$16.95Mastering the new rules of risk-taking in work and life

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By Libby Gill
August 2009
ISBN 1-932361-68-5 296 pages

Learn how to eliminate fear, end indecision, and create the life you desire. Get unstuck today!

You UnstuckIn You Unstuck, the ultimate self-help guide, Libby Gill teaches you to tune out the voices of fear and shows you how to bypass the brain’s outmoded risk-avoidance mechanisms. Step by step, you’ll discover how to:

  • Blast through beliefs that are holding you hostage to mediocrity
  • Turn off negative self-talk in less than 20 minutes
  • Rebuild your spirit after losing a job, loved one, or income
  • Avoid “stress creep” to become more relaxed and effective
  • Overcome shyness, fatigue, poor relationships, and other trouble spots that are holding you back
  • Take more risks in a smart, confident way to achieve unprecedented success

Acclaim for You Unstuck

“Are you in a rut? Is your gut reaction to change a negative response? In You Unstuck, Libby Gill will help you understand the way you look at risk-taking so you can start moving past your fears and excuses, toward success. This book is a powerful tool if you know you need to change but don’t know how. Read You Unstuck and get your life back on track!”
—Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The One Minute Manager® and Leading at a Higher Level

You Unstuck gives you a great combination of common sense coaching and scientific research to help you understand why you stay stuck in limiting assumptions and how you can finally break free. I highly recommend it.”
—Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway® and Embracing Uncertainty

“Loaded with practical, proven strategies you can use immediately to take full charge of your mind and emotions in any situation. You Unstuck shows you how to unlock your full potential for exceptional living.”
—Brian Tracy, author of Reinvention: How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life

You Unstuck is extraordinarily motivating! Libby takes on the big monsters of overwhelm and then kindly provides the perfect step-by-step approach to changing the important things that have dogged you for years. I use her lessons and insights every day.”
—Martha Finney, author of Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss

“Libby Gill grabs hold of you and helps you create a vision for career and life change. And she stays right by your side, guiding you through the risk-taking process until you’ve made your vision a reality. If You Unstuck can’t help you get your life and career on track, nothing can!”
—Erin Gruwell, editor of The Freedom Writers Diary

You Unstuck will guide you to become the leader of your own life. Its practical strategies for personal and professional success provide a fail-safe framework for getting where you want to go. This book could not be more timely!”
—Tiane Mitchell Gordon, Senior Vice President Diversity and Inclusion, AOL

“This is a great book! If you’ve been feeling stuck in some area of your life, You Unstuck can help you break through and take things to the next level.”
—Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos.com

You Unstuck helps you reach inside and determine what’s really important. It gives you a step-by-step guide for finding the courage and confidence to move toward what you want. It should be required reading for anyone with a job, a family, a goal, or a dream!!”
—Todd Blevins, Vice President, Cadbury plc

Chapter 1—Stuck Happens

Everyone gets stuck. It’s part of being human. Maybe you’re stuck in your career, finances, health or relationships. Or maybe life dealt you a bad blow like a layoff or divorce. The real question is this: What are you going to do about it?

You Unstuck is designed to give you the hope and tools to get you past your sticking points.Hope because that’s the one thing you can’t afford to lose if you’re going to succeed in work and life. Tools because the process of life change is so thoroughly misunderstood, you may have been going at it all wrong. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be stuck right now, would you? It’s like trying to change a flat tire without a jack. The more you try, the more hopeless you feel and the more hopeless you feel, the more stuck you are. I want to help you change all that.

I know a lot about being stuck. I’ve been stuck in a family plagued by alcoholism and mental illness, in an overweight and out-of-shape body, in a marriage that wasn’t right for me, and in a corporate career where the stress nearly killed me. Through trial and error and sheer perseverance I changed every single aspect of my life so that today I’m fit and healthy, I’ve got two happy and productive kids, a terrific love life, and a business that feeds me emotionally and financially. It wasn’t easy to get unstuck and it didn’t happen overnight because I simply didn’t have the proper tools or guidance. But I had an abundant supply of hope that kept me moving forward. Now, I have road-tested tools that can unlock change and I want to share them with you.

First, let’s see if any of these describe you:

You know what changes you need to make but you’re not making them

You know what you want but you have no idea how to get there

When you think about change, you feel totally overwhelmed

Your life is basically good, but there’s one area that you keep avoiding

You are living other people’s ideas about who you are and ignoring your own

You are being held back by the same thing that held you back last year, five years ago, maybe your entire life

You’ve lost a job, a loved one, or a nest egg and it’s got you totally shut down

You’re willing to change everything about your life except the one thing you know will make the real difference

You’re embarrassed to tell one more person what you want to do with your life

No one wants to listen to you talk about what you want because they don’t believe you’ll ever change

You feel like you’re missing out on something and if you don’t go after it now, you may regret it forever

You’re scared to go after the one thing you really want, because if you don’t get it, what does that say about you

You’re afraid that if you fail, it means that you are a failure

You’re afraid if you succeed, no one will love you anymore

The truth is, you already know that all you need to do is change your behavior to change your life. If you’ve been laid off or you hate your job, you need to get your resume together and start interviewing. If you want to find a romantic partner, you join a singles group or an online dating service. If you’re overweight, you hire a trainer or start moving more and eating less. It’s all pretty straightforward. But if it’s so easy, why aren’t you doing it? And if you are doing it, why hasn’t it been working?

