Whether it’s violence, terrorism, the Zika virus, or not getting that raise at work, we all fear something. With the 24/7 news cycle we are being constantly warned of impending danger, and it seems it’s everywhere.
Fear is an emotional response to perceived danger. It’s usually related to something from our past, or something we dread in the future. Fear can be a gift when it warns us to move away from immediate danger. It can be a problem when it keeps us from doing something that will help us reach our goals. When it’s an emotional fear of doing something we haven’t done before, rather than being afraid of a man with a knife to our throat, it can sometimes be difficult to name it and overcome it.
When I was 25 feet from impact when the plane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, I didn’t feel immediate fear. I reacted calmly and automatically. That’s because our subconscious mind kicks in and leads us out of real danger rather than us consciously having to tell ourselves how. It was much later that I felt panic.
When our fears are irrational and paralyzing, however, they can stop us from taking on life’s challenges, moving forward with our dreams, and realizing our goals. Taking on those fears and not letting them stop us can make all the difference in leading a successful life. A few simple steps to stop that fear before it takes hold:
1. Name that fear. We often tell ourselves we are afraid of one thing when it’s really an underlying fear. It important to name the real fear so we can address it. For example, is your fear that your boss doesn’t like you, or is it that you will be fired? Is the fear that you will lose a relationship, or is it that you will be alone? What is that real fear underlying our words?
2. Is the fear real or imagined? Name your evidence. Unless someone is threatening us, most of our fears are caused by our thinking of what might happen. A client recently told me he was afraid of giving a presentation to his program manager. When we broke it down, the underlying fear was that he would look stupid in front of his boss, and perhaps get fired. When I asked him to name his evidence, he admitted he had given presentations before, he could practice with his team until he was comfortable, and he could answer most any question his manager could ask. If he didn’t have the answer, he could follow up later with the answer. After analyzing his evidence, he realized most of his fear was imagined.
3. Ask “What’s the worst thing that could happen? And can I handle it?” Once you know what the real fear is and analyze the evidence, you have a good idea of how you can overcome it. Most of the time, the worst that could happen is something you can handle, because you have handled it before. A friend of mine told me she was afraid of losing her relationship. When she named it, she admitted she was afraid of being alone. When I asked her how she would handle that and how she had handled it before, she remembered times she had been alone and had been quite happy, much happier than she had been in this particular relationship.
4. Who would you be without this fear? Ask yourself, “If I absolutely could not feel this fear, how would I feel? How would I behave?” Would you be more confident? Would you speak up more? Would you take more chances? Imagine yourself unable to feel the fear, and write down all those feelings you would have. It will help you see how your fear is holding you back.
5. Do the thing you fear. Fear is a natural part of starting down any new path we haven’t walked before. We’ve analyzed the fear, and we know we can handle it. Now be courageous enough to take that first step and do the thing you fear. When you do, even though it may feel scary, doing it over and over will help it feel natural. Pretty soon it won’t be a fear, it will be a skill. As Margaret Shepard said, “Sometimes, your only available transportation is a leap of faith.”
The more we name, analyze and do the things we fear, the stronger we get and the less able fear is to stop us. We find ourselves taking more chances, and moving forward to a life we really love.