Fear is an emotion that often gets a bad rap. The truth is that without it, saber tooth tigers would have eaten our cave dwelling ancestors long ago. While we no longer face daily threats to our physical survival, the culture we live in thrives on fear mongering and often makes us feel and act as though we do. And so the challenge we face in our today’s modern world is to discern between the fears that are serving us and those that are holding us back.
That takes courage.
Of course being courageous isn’t about pretending that bad things don’t happen or that real risks are all in our head. It is about choosing to lay our vulnerability on the line for something greater than our pride; risking failure and rejection in order to pursue our greatest aspirations and create more truthful and meaningful lives.
It begins by getting clear about what it is that you most want – in your work or business, relationships and life – and then identifying fear may be inadvertently be holding you back from having it. Here’s 7 steps to get you started.
1. GET CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU REALLY WANT
Michelangelo once said, “The greater danger is not that our dreams are too lofty and we fail to achieve the but they are too small and we do.” However most of us are too afraid to dream big because as soon as we do it creates a large crevasse between where we presently are and where we’d like to be.
So beginning where you are, identify an area(s) of your life in which you feel a clear level of dissatisfaction or unhappiness. What would you need to do to be different for you to feel a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction. Don’t get stuck on the external stuff like “I want a top job, big house, or gorgeous girl/guy by my side.” Rather focus on the feeling that you think these things would give you, i.e., “I want a job that is both challenging & rewarding. I want a relationship with a self-assured and love person who I love hanging out with.” Get the drill?
Unless you get clear about what you really want – in your career, relationships, health & wellbeing, and life – you’ll have little chance of actually getting it. Dare to dream big.
2. IDENTIFY YOUR DEEPEST FEAR
Fear is not a ‘bad’ thing. Far from it! Rather it’s a question of whether or not your fears are actually serving you (protecting you from REAL threats to your wellbeing) or if they are holding you back keeping you stuck, tip toeing through life and living, as Thoreau called, a “quiet life of desperation.” So what is it that you are afraid might happen if you begin taking action in the direction of your goals and dreams? That you will be humiliated, that you’ll go broke, be rejected or ‘found out’ as inadequate? Whatever your fear, own it. Unless you own your fears, they will own you. The only way to conquer our fear is to look it right in the eye and then step forward in its presence.
3. BE HONEST ABOUT THE COST OF INACTION.
Don’t kid yourself, inaction and choosing to do nothing, is costly. Research has identified a psychological phenomenon whereby we human beings tend toward discounting the cost of our choices, even when it’s obvious they are not benefiting us. The reason why? Reality ain’t pretty. The result? We kid ourselves; everything’s hunky dory when really, it’s anything but, and all the while life sails along in a direction that’s taking us far from the life we’d truly love to live. The very act of acknowledging that we are stuck or unhappy is an act of courage all its own, but getting present to the steep price you are paying for letting fear and doubt run your life (or even part of it!) is absolutely crucial to re-creating it the way you want it to be. Only once you have done so can you find the guts to put your fears in their rightful place and be able to rise above them and into action toward whatever tugs at your heart.
4.BREAK YOUR BIG VISION INTO SMALL STEPS
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just the first step.” And so when it comes to doing something that leaves a wide cavernous gap between where you are now and where you ultimately want to be, don’t think that you need to know how to bridge it before you take the first step forward.
What matters most is knowing the direction you want to head, even if you aren’t clear on a specific end-point destination (I sure wasn’t at eighteen!) Once you know the direction, then think about what you would like to be doing 12 months from now that would be moving you toward it. Then think about what you’d be doing 6 months from now. Then 2 months from now. Then 2 weeks from now. Then tomorrow. Then today.
5. CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY
Enlist a support team, hire a coach, recruit an accountability partner or join a group of like-minded people. Just make sure you have people around you who are committed to yourself and willing to get on your case if you start to veer off the rails and slip back into your old excuse-laden procrastinating M.O.
6. WALK WITH GIANTS
The people you surround yourself with have a huge impact on how you see yourself, your challenges and the world. If you want to live a bigger life, you need to surround yourself with people who ‘think big’ and who will encourage you to do the same. Accordingly, you also want to avoid any people in your life who may discourage your actions and step on your dreams. While they are really just afraid that you will leave them behind, in the early days as you start out, you should steer clear of people who will only fuel anxiety and feed self-doubt. Just never let anyone diminish you or your dreams.
7. TRAIN THE BRAVE DAILY
Courage is like a muscle. The more you act with it, the stronger it becomes. Likewise every time you take action in the presence of your fears you dilute its power and amplify your own. But let’s face it, creating change in your life is a little like getting a 747 off the ground… it takes a lot of energy up front to build forward momentum and get you airborne. Expecting it’s gong to be easy from the get go can set you up for disappointment. Instead of expecting to see immediate results, focus instead on the fact that you are simply in action and every day, do one thing that takes you out of your comfort zone and moving in the direction that inspires you.
Achieving anything worthwhile takes both courage and sheer hard work. But as you start taking action, you will discover that not only are you capable of more than you thought you were, but you will discover whole new realms of possibility open for you. It begins with a single act of courage. Followed by another. Then another. Every significant endeavor that has ever happened throughout history has been the accumulation of thousands of smaller braver steps.
MARGIE WARRELL provides leadership, communication, and courage-building programs for organizations including NASA, UN Foundation, AOL and Accenture and her advice is featured throughout leading global media. She is the author of BRAVE: 50 Everyday Acts of Courage to Thrive in Work, Love, and Life. www.margiewarrell.com