Because getting you unstuck is less about changing your behavior than it is about changing your beliefs. Sure, you’ve got to take action. Your body isn’t going to miraculously drop those 30 or 300 pounds all by itself, no matter what the latest diet guru tells you. Your dream job isn’t going to land in your lap unless you go out and find it. But if you don’t change your belief system as you’re changing your behavior, your results will probably be short-lived and possibly even counterproductive. That’s why 90 percent of dieters put all the weight they’ve lost back on within a year.

Throughout this book, you’ll see sidebars to help you isolate key tips, tools, and concepts. These include the Risk-Taker’s Tips, which are quick snapshots to help you expand your perspective on risk taking; Risk-Taker’s Tools, exercises designed to challenge your awareness and build your behavioral repertoire; and Risk Reinforcement, homework assignments for you to do at a later time to reinforce key concepts covered in each chapter.

You Unstuck will give you a philosophy and a process so you can finally change the beliefs that are keeping you stuck, which will change your behavior, which will change your life. I know, I’ve been there. In fact, I’m so positive that if you faithfully follow this program and itdoesn’t help you make significant life changes, you can contact me at www.LibbyGill.com and I will personally coach you. That’s how sure I am of getting you unstuck. Now, it’s your turn.


With most issues, accurately identifying the problem is the first step toward solving it. And that goes doubly for getting unstuck, since excuses and denial are often a big part of what’s holding you back. I’ll get into the slippery slope of excuse-making in greater detail in Chapter 3. For now, let’s look at the underlying methodology for getting unstuck—and virtually any other work/life challenge you may have—in my proven “Clarify, Simplify & Execute” process.

This method, CSE for short, is a simple problem-solving matrix into which you can plug any relevant data. The following story will give you an idea of how to use it, although I’m shortcutting the process here to give you the broad overview. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to dig deep as you work through the exercises. I strongly encourage you to put some time and energy into your answers and not just skim over the tools. In fact, I urge you to write out your responses, as putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is a powerful action for unlocking change. And after all, this isn’t your high school civics class, this is your life. From my decade of coaching and fifteen years of corporate management before that, I’ve observed that the folks who are willing to dig in and do the work, from basics to big picture, are the ones who ultimately succeed. Isn’t it time to be in that crowd?

The CSE model was invaluable when I coached a young woman named Amanda as part of a challenge for a women’s initiative within a large corporation. A group of participants was chosen from employees across the country based on the goals and milestones they wanted to achieve: losing weight, finding a romantic partner, overcoming shyness, succeeding in business and more. I was the coach for the group and I especially wanted to help Amanda meet her goal. She was sweet, thoughtful and disciplined, working at two jobs so she could help support her disabled mother. How could you not want her to succeed? But she had a tough hurdle ahead of her. Amanda was a smoker with a long-term habit that she desperately wanted to break.

Using the CSE process, I asked Amanda to first Clarify her vision of a smoke-free life. Wrapping your head around a clear vision is a critical starting point because that’s when you begin to see what you want as real and attainable. If it’s too abstract, distant or unrealistic, you won’t feel passionate enough to put in the work needed to reach it. Since smoking is a notoriously difficult addiction to break, this was definitely going to take work.

I suggested Amanda take a few deep breaths (even if you think that’s a cliché, you’ll see why it’s so important in Chapter 5), close her eyes and picture what her life as a non-smoker would look like. It didn’t take her long to paint a vivid image which included the following:

My hair and clothes will always smell good

My mom will be proud of me

I’ll be able to taste my food

My home will smell like flowers instead of smoke

I won’t be a slave to my habit, ducking out for smoke breaks

I’ll have so much energy and wind, I can work out again

I won’t be embarrassed in front of my friends or colleagues

I’ll feel strong and proud of myself

I can wear beautiful perfume again

Amanda’s vision was so clear that I could practically see, hear, feel, and smell the picture she was conjuring for me on the phone. Best of all, she could feel it and just speaking the words out loud, it was clear how much she wanted it. By focusing on the positive rather than the negative, she was envisioning all of the wonderful possibilities that were available to her instead of beating up on herself for being weak.

Next, I asked Amanda to Simplify the most direct route she could think of to becoming a non-smoker. This is where things began to get harder, which is another reason you need that wonderful vision to keep you motivated. Past failures, fears, and resistance kicked in as she admitted that nothing had ever really worked for very long. That was my cue to begin to challenge her beliefs, exactly what you’ll be learning to do for yourself throughout You Unstuck. I asked her to tell me all the different things she’d tried, what hadn’t worked and what had worked.

After she thought about it, Amanda realized that several things had worked temporarily, including support from friends and a drug prescribed by her physician. I asked why she was no longer relying on those two things, especially since they’d worked, at least on a limited basis. She said she had given up on seeking support from other people because every time she picked up the habit again, she felt like she was letting them down. Eventually, she was just so embarrassed that she couldn’t ask for help anymore.

I jumped on her limiting assumption that she couldn’t ask for help. You’ll hear more about limiting assumptions as we go forward. Those are the conclusions you come to without any evidence, logic, or objective data that can limit your ability to get unstuck. I asked Amanda if her assumption was really true. Could she back it up? Had her friends refused to help her? Had she worn out her welcome? Or was she making her own conclusion, writing the end to the story rather than actually experiencing it? If she had imagined the limiting assumption rather than it being real, perhaps there was an opportunity to ask again. To let her friends know that she was taking her challenge so seriously she’d gone public with videos and blogs about her struggle to stop smoking. Amanda reconsidered and said that her true friends would certainly help her, especially when they heard the lengths to which she was going to finally kick her habit.

