfortable will always be with you. The only way to avoid such feelings is to sit dead center in your comfort zone, refusing to grow and doing nothing to challenge yourself. (Of course, sitting in the middle of your comfort zone might expose you to the existential dread that you are tossing your life away.)
Level up your life—step two
You hogtie yourself with how you think you should be or how you think others think you should be. In addition to these “shoulds,” you frequently limit yourself by beliefs that diminish you. Beliefs such as “I’m not good enough/loveable/deserving/smart/pretty/etc.”—it goes on forever.
These beliefs aren’t beliefs to you—they are reality; you relate to them as if they were true. If you believe them to be true, then you will act as if they were true. Suddenly this belief about yourself has you trapped. You will never be able to play a big game if you’re telling yourself that you aren’t good enough.
Busting through your shoulds and your stories about yourself can be difficult—because they can be so much a part of your world that you often can’t see them. But to quit playing a small game, you’re going to have to find them and move beyond them.
Listen to your “shoulds” and listen to the conversations you have with yourself about what you are capable or not capable of doing. It’s those shoulds and those conversations that you need to rip out of your thinking. It’s not easy—you could be thinking that you’re gaslighting yourself. Maybe you are—but it’s in service of expanding, not diminishing, you.
At the same time, start taking actions—baby steps if need be, but steps towards those goals and dreams you’ve not thought yourself capable of.
Level up now
If you don’t face down the shoulds, overcome the negative self-beliefs, and expose yourself to uncomfortable feelings to play a big game today, how are you going to feel at the end of your life looking back on all the missed opportunities, adventures, and possibilities?
If you’d like to level up your life starting today, get in touch. We can make it happen.
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