Perfectionism, insecurities, failures and success. It’s at the core of everything. It’s something that you can’t ever look fully in the face because that’s when it knows you’ll win and it won’t let that happen. So fear will do everything in its power to keep you down on the ground or facing away from it.
Sometimes this is helpful. Sometimes fear does this to make sure you don’t pursue something that is harmful to you. In which case, it’s something akin to a disciplinarian parent who is harsh, but effective and means well.
But sometimes fear just does what it does because that’s all it knows. It’s not aware of other possibilities. A different way of being. Oblivious to the benefits of new experiences. It’s not a thinking being, but still stubborn. It has one kind of programming that can be useful at times, but left to its own devices, can be unknowingly destructive.
Which is why it needs to be faced, reasoned with, and given new experiences to help it make more informed decisions.
How You Can Recognize You’re Acting Out of Fear
Sometimes you aren’t aware you are making decisions out of fear. A major sign is if you’re exhibiting aggressive or avoidant behaviors (i.e., fight-or-flight). Although not comprehensive, here are a few scenarios to help you identify when you are acting out of fear:
1. You’re making a decision without thinking through each possibility or consequence.
2. You don’t believe you can accomplish something because you’re either overwhelmed by its magnitude and significance or you doubt you have the competence to handle it.
3. You react with undue aggression to certain situations.
Why Should You Face Your Fears?
Imagine fear as a dragon. Just battling it, even if you don’t win the first few times you try, increases your confidence. Because you’ve now faced it and you know what it looks like, how it behaves, and what it’s really about. You’ve made the unknown known. And it’s not as bad. Plus, each time you face it, you learn something new that better equips you in future battles.
Usually, fear is standing guard over something valuable. If you defeat fear, you’ve either earned a new skill, gained an insight or achieved a virtue. That means you’ve basically improved yourself in some way. You’ve acquired a new power.
How to Face Your Fears
1. Know your reason for facing it
Why are you even concerned about this task? Why do you need to do it? Would it lead to better things for you? Would it open up new doors? Or is it just because it’s plaguing you? Does it keep taking up space at the back of your mind? Is it holding you back from going after something else? Making you think that just because you haven’t managed to conquer it, you aren’t good enough to go after what you really want?
To really make it stick, think of someone telling you not to do this task because they believe it to be ill-advised. Either because they think it’s a wrong move for you or because they don’t feel that you can handle it. (Your own fears are probably already telling you all this anyway, so it might not be too hard to imagine.) In any case, argue your personal reason for pursuing this activity.
If you have a reason for why you’re facing your fear, you’ll always have something to ground you or brace you against any onslaught of insecurities or negativity. Think of it as your shield or your inner strength.
For example: Say you want to learn a new language, French. Someone might think it’s a complete waste of your time. What would you do with a useless language like that? (If you’re in Canada, then being bilingual would make you very marketable in the job market…so if you are Canadian, for the purposes of this example, please pretend you’re not. :D) Well, what made you want to pursue it? Do you think you might some day want to visit France (or Quebec)? Maybe you have a dream of opening up a boutique there and you need to speak the language. Ok, then argue it to yourself. As for the person who says you can’t handle it, tell them you’ll try it out for a week and see how you feel. If you’re still interested, you’ll do it. If not, then oh well.
2. Make it your priority
Some people like taking little steps towards their fears. I think this is a good idea if you’re already familiar with your fear and you just stopped working on it.
But when you’re facing it for the first time, your mind makes up so many stories of what it might be like, the best course of action is then to just plunge into it. That way your mind has no way of running from it or creating elaborate avoidance strategies.
Start by telling yourself this is all that you will be concentrating on for a defined period of time. Wipe off any and all tasks or obligations that you have. Push off any projects you’re working on to a later date. Clear everything from your schedule. Basically eliminate all other stresses from your life for a period of time, so that you can give this your undivided attention. Make it impossible for your mind to say, “Well, we have errands scheduled for today, so we really can’t tackle the interview prep session right now.” You can do errands tomorrow.