I inquired about the second item on her list, the prescription she’d taken to help her stop smoking. She told me that she had tried the drug for a month and cut down her smoking significantly without any major side effects. But when it was time for her second doctor’s appointment when she could renew her prescription, she’d simply cancelled it. Why? Because she didn’t want to take drugs. Bingo. She’d based her entire conclusion on a major limiting assumption, which had kept her stuck in the smoking habit.

Amanda’s flawed logic was so obvious and yet she’d never really seen it. She had come to the conclusion that drugs are bad and therefore she shouldn’t take them. Never mind that the nicotine she’d been pumping into her system for years was far worse than the short-term medication her doctor wanted to prescribe and manage for her. She completely overlooked the damage that smoking was doing to her health and the quality of her life and instead focused on the evils of medication. If you’re shocked that Amanda was blind to her limiting assumption, just wait until you begin to challenge your own. You’ll see how common it is for us to come to a conclusion, convince ourselves it’s the right conclusion, then find all sorts of evidence to support that conclusion. It happens all the time. But now, Amanda had made a major shift in her beliefs, the first step to shifting behavior.

Although the Simplify portion of the CSE model may not sound all that simple, the goal is always to find the most direct route to reach your vision. That might include brainstorming, reviewing past failures and successes, eliminating obstacles, getting expert information, or doing some research on your own. Once you’ve got that clear vision and you’ve simplified the action path, then all you have to do is act.

Finally, Amanda and I discussed the Execute portion of the CSE plan. That is, the specific action steps she’d need to take and how she (or others) would hold her accountable to executing her plan, especially when the going got rough. Amanda’s first step would be to call her doctor, as she said, the minute we got off the phone. The next step was to solicit the support of several friends and co-workers she knew she could count on and who wouldn’t judge her by her past failures. By changing her beliefs about the possibilities and people available to help her realize her vision, Amanda changed her life. I am proud to report that she is now an energetic, food-tasting, Mom-pleasing, perfume-wearing non-smoker.

In a minute, you’re going to be mapping out your Clarify, Simplify & Execute blueprint. As we go deeper into You Unstuck, you’ll be learning other skills that you can layer on top of this foundation. You’ll see how easy it can be to overcome nearly any obstacle, solve any problem, or make any decision as you become adept at setting up the CSE model and then asking the right qualifying questions.


I’d be lying if I told you that getting unstuck didn’t take work. Amanda certainly didn’t stop smoking cold turkey. She continued to work with her doctor, get support from friends, as well as deal with a couple of relapses. But facing risk is often not nearly as difficult as most of us convince ourselves that it has to be. If people put half the energy into making changes that they do into excuse-making, I’d be out of a job.

Despite our intelligence, talent, and best intentions, many of us get stuck in self-made ruts and have no idea how to extricate ourselves. Some of you are probably still trying to convince yourself that you’re not really stuck. After all, you’ve got a good job, a great family, yet you know there’s something missing. You’re just experiencing a minor down period, a slight erosion of confidence, or maybe some vague stress symptoms. Maybe you’ve been telling yourself that “it’s not that bad,” or that you’ll be able to change your life when the kids are grown or you have more time or money. On the other hand, maybe you know all too well what it’s like to be stuck. You may be stuck in a dead-end job, an unhealthy lifestyle, a career for which you feel no passion, a financial mess, or a life without love. But why should you wait to live your vision of excellence? Why continue to sit on the sidelines and watch other people experiencing great joy, passion, and purpose? In other words, why stay stuck?

At its simplest, the answer is fear. More specifically, it’s the fear of taking risks, what I call Riskophobia. In coming chapters, we’ll be identifying Riskophobic tendencies specific to you and exploring methods for overcoming your fears of risk-taking. Almost everyone has the capacity for self-improvement. In fact, most people have a pretty good idea of what they want to improve by the time I come into contact with them. But they’ll do almost anything to avoid what they perceive as the nearly impossible task of facing fear, overcoming resistance, and trying new behaviors.

Often the hardest part is simply figuring out where to start. Most of us have bought into our limiting assumptions for so long that we’ve built a whole mythology to support our erroneous conclusions. So, let’s get assumptions and emotions out of the equation for a while by being as objective as possible about what’s actually working and what’s not working in your life. That will show us where to begin in getting you unstuck.

RISK-TAKER’S TOOLSuccess & Satisfaction Self-Assessment

Following is a self-assessment tool that I developed and have since used with thousands of people to help them determine success and satisfaction levels in ten key areas of work and life. By assigning scores to specific areas, you can begin to see where you’re least satisfied in your life and may want to focus first.

Below is an assessment grid that was completed by a sales manager named Jerry at a leadership conference where I was a presenter. His assessment gives you a good example of how a successful, albeit stuck, executive rated his life. As you tackle the test, don’t be surprised if some of your ratings are pretty low (that’s the stuck part), though most people find they have a mix of both high and low scores. You might even be pleasantly surprised to realize that you’ve got a lot more going for you than you thought.

Only once in all the years that I’ve used this and similar assessments, did anyone get a score of all 10s, that is, perfect in every area of life. Boy, you should have seen how quickly the crowd turned on that phony. If it hadn’t been a very polite group of financial services professionals, I might have had a mob scene on my hands!

O.K., let’s get started. Take a look at the grid with the ten boxes. Each box is labeled to represent a major area of your personal or professional life. Think about each section and, as objectively and honestly as you can, rate your satisfaction level in each area on a 1-10 scale, 1 being least satisfied, 10 being most satisfied. If a category isn’t especially meaningful to you, factor that into your score. For example, if you’re single and happy about it, there’s no need to give yourself a low rating on Significant Other. You’re not scoring yourself on whether or not you have a significant other, just if you’re satisfied with what you do have.

