Such a simple word, yet it has so much power over us. Why haven’t you asked that guy (or girl) out? Fear.
Why haven’t you spoken to your boss about a promotion or a raise? Fear.
Why did it take me so long to start this blog? You guessed it. Fear.
When it’s all said and done, fear is the only thing that stops us doing what we want to do. Sure, I might say to you “Oh, I just can’t be bothered, I’ll talk to her another time.” What I’m really saying is “I’m scared. I’m scared she’ll reject me, or make fun of me” or even (sometimes the hardest to face of all) “I’m scared she’ll say yes.” So what is fear, and how can you overcome it? I’ll show you how in three simple steps.
What is fear?
The oxford dictionary defines fear as “An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm”
The key word there is “threat”. This is a real or perceived danger that has not yet occurred and may never actually eventuate. Now, sometimes this instinctual response can be helpful. If you’re walking along the a cliff, your fear-the feeling of dread and imminent danger, may well drive you to step away from the edge and back to safety.
At other times however, fears are irrational and restrictive. You may fear that if you ask your boss for a promotion, or ask that special someone on a date, they may say no. So what? What then? What happens if they do say no? You learn that what you wanted will not happen right now and you’re then free to move on or make plans to get a different result next time. Remember, if you don’t ask, the answer is already no.
Where does fear come from?
Fear is a learned attribute. What this means is that our fears develop as we grow and change over time. Tests have been done with monkeys raised in a lab-they don’t fear snakes like their wild counterparts. All it takes though is one instance of being attacked, or seeing another monkey fear an attack, and these lab monkeys will fear snakes forever. [In Mineka, Susan, et al. “Observational conditioning of snake fear in rhesus monkeys.” Journal of abnormal psychology 93.4 (1984): 355.]
I’m no different. For a long time I feared talking to people. I worried that they wouldn’t like me, or think I was “cool”, or accept me in their group. I learned this fear over time from various experiences.
I was 11 years old and I had a crush on a girl in my school. To my 11 year old self she was perfect. She liked sports and I liked books, I had a few friends, but she was universally popular (or so it seemed to me). Long brown hair, brown eyes that sparkled, and a smile that lit up the room. I hung on to her every word and was so sure that we’d be perfect together. We’d have a whirlwind romance and live happily ever after (I was obviously quite a dreamer).
In the time I knew her, we exchanged a sum total of about 6 sentences. Clearly I worked on developing the relationship. But in my youthful optimism I felt sure that something would happen that would bring us together.
And then it did.
We were working on the computers next to each other one day and she turned to me. “Hey, can you help me?” THIS WAS IT! “Y-yes” And so I helped her, we spoke for a few minutes and then it happened. She turned to her friend, they spoke for a bit, and she made fun of me! My dreams were crushed and in my 11 year old mind the world was ending. How could I ever look her in the eyes again? How could I even speak to another girl again?
The seeds of fear were planted and in time, they grew into a strangling weed that was difficult to pull out.
How can YOU overcome fear?
The weeds of fear that have grown up can be quite tangled and take some time to remove but it IS possible. I’m not going to pretend that there’s a magic wand I can wave to make you fearless overnight, or that it’ll take no effort on your part, but I promise you it can be done. How do I know? Because I’ve done it. I still have some fears, but they no longer hold me back from doing the things I want to do or being the person I’ve always wanted to be.
STEP ONE: ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEAR
This is crucial. If you can’t accept that you’re actually fearful, not simply lazy, not “too good”, not too time-poor, not any of the other excuses we’re so good at inventing, you’ll never overcome them. Acknowledge that the thing that is stopping you from achieving your goals (or even setting them) is that you’re scared. Most likely of failing, possibly of succeeding and not knowing what to do then, or maybe you’re just scared of what other people will think.
STEP TWO: RESOLVE TO OVERCOME ONE FEAR AT A TIME
No-one can change overnight. Don’t cause undue stress by trying too much too soon, but remember, there’s no growth in the comfort zone. Identify one thing you can do today to develop strength and avoid giving in to your fear. Have a simple conversation with the person you’ve got a crush on, sign up for a class on a subject you want to learn about, start an exercise program. In short, plan to take one step on your journey, do something different today than you did yesterday.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”
STEP THREE: ACTUALLY START
You’re not too dumb, or too lazy, too poor, or too average. These are all EXCUSES we invent so that we don’t have to face our fears. If you tackle your fears one step at a time, you WILL overcome them. You can be whoever you want to be, and do the things that you’ve dreamed of. Is anyone fearless? I don’t think so. True courage is feeling fear, but acting anyway. Step out into the darkness of the unknown and you’ll find that enough light comes to illuminate the way forward. It’ll take hard work, perseverance, and more than