For now, you have to clear and dedicate time to facing your fear. You can’t do anything else. You can’t think about anything else. You can get back to the real world when you’ve conquered your fear. Right now, you either have to face it or sit and do nothing. And if you’re like me, then know that daydreaming is also prohibited. 😛
This jumpstarts you into what you don’t want to do, but need to (for the reasons you’ve outlined before). This immersive phase serves to familiarize you with your fear so that you realize it’s not as scary as your mind believes.
2. Limit your time spent on it – this is your trial period
You will find it impossible to make yourself plunge into your fears for an indefinite period of time. You need to comfort your brain in some way. Let it know that it can come back to safety afterwards and tell it exactly when. In other words, you need to set a time limit on your exposure.
I would suggest a day, but it depends on your personal preference. I prefer a day because it allows ample time for you to get used to the idea and try to pep talk yourself into it. It also allows you to take it slow if need be, but still have enough time to explore as much of the activity as possible.
If you choose to make it less than a day, I would suggest thinking about it throughout the week. Get yourself used to the idea that it’s coming and try to get excited about it. Imagine that you’re just going to be working on a challenge for a period of time, just to check things out and see how it goes.
3. Make a safety net
When you face your fears, you’re already contending against a formidable enemy. I’m of course talking about the big, scaly, fire-breathing dragon. There’s no need to buff it up and strengthen it even more by adding your own expectations to it. Instead, you have to strip it of its current strength. Get rid of its scales and it’s ability to breathe fire. And stop thinking you’ll be able to kill it with a single strike. Instead, concentrate on your footwork. 😉
In other words: get rid of any expectations you have of yourself and the thing you fear. If it’s something you’re going to have to learn, don’t set performance objectives. Simply state, “Ok, I’m going in just for reconnaissance.” Your initial objective is to just observe and explore.
If you’re afraid of an activity where you will have to perform, for example a job interview, then tell yourself that the first interview is just practice. You don’t have to get the job. You have to just perform to the best of your abilities. If it’s an interview for a position you really want, try to interview at a different company before you do this one. If that’s not possible, find out where you can get mock interviews done for free. Usually your university or college career offices can help. Or if your current boss is nice and you have a good relationship, you can ask him/her to conduct one on you.
To recap, your safety nets are as follows: no performance objectives and more prepping. Or in other words: make it a practice session.
4. Give yourself an exit, on the condition that you try
When fighting a dragon, you must always be aware of your escape routes. Or allow yourself to retreat. But ONLY if you face it first.
You have a reason to face it, you’ve scheduled a time to do so, and you are doing it only to familiarize yourself with it. To see it and understand it and explore what it’s about, just so your brain can stop thinking up all those crazy stories of how scary it is.
After you do all that, you are going to let yourself off the hook. You’ve tried it and if it’s something you don’t think you can handle, then you’re going to stop thinking about it. Don’t worry, if it’s something important, it will come up again later and you can go through this process again. But if doesn’t, then it’s not worth pursuing.
However, if after facing it, you realize it’s not as bad as you had thought and you can in fact handle it, then continue with it. This is where you break the task down into bite-size pieces, spread it through your schedule and approach it a little bit each day. This is to continue exposure so your brain doesn’t have a chance to forget that you faced this situation once before and was able to handle it superbly. 😉
In Summary: the Rules of the Game
Fear is bad. It’s a fire-breathing dragon. Sometimes it’s useful and well-intentioned, but most of the time, it’s mean and nasty. You can recognize it by noticing when you’ve reverted back to your primitive fight-or-flight responses. You need to be able to face your fears in order to grow, strengthen and achieve new abilities or powers. You can face your fears by first defining your reasons for confronting it. Then, by making it your priority. But make sure to set a time limit on your exposure and be aware of your safety nets. Finally, you have the right to exit the battlefield and forget it all happened, but only if you’ve done all of the above and first stood face-to-face against the dragon.
Did you get all that? Great! Now, let the games begin. 😀 😉
And as always, best of luck!
How do you deal with your fears? What are some fears that have held you back? Are you taking any steps to help you overcome them?
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