Next, write your rating for each category. After you’ve completed the grid, list each area and its corresponding score, ranking them from lowest to highest number. Assigning self-determined ratings can be very eye-opening because after you’ve given yourself a 2 out of a possible 10 on Health, it’s pretty hard to pretend that everything is O.K. with your self-care. Conversely, even though you may grouse about your over-involved parents and sibling, when you give Family a 9, it’s obvious that this part of your life is very satisfying for you.

As I mentioned, you’ll see Jerry’s scores and rankings below. If you want a blank copy of this assessment, just recreate it or download a PDF of this exercise from the Tools section of www.LibbyGill.com.

Success & Satisfaction Self-Assessment

Career -2
Finances – 7.5
Health & Self-Care – 7
Relationships with Family – 6
Relationships with Friends – 8
Significant Other – 3
Purpose or Spirituality – 6
Personal Growth – 7
Recreation & Fun – 8
Home, Office, Living Space – 3

Career—worried about sales slowdown – 2
Significant Other—no time to date – 3
Living Space—need to finish my remodel – 3
Family—haven’t seen much of them lately – 6
Purpose—too focused on work to think big picture – 6
Personal Growth—could start reading more – 7
Health & Self-Care—I’m in pretty good shape – 7
Finances—pretty satisfied with where I am for now – 7.5
Fun & Recreation—enjoy sports & movies – 8
Relationships with Friends—have a great group of friends – 8

If you’re like most people, you probably have some areas of your life that are working quite well and other areas that need some attention, maybe even urgently. If you feel that the low ratings you gave yourself are indications of deeper problems than the need to get unstuck, you may want to consider some professional help. Ask yourself if you, or others, have noticed a change in your behavior. Have friends, family members or colleagues suggested that you see a doctor or therapist? If so, you may want to schedule some time to visit an internist, general practitioner, pastoral counselor or psychotherapist. Request that a trusted family member or friend make the appointment and possibly even accompany you for emotional support.

If you’re ready to tackle the You Unstuck process on your own—with me as your guide—this assessment will give you a great starting point. Take a look at the low ratings you gave yourself. Any surprises there? Were you shocked to see some 1’s and 2’s on your list, or maybe even a 0? Not to worry, that’s actually good news and here’s why—now you have a starting point. As you become adept at getting yourself unstuck in your first areas of focus, you’ll see how easy it is to transfer your newfound unsticking skills into different areas of your life. Keep in mind, it’s all about incremental stages, so if you gave yourself 3 on Finances because you’re carrying debt and not doing anything about it, you need to think of some steps that would take that 3 to a 4, not all the way to 10. That’ll come later but, for now, it’s one step at a time.

Like most self-assessors, Jerry had a mix of high and low numbered responses. His scores ranged from a 2 in Career at the bottom end of the scale to an 8 on Friendship at the top. His initial focus, and what prompted him to seek coaching was his work slowdown, but once he began to turn that around, he was able to add “Start Dating” and “Finish My House” to the list of things he wanted to accomplish. Although we often tend to think of our challenges as all-absorbing, that’s rarely the case. When you’re able to chunk it down—that is, break action steps into the tiniest imaginable pieces—you can tackle one baby step at a time. In Jerry’s case, that meant calling a woman he’d intended to ask out for a drink. Until now, he’d seen his desire to start dating as a huge goal, but suddenly he saw that it was one phone call, one date, and then he’d take it from there. It wasn’t as though he had to drop everything and figure out a strategy for meeting the woman of his dreams, settle down, get married, and have a family. It was just a cocktail date. He made the call, which immediately took his Significant Other score from 3 to 4. It was all much less pain and effort than he’d built up in his mind, as it will be for you. Just remember to chunk it down!

RISK REINFORCEMENT Once you’ve filled out your Success & Satisfaction Self-Assessment, zero in on the area of greatest urgency, which will probably be the one you’ve assigned the lowest score. Think of some steps you can take that would bring improvement in that area. “Chunk down” your ideas into the smallest possible components so that the steps you’re considering are easy, unintimidating and doable. Next, determine one action that you can take within the next 24 hours that will move your satisfaction level up at least one point. Now, go do it!


After he’d finished scoring his assessment, I asked Jerry to take a few minutes to describe the areas where his life was especially satisfying, like his relationships with friends, fitness and social activities. I can’t overemphasize how important it is to acknowledge what’s working in your life because a big part of getting unstuck is setting specific goals and recognizing when you reach them. Once you’re there, you need that moment of recognition to reinforce the change you’ve made. No matter how small, as success breeds success, taking risks and making changes will become a habit. Being mindful of your progress and conscious that it’s worthy of recognition are critical to keeping the unstuck momentum. Besides, doesn’t it feel great to celebrate your success?

More than just feeling good, however, maintaining a state of gratefulness has some side benefits that might surprise you. Throughout this book, I’ll be citing the work of some experts in the emerging field of “positive psychology,” which is now widely recognized as the scientific study of human wellness, happiness, and well-being. A departure from the traditional focus on negative life aspects, such as addiction, trauma, or depression, researchers in this field provide insight on how we can make our lives more purposeful and fulfilling.

Dr. Robert A. Emmons, professor at the University of California at Davis and a pre-eminent positive psychologist, calls gratitude the “forgotten factor” in happiness research. In his book,Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Emmons states that, “Preliminary findings suggest that those who regularly practice grateful thinking do reap emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits.”

