Most people have at lease a few fears. Fear played an important role in our evolution, keeping us safe from harm, and is responsible for our fight, flight or freeze response. Just think how much more interesting and rewarding your life would be if you could be a little more fearless. Learning to push beyond fear is a valuable skill that greatly increases your odds of leading a more fulfilling life.
Generally speaking, I’m not a fearful person. I’ve had two great fears in my life: fear of heights and fear of public speaking.
I don’t know where I picked up the fear of heights. I remember as a kid, sitting on and even jumping from the roofs of friends’ houses. I climbed trees without giving it another thought. But sometime when my kids were young, the mother in me kicked in. Having two very active boys, I found I would get a little panicky when they got too close to the edge of anything, or climbed too high, or put themselves in what I perceived as peril.
I have voluntarily done things that you wouldn’t think someone with a fear of heights would do. I have skydived without fear for example, and that’s even hard for me to understand. I have hiked Half Dome in Yosemite National Park – twice. On the sub-dome (before the cables), I was petrified the first time. As my husband tells it, 50 shades of green, almost paralyzed with fear. The second time was a breeze in comparison, and the cables never gave me any problem. Go figure. To this day, I can’t get on the roof.
My fear of public speaking goes back so far, I can’t even remember when it started. I was a painfully shy kid, would’ve rather faded into the background than been in the spot light. And this fear followed me into adulthood until about 10 years ago. At that time, it became apparent to me that, for a variety of reasons, I would have to start speaking in public. So, I found every opportunity I could to do so, and it just became easier and easier. For the most part, although I still get a little nervous before addressing a large crowd, I have things under control. And while I was very nervous last week preceding a television interview, it was nothing in comparison to what it used to be, and I was able to relax and feel comfortable during the actual interview.
My anticipation is always greater than reality. I think of all that can go wrong, instead of what can go right – I might fall and break my neck, I might embarrass myself, and so on. It’s all a head game – intellectually I know that chances are, everything will work out fine, but I let my emotions get the best of me.
And here’s the thing. I know that if I wanted to get over my fear of heights, I could, just as I (mostly) got over my fear of public speaking – by facing my fears. But really, that fear doesn’t impact me very much, and so I don’t put in the effort.
There are many, many fears besides just these two. Everything from fear of creepy crawly things, to fear of injections, to fear of flowers (it’s a thing – look it up). If you find yourself wishing you could step outside your comfort zone and have a more fulfilling life, try some of these strategies. And as a side benefit – more courage = better self-esteem too.
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
This would work well for my fear of public speaking, maybe not so much for fear of heights, so be choosy when you use this one. Most of the time, if you look at the worst possible outcome, you’ll find it’s not so bad.
Deal with the smaller stressors and fears.
The key to managing big fears is to tackle the smaller ones. Your mind will become accustomed to your new patterns of thought and action. And overcoming the small fears will help you to feel more confident to face the larger ones.
Realize that fear only happens between your ears.
Not everyone has the same fears. You might be afraid of spiders, but your friend loves them. So, if you think about it, the source of your fear is what goes on in your head.
Change your thoughts.
Since it’s all about what’s going on in your head, change that narrative. You are not your thoughts and you can choose to think anything you want.
Focus on the positive possibilities.
As I said, I was thinking about everything that could go wrong, instead of everything that could go right. That interview could have led to more business. The Half Dome hike gave me bragging rights. It’s as easy to think of the positive as the negative, it just takes time to develop that habit.
View fear as a challenge.
That’s definitely what I did with public speaking. I challenged myself, by seeking out opportunities. And each time, I grew stronger and more confident.
Always return to your breath to help you slow down your mind. Don’t follow those fear thoughts down the rabbit hole of doom. When you feel the stress of fear, just slow down and breathe.
Talk to a trusted friend or mentor. Sometimes just talking it out takes the scariness out of it.
Understand that change and fear often go hand in hand.
Most people fear change, because of the unknown. Think of change as growth, and be open to the possibilities.
Do it anyway.
Fear is a lousy reason for not doing something. It’s not a good excuse, although it is a socially acceptable one. Be brave and resolve to do the thing you fear. It will be easier next time. And who knows what you may be missing by playing it safe.