From the time we are little, we experience fear (“Mommy, don’t turn the lights out!”). Even before there are words to express it, fear is there. Take for instance a mother who jets out of the house for a quart of milk. Fearing abandonment, her child cries inconsolably until she returns. While we usually get over our fear of monsters and the dark (unfortunately that abandonment one has a tendency to stick around), other kinds of fears creep into our lives – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of death.
Unfortunately, it seems we are simply hard-wired for fear. With that in mind, fear does have its perks. It lets us know when not to touch a burning pan and when to steer clear of dangerous people and places. It can also be a motivator. Many successful actors got their start in the field as a way to overcome being shy. While you could argue that skydivers, bungee jumpers and other daredevils are mainly after thrills, they are also addicted to the psychological rush of overcoming their fears.
More commonly, fear holds us back. It can even be paralyzing. Like anger, fear makes us emotionally unstable and can cause irrational behavior. Worst of all, fear can have an ill affect on judgment, leading us to self-sabotage. When it wields too much influence over our choices in life, it can be the source of deep regret. Trust us, you don’t want to go there!
Once you understand your fears and how they are at work within you, you can train yourself to push through and past them into that clear space where good decisions can be made. While certain fears may never leave you (think of athletes and performers who struggle with stage fright throughout their careers), you have to get past the fear in order to succeed.
If you follow these five simple steps, you will become more adept at seeing past your fear to help move forward in life. Eventually, you’ll be able to function with all your fears. And remember, sometimes your fears may actually help you to recognize just what you need to do!
1. Acknowledge your fear
The first step to overcoming any destructive emotion is to become aware of and recognize it at work within you. Only when you realize it is fear at work will you be able to begin the process of figuring out what the fear is… where it comes from and how to get past it. First, learn the telltale signs of fear – nervousness, shaking, self-doubt, frustration, feeling stuck, a desire to avoid someone or something, even anxiety.
2. Figure out what you fear
Once you’ve acknowledged fear is at work, it’s time to figure out what it is that you fear more specifically. Is it failure, rejection or even success? Are you stuck in an unsatisfying job because you fear you won’t be able to find a better one? Behind this fear is the fear of financial ruin, of not being able to pay the rent, or provide for those you love. These fears are totally legitimate – until, that is, they make you so unhappy it negatively affects all of your relationships. If you take some time to meditate on what your fear is, it will come to you.
3. Determine the source of your fear
You’ve determined what your fear is. Let’s take, for instance, rejection. The next step is to figure out where that fear comes from – what it is based on. Begin by asking what your earliest memory associated with this fear is. Maybe a parent told you in a fit of anger that they weren’t sure if they loved you anymore. You’ll be surprised at how far back your fears go! Next, consider whether there was a more recent point in your life, perhaps a specific event that activated this fear or made it stronger in you. A serious illness can increase one’s fear of death. A close friend’s betrayal can make one fear putting trust in new friends. Perhaps it was a series of failed relationships that increased your fear of rejection.
4. Neutralize the fear
Now that you understand the sources of your fear, you’ve already begun the process of neutralizing it. Neutralizing fear is another way of putting it in perspective. In decision-making, you can neutralize fear by focusing on your goals and ideal outcomes. A helpful exercise is to write down what, if you were fearless, would be the ideal outcomes and what are the likely outcomes of a decision. Use your powers of objectivity to keep the outcomes separate from the emotions that surround them. Then consider which decision would bring you closer to the ideal outcomes.
5. Build trust in yourself
Now that you’ve acknowledged your fear, named it, gone to its source and neutralized it, it’s time to build trust in yourself again. Remind yourself of past instances when you were successful, even in the face of your fears. Look at things you tried that were gutsy. Remind yourself of times when you may not have been successful, but were still okay with it because you learned something valuable or something better arose from the experience. Remind yourself of your skills, capabilities and resilience.
These reminders are a powerful antidote to help put you in the frame of mind to see your good decisions through – in every situation!
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