While that may not be news for philosophers, poets, or perhaps even you, scientists are relative latecomers to the thankfulness party. Better late than never, however. In the past few years, gratitude has become the subject of increased scientific study. As considerable as the emotional benefits of gratitude appear to be, there are initial reports that also demonstrate positive physical results. In a three-week sampling of adults with a neuromuscular disease, a gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of energy, elevated moods, increased feelings of connection to others, and better sleep duration and quality, when compared to a control group. What do you suppose that means for those of us not suffering from chronic illness? Perhaps we can reap health benefits from something as simple as a smile and a heartfelt thank you.

While all this is good news for us individually, social scientists involved in the study of gratitude aren’t stopping there. Instead, they’re starting to consider the positive ramifications that gratitude findings might have on society as a whole. While critics, cynics, and skeptics might poo-poo the notion entirely, imagine what it would be like to live in a society where feeling and expressing gratitude on a daily basis was part of our shared emotional lexicon.

So how can you begin to live a life of gratitude? Try the following tips. You’ll be grateful you did!

      Keep a gratitude journal. Take a few minutes each day to jot down some things for which you’re grateful. These might include family, health, sunshine, your pet, or just a good piece of fruit. Review and reflect upon your list regularly.

Think grateful thoughts. Psychologists refer to your inner thoughts as “self talk.” This constant internal monologue can be an incredibly powerful influence on how you feel about yourself, other people, and the events of the day, so make sure you turn up the volume on grateful thinking.

Be grateful for the negatives. It may sound counter-intuitive, but remember to give thanks for the lessons learned and insights gleaned from situations that turned out less than ideal.

Put some visual reminders of things you’re grateful for in your line of vision. These could include placing a family photo on your desk, an award on your bookshelf, or a slogan that sums up your grateful attitude where it will catch your eye each day.

Write a thank you letter to someone who affected your life. Thank an inspiring teacher, a beloved babysitter, or a treasured colleague or friend who did or said something that helped you, even in a small, subtle way.

Forgive your enemies. While this may seem like a stretch, try to forgive those who’ve wronged you. Hanging onto anger and resentment can block feelings of gratefulness. Consciously shift your focus from bitterness to blessings.

Now that you’ve taken a snapshot of ten key areas of life and gotten a sense of where you may want to focus, let’s get started with envisioning your Clarify, Simplify & Execute model. Whether you have a clear sense of your life vision or no clue at all where you’re headed doesn’t really matter. Just start with the mental imagery, we’ll get into more specifics later.


Creating Your Clarify, Simplify & Execute Model

Start your journey just like Jerry did by completing the following exercise. You can either read through the exercise in small chunks and do a bit at a time or have someone read it to you. Get comfortable, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and let go of stress. Continue deep breathing until you feel relaxed and ready to begin.

Create a mental image of the life you want to live. Make sure you consider both the professional and personal aspects, including your work, home, family, relationships, spiritual life, and so on. Meditate on your vision until it takes shape and comes into focus in your mind’s eye. If negative thoughts arise (“Who do you think you are?” “What makes you think you can have all that?”) acknowledge and release them, without giving them too much energy.

Imagine all the “pathways” to reaching your goal. If it helps, see the pathways literally, as a road, train track, or street map connecting you to your vision. Consider specific actions you can take, feelings you want to hold foremost in your mind, and ways that other people can support you on your journey.

Next, focus on how you’ll maintain the mental energy and motivation to keep you moving toward your goal. Reflect on what’s worked to keep you motivated toward past successes, including keeping a journal, joining a “mastermind team,” or working with a coach.

After you’ve done the exercise above a couple of times, write down your initial CSE plan by filling in the following:

Clarify the Vision

My vision for my best possible personal and professional life includes:

Simplify the Mission

The most direct route to realizing my vision is:

Execute Your Plan

I will execute my plan by doing the following:

Practice the visioning exercise above for a few minutes a day, ideally when you wake up in the morning and/or as you’re drifting off to sleep. Allow your vision to become increasingly focused and clear. In Chapter 2, we’ll be looking at your brain and how you can begin releasing fears, doubts, and insecurities.

Chapter 1—Stuck Happens
Don’t Let Limiting Assumptions Hold You Hostage

Chapter 2—This Is Your Brain on Fear
Switching Off the Fear Gear

Chapter 3—Defeating the Immediate Negative Response
There’s No Excuse for Excuse-Making

Chapter 4—Reframing Riskophobia
The Kaizen Concept of Continuous Improvement

Chapter 5—Is Your Stress Keeping You Stuck?
When You’re Suffering from Stress Creep

Chapter 6—Developing Your Escalating Risk Hierarchy
Relax, Risk & Repeat Your Way to Success

Chapter 7—Avoiding Limiters and Embracing Liberators
Turn Down the Volume on Limiter Language

Chapter 8—Risks of the Heart
Revealing Your Emotionally Authentic Self

Chapter 9—Mind Over Money
The Connection Between Net Worth and Self-Worth

Chapter 10—Your Health Unstuck
The Four Keys of Fitness: Food, Exercise, Sleep & Care

Chapter 11—Creating Your WOW Career
Take a Workplace Walkabout to Find Your Professional Fit

Chapter 12—Bundles of Beginnings
Where Will You Be One Year from Now?

Appendix A—Resources and Suggested Reading
Appendix B—Risk-Taker’s Tips, Tools & Exercises
Appendix C—Libby Gill & Company Helps You Stay Unstuck
About the Author

CHAPTER 2This Is Your Brain on Fear

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy. —JERRY SEINFELD

As you will soon see, fear plays a major role in keeping you stuck. Though you may call it by another name like procrastination, bad luck, or even too busy, you probably know that it’s fear. But fear isn’t a bad thing. Really. It’s what has kept you, and the human race, alive all these years. It’s also what can make you give in to your limiting assumptions if you don’t learn to distinguish the good fear that alerts you to danger, from the bad fear that keeps you stuck in your rut.

