If you’ve ever seen a movie or TV show starring Dax Shepard (“CHiPs,” “Without a Paddle,” “Parenthood”), then chances are he played a comedic role. The actor, who is married to the equally funny and charming Kristen Bell (“Bad Moms,” “The Good Place,” “Veronica Mars”) seems like a hilarious and all-around fun guy. But Shepard is not silent about the demons he’s faced in the past, and continues to face.
A recovering alcoholic, Shepard is a huge advocate of Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program that helped him get—and stay—sober. On an episode of his new podcast, “Armchair Expert,” Shepard shared his interpretation of one particularly difficult step that deals with resentment, which he says was the breakthrough that changed his life.
Most of us are probably holding a grudge or two. If you’d like to let go of that pain and move on, Shepard has an exercise for the fourth step from AA’s 12-step program. “Your only goal is to make yourself better—that’s something you can do,” he says. Get out your pencil and paper to try Shepard’s method, and read on.
Column one: The who
Draw three columns on a piece of paper. “Make a list of people you’re resentful toward or angry at,” Shepard says. Put the names in the left column. They could be a former teacher, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, someone you work with—the list can be as long or as short as you want.
Column two: The why
In the middle column, write down why you resent that person. Dax calls his example “Jerry.”
“What is it you resent about Jerry? In this next column [you might write] ‘He’s always trying to get me fired. He’s always telling my boss if I’m late or if I didn’t turn something in,’” Shepard explains.
Column three: The what
In the right-hand column you’re going to write what fear of yours is being triggered by this person.
Shepard says, “So if Jerry is always trying to get me fired, that threatens my sense of economic security. So I would write down my fear of economic security.”
This fear, Shepard continues, could be resolved by taking action yourself, such as turning in that project or getting to work on time: “Because if I’m never late, there’s really nothing for Jerry to tell my boss. I do play a role in this.”
“If you make a list of 30 or 100 people, you will start to see so quickly that all these people you’re upset with trigger the same three fears over and over again,” says Shepard.
For Shepard, those fears are economic insecurity, which stems from his childhood; fear of status or being seen as “less than;” and fear of looking stupid, which for Shepard, stems from being diagnosed with dyslexia as a child.
“These three fears are basically running my life. There are people I hate because of these fears; a lot of my character defects are probably to support this fear I have,” he says. “But now I have a roadmap of what to attack. If I don’t have any fears, I’m not going to have any resentments. You really can’t be triggered by people that aren’t triggering fears of yours.”
Plan of attack
Shepard suggests taking action to fight these fears. For example, if you have a fear of economic insecurities, meet with a financial planner and crunch the numbers to create a realistic life plan. “If I can get my arms around the things I’m afraid of, it’s incredible how much downstream business it takes care of,” he continues.
In the moment, Shepard also suggests learning to ask for a moment alone to evaluate what fears are being triggered. “It’s very helpful, if you start to fight with a loved one, to take 15 minutes, go into a room and get honest [with yourself] about what fear is being triggered and realize, this is something from childhood—it’s not real in the moment right now—and go out and tell your loved one, ‘When you said that it really triggered my fear.’”
Photo credit: Cathryn Lavery, Unsplash