Fear can be paralyzing. Fear can also be motivating.
The key to overcoming fear is to ultimately see it as an opportunity, and once you are able to do that, your fear no longer has control over your thought or your action. It is freedom that is truly life changing.
While many studies try to enumerate the most common fears people have, they tend to identify those that only grip us occasionally – spiders when we see one or fear one is near, heights when we have to climb or ride high. Sometimes, however, we have deep-seated fears that seem to be with us rather consistently, that have nothing to do with a physical thing – fear of failure, public speaking, rejection, change – and those things do rather control a lot of our behaviors.
Overcoming these, then, can set us on a much happier path and truly be life changing. And while there is no “magic bullet,” there are some important steps that will work!
Give You Fear a Name
Identify and acknowledge your fear. Accept it as a real thing, and say it out loud – “I am afraid of _______.” Once you have identified it verbally, write it down. This will get it “out in the open” and you will actually “own” that fear (for the time being).
Give You Fear Some Parameters
When can you remember first having the fear? If you are afraid of financial failure, was there a time in your life, perhaps as a child, when your family experienced severe financial stress? If you are afraid of public speaking, did you have a bad experience with it, and when did that occur?
The next question you must ask is what triggers that fear now? What are the circumstances, events, situations, and/or people who cause that fear to bubble up? If you have a fear of failure, does that fear pop up when you gather with your family? Perhaps you feel like a failure because your sister or brother is doing so much better than you. Perhaps it is triggered at work, because you have tasks and you know you will be judged on them.
The third question in defining these parameters is what is the effect of this fear on you? Are you avoiding situations and events because of it? Identify the specific situations you are avoiding, because you will be using them later.
Is it Valid?
Some fears are absolutely valid. If you have never learned how to swim and you once almost drowned, fear of the water may be both real and valid. Maybe you fear walking alone at night because you have followed the news lately. That’s valid, and healthy too.
What makes a fear not valid is that it is not an imminent threat to you. It is a fear of what might be – failure, a “bombed” speech, or romantic rejection. And so you deliberately avoid events and situations so that you will not be impacted. Now the fear has control of you, and that is what has to stop.
Set Your Goals
Obviously, you have a goal to overcome your fear. Now you will set some smaller objectives with a timeline. Do you have a fear of meeting new people and/or social events? You will take just some small steps. Go to a small gathering with a friend you trust. Have him/her introduce you to a few others. Stay only a short time if you begin to feel anxious and fearful. It’s fine. You have taken that first step, and you know you can do it again. Gradually, you widen your social activities, and with each step, the fear goes away just a bit more.
Play Your Worst Case Scenario
Think about the worst thing that could happen if you confronted your fear? If you are afraid of speaking and you gave a speech that was not very good, would you die? Would you be a laughing-stock for the next month? Not hardly! If you had a couple of dates with the same person and were then rejected, would you be a failure in other aspects of your life? Not hardly.
Make Your Plan to Confront The Fear
Now that you know the worst case scenario will not result in death or dismemberment, it is time to develop a plan for confronting the fear, little steps at a time. Write a speech; practice it; present it to friends and/or family; get honest feedback; write another. Gradually, you will lose that panic; it will reduce to some anxiety; and then it will reduce some more. If you fear water, because you can’t swim and you almost drowned at some in the past, how do you confront that? You take little steps until you have enough confidence to take swimming lessons.
The thing about fear is this: it can only control you if you do nothing.