Do you remember that classic scene in the movie Broadcast News where a TV journalist played by Albert Brooks is auditioning as a weekend anchor? As soon as cameras are rolling and he begins reporting a story, perspiration starts to pool on his forehead. Pretty soon, he’s in a monsoon of his own sweat. It’s rolling down his face and drenching his suit jacket until it’s soaked clean through. During the commercial break, he mops at his face while a makeup artist frantically blow-dries his underarms, all to no avail. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you can probably guess that he didn’t get the anchor spot. Nothing like a good case of flop sweat to blow your on-air credibility.

Maybe you’ve had an experience, or even a moment, of such heightened anxiety that your body seemed to react independently from your brain. With any luck, you weren’t sweating copiously live on the air at the time. That sort of reaction—what you may call anxiety, worry, agitation, panic, or plain old fear—is, in fact, a direct result of your brain telling your body what to do. Obviously, fear is a natural and necessary part of life. Evolution has blessed us with extraordinary survival instincts that allow us to sense danger signs in our environment. A wild animal up ahead on the hiking trail, a car careening out of control alongside us on the highway, an angry co-worker who appears to have lost his grip.

In addition to our early-warning system that alerts us to danger, nature has also given us a number of involuntary physiological responses that kick in as part of our self-defense system. Imagine, for example, this scenario: You are alone in the woods at night or, if you find this more realistic, you’re in a seedy neighborhood at 2 A.M. You suddenly hear something right behind you and immediately your biological defenses go to work. The hair on the back of your neck stands up, putting you on high alert. Your eyes widen and your pupils dilate to let in more light. Your heart races, pumping blood, adrenalin, and cortisol to your extremities to prepare you to meet the impending threat. Your muscles tighten and you begin to sweat to cool your body as oxygen and nutrients are driven to your arms and legs, raising your body temperature. In this situation, fear is definitely your ally and, even without your conscious cooperation, has physically prepared you to either fight or flee.

Although survival mechanisms, like the “fight or flight response” I just described, are what kept us alive in a world filled with predators (including the kind you find in a dark alley), they aren’t nearly as relevant in our modern-day information-based society. To understand the difference, now picture this scenario. Imagine that you are standing at the head of a large conference table, preparing to address your CEO and senior management on the results of your latest sales quarter. As you face the crowd, your muscles tense and your body begins releasing adrenalin. Your heart starts pounding, your palms grow clammy, and you sweat profusely as you stammer through your presentation. Your instinctive autonomic response isn’t quite as helpful in this environment, is it? In fact, its physiological effects can be downright humiliating. Worse, as you’ll see later in this chapter, we tend to consolidate and build on our fear memories over time. So next quarter when you’ve got to give another presentation, the fear may loom even larger than it did last time.

Understanding what fear is, where it lives, and what triggers it is critical to getting you unstuck. Though you may not be able to overcome all your physical reactions to fear, nor would you want to, you can certainly learn to anticipate and manage them. What if Albert Brooks’s character knew that he was prone to sweat when he was anxious? If he had examined the underlying fear, anticipated his response, and reduced his anxiety before he got in front of the camera, he might have been able to avoid his rather damp reaction and gotten the gig. (In Chapter 5 we’ll talk about some relaxation techniques that you can put into practice to get you through these tough moments.)

Likewise, you need to know how to handle your brain’s danger signals before you sit down across from a recruiter for a job interview or a first date for a get-acquainted drink. Understanding your brain’s and body’s reaction to fear is as important for surviving in today’s world when you’re trying to land a job or start a romance as fleeing a predator was in the primitive world. In this chapter, we’ll be looking at how fear affects you. Specifically, how fear and fear memories may be holding you back from going after what you want in your personal and professional life.

Within reason, fear is a good thing. It alerts us to danger and helps us respond appropriately. But when our fears and anxieties stop us from taking life-enhancing risks, it’s time to identify and manage those fears.


At its core, most fear is fear of failure. Failure to conquer, failure to influence or persuade, failure to win the heart of another, failure to compete in the workplace, failure to adequately care for others, failure to appear competent and in charge. Even when people say they’re afraid of success, which is a concept I’ve never entirely bought, they’re really talking about fear of failure. Drill it down and you’ll see. You say you’re afraid of success because if you succeed at your job and make a lot of money, your spouse, friends, or parents will no longer love you. That’s fear of failure to be loved, not a fear of being successful, which, by the way, is also a pretty handy excuse not to have to work hard.

In the infinitely mysterious ways in which our minds work, often the thing we say we’re the most afraid of also happens to be the thing we most want. Ask yourself if you or people you know have ever uttered any of the following. And if you haven’t said it out loud, maybe you’ve said it to yourself?

I’m afraid to go into business for myself

I’m afraid to ask her out on a date

I’m afraid of joining a gym

I’m afraid to leave my boyfriend

I’m afraid to check my bank balance

I’m afraid to change jobs

I’m afraid to move to a new city

I’m afraid to get on the scale

I’m afraid to have kids

I’m afraid to ask for help with my finances

I’m afraid to go back to school

I’m afraid to ask for a raise

Now look at the flipside and you may see the fondest wish of the person professing that fear:

I’d love to start my own bakery

It’d be great if she’d go out to dinner with me

I’d really like to get in shape

I want out of this unhealthy relationship

I want to have a healthy bank account

Boy, would I love to find a new job

I’m so ready to move somewhere warm

It would be great to be at my ideal weight

I’d love to start a family

I would like to have good financial advisors

Wouldn’t it be great to finally get my degree?

It’d be great to get that raise

See what I mean? You’re not afraid of getting a new job unless you really want a new job. You don’t get anxious looking at college applications unless you want to get your degree. You don’t worry about packing up and moving to a new city unless that’s your dream. So while you may think you’re afraid of a specific course of action, the truth is that it may be exactly what you not only want but also need. Yet instead of making it happen, you’ve clouded your brain with fear and convinced yourself that your limiting assumptions are accurate. We’re going to start challenging those assumptions and you’ll begin to see that you actually have a multitude of options.

Because of the work I do, my radar is finely tuned to picking up on people’s limiting assumptions, just like I used to spot typos at a glance when I was editing copy every day. But I don’t just hear those assumptions at work, I hear them every day, everywhere. Most people have no idea how quickly they come to convenient conclusions that either keep them from having to get their hands dirty and do some work, take a risk that frightens them, or face a truth about themselves (or others) that they’d rather ignore.

Here’s an example. I was talking to a friend named Janine, who happens to own her own realty business. She’d broken up with her last boyfriend several years before, but hadn’t dated since. Now she was ready to get back into circulation. When I asked what type of guy she was looking for, she gave me her rather lengthy wish list then added, “But he can’t be a 9-to-5 corporate type. I need someone who’s completely in charge of his own calendar.” Red alert! Can you hear the limiting assumption? She’d just shut out a sizeable chunk of the available male dating population with that one statement and wasn’t even aware of it.

And what do you suppose was hiding way down deep, buried beneath that limiting assumption and all her specifications? You got it, fear of failure, specifically relationship failure, which might be a fear of intimacy, fear of rejection, or a number of other issues that I didn’t pursue. (I only butt in where I’m invited, hired, or it infringes on my own welfare or that of my loved ones. You may want to consider the same.) See how this works? When you establish your criteria, a.k.a. your limiting assumption, so restrictively, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll be able to avoid the situation you profess to desire. Which is not to say that my friend couldn’t find a nice guy who also owns his own business. But if you were really serious about finding a partner, would you set your parameters so narrowly that it would be more difficult than necessary to achieve your goal? Only if your fear of failing at a relationship was greater than your fear of succeeding at one. It takes an inquiring mind to tell the difference.

RISK-TAKER’S TOOLListening for the Fear Behind Limiting Beliefs

Ask yourself if you’ve ever arrived at any of the following conclusions to keep from facing your fear?

I’m not qualified for that job because the posting says you need five years experience and I only have three years.

Promoting myself at the office is way too pushy.

I only date younger women.

I don’t date anyone without a graduate degree.

Everyone in our family is heavy, always have been, always will be.

Entry-level work is not for me.

Not many people are genuinely helpful.

I’m no good at sports.

People who go back to school in midlife really struggle.

The economy is so bad, I’ll just stay where I am.

Now ask yourself: What is the payoff you’d get from buying into any of those limiting assumptions? What fear would you be avoiding? What risk would you not have to take? As you continue working through You Unstuck, be mindful of the limiting assumptions that you, or others, blindly believe are true. While you may not want to challenge everyone else’s assumptions, you should sharpen your listening skills so that you recognize them when you hear them. Even more important, you need to form the habit of challenging your own assumptions by continually asking if they’re accurate, useful and growth-promoting. If not, drop them from your internal and external vocabulary.

Be aware of the tendency that social scientists call “Confirmation Bias.” That is when you use data to confirm the position you’ve chosen as opposed to using the information to challenge or study your conclusion. And since there’s plenty of conflicting information, even in pure science and clinical research, if you choose to support your limiting assumption it’s not hard to do.


Dr. Gregory Berns is a neuroscientist, psychiatrist, and director of the Neuroscience Policy Center at Emory University. Dr. Berns and his research colleagues conducted a brain study where they placed subjects in an MRI scanner and hooked them up to electrodes. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? The subjects were warned that they’d receive a shock, not harmful but definitely not pleasant, within a one- to thirty-second timeframe which would be revealed to them each time in advance.

The scientists then monitored the subjects’ brain scans. Some subjects showed intense activity in the pain-processing areas of the brain well before they received their shock, indicating that the fear came from idea of pain rather than actual pain. A third of the subjects actually preferred to receive a bigger shock immediately rather than wait the specified amount of time for the smaller shock. Apparently, they were more fearful of the waiting period than of the shock itself. As Dr. Berns told The New York Times, “It sounds illogical, but fear—whether of pain or losing a job—does strange things to decision-making.” Dr. Berns also concluded that when our brains’ fear systems are actively engaged, other areas including risk-taking and exploration are turned off.

What does this mean for those of us who, while not hooked up to electrodes, may be waiting for our next shock? If we’re overly focused on fear, such as losing a job, a relationship or our savings, we’re less able to use the parts of our brains necessary for innovation. The irony is, of course, that as we succumb to the gloom-and-doom mongers of the world, we’re creating a vicious cycle. By feeding on the fears of the media, co-workers, friends, and family, our fears become normalized.

Even when there’s a basis in fact, the fear becomes so pervasive it seems to take on a life of its own. I was first made aware of this phenomenon as a kid growing up in Florida during the days of the Cuban missile crisis. I’ll never forget taking our supplies to school and practicing our “duck and cover” drills in homeroom. Just like that old episode of The Twilight Zone, my father even went so far as to install a fallout shelter with four tons of steel and concrete, a generator, and two separate air-filtering systems. I guess it made sense to some, since we weren’t the only ones in the neighborhood with a bomb shelter. But talk about focusing on fear!

Interestingly, a pioneering study by Dr. Paul Slovic, one of the early researchers in the field of risk perception pointed out some vast differences on how people perceive risk. In a famous series of studies, he concluded that while both scientists and non-scientists ranked nuclear power last on a list of thirty perceived threats in terms of having caused fatalities, lay people ranked nukes as the highest risk overall, while scientists placed it at twenty out of thirty potential risks. In subsequent studies that included ninety different types of risks, lay people again ranked nuclear power first. Obviously, emotion and lack of firsthand knowledge play a huge part in deciding what we fear.

Other times, fear runs rampant with virtually no basis in fact. A frightening rumor that there are 50,000 pedophiles online prowling for victims has made its way around the globe. Certainly there are predators online and it’s nothing to take lightly, particularly if you have children using the web. But while this widely quoted statistic has been used by sources including NBC’s Dateline and government officials, there’s no definitive source or scientific backing. What’s more, as the already scary number gets further defined, the fear factor grows. In his fascinating book, The Science of Fear, author Daniel Gardner cites two parent advocates who state, “The internet is a wonderful tool, but it can also be an evil one, especially sites like MySpace.com. At any one given time, 50,000 pedophiles are on the site.” While I have long been suspicious of any stats that come in nice round numbers, after years of working with the media (and the people who feed them information) I am now just as suspicious of odd-numbered statistics crafted to give the ring of truth.

Clearly, sticking with an anxiety-based mindset only serves to increase our fears at a time when we most need to be thinking of creative ways to build our businesses, find new jobs, or increase our savings. But when fear has the pain-processing areas happily buzzing, it shuts down the risk-taking centers. So how do we switch off the fear gear and turn on the exploratory thinking? First, like we started in Chapter 1, continue creating a vision that is so compelling and appealing that it’s even more powerful than your fear of failing. That’s why we began with the Clarify, Simplify & Execute model, so you’d have a clear vision to focus on when fear began to cloud your thinking. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Lawrence had initially gotten off to a great start with his custom closet and cabinet-building business. He prided himself on his great design sense and quality craftsmanship and, for the first few years, his clientele was building steadily. When the economy crashed, a sense of panic set in and Lawrence adopted a bunker-like mentality of riding out the bad times. When he should have been building his network, reaching out to new prospects, marketing his business, and looking at lower-priced options to offer his customers, he cut back and simply waited for the economy to improve.

When his business began plummeting, he decided to seek coaching before he lost everything he’d built. As usual, our starting point was for Lawrence to set up his CSE model, which immediately helped him open his sights to the possibilities of what could be. Clarifying his vision, which was “I am taking my business to a new level,” gave Lawrence a much-needed injection of hope instead of keeping his focus locked in on the ballyhoo about the terrible retail climate.

Before going any further, he challenged his limiting assumption that the economy was failing, therefore his business would fail, too. Once Lawrence admitted that he had no credible evidence to back up his assumption and did some homework on businesses that had flourished in tough times, he recognized that his perspective was flawed. That led to the realization that his assumption was based on fear rather than fact and that the underlying fear, once again, was fear of failure. When Lawrence saw how much energy he was putting into fear thoughts, he began to consciously switch off the fear gear. He limited his time cruising internet news sites and watching news on TV, and quit checking his stocks so frequently. With less negativity stirring up fear he shifted his thoughts to innovating new ideas for his business. A nice bonus was the extra time in his schedule now that he wasn’t glued to the news.

Lawrence simplified his route to elevating his business and came up with his new do-it-yourself shelving unit that would look like his custom work, but could be sold at a lower price point. He set up an action timeline, a budget, and a marketing campaign and he was ready to move forward. Now, Lawrence began to execute his plan. Before long, he had tapped into a new customer base and his shelving systems were picked up by a regional chain.

Here are some things you can do to shift out of fear gear and into innovation mode:

Step away from the media. If all the negative reports freak you out, try a news diet. Give up TV newscasts, newspapers, and online news sites for a week. If that’s too much of a stretch for you, at least limit your daily intake.

Make a brag book about all the great things you have going on in your life. Include everything you’re grateful for, like your family, health, an upcoming vacation, your lovely significant other, your home, a great glass of wine, really good dark chocolate, or whatever makes you feel truly blessed. It’s hard to be scared when you’re being grateful.

Listen to music that you love. It doesn’t matter if it’s rock, jazz, classical, or Gregorian chant as long as it soothes, comforts, relaxes, or inspires you. If switching to music helps you shut out talk radio or TV, so much the better. If you can, leave your music on in the background while you work. Even if you’re barely aware of it, there’s something truly magical about melody.

Embellish your CSE plan. If you haven’t written it out, read the last chapter again, then do it now. Write out your clear vision, describe the easiest route to get there, explain how you’ll execute your plan. Now, bring your CSE model to life by turning it into a painting, vision board, photo collage or blog.

A Hollywood entertainment industry veteran, Libby Gill spent fifteen years heading public relations and corporate communications at Universal Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Turner Broadcasting. Libby was also the PR and branding brain behind the launch of the Dr. Phil show.

Libby is now an internationally respected business coach, speaker, and bestselling author. She has shared her success strategies on The Today Show, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, CNN, NPR, Oprah & Friends Radio Network, CBS Early Show, and in Time Magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, O Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Self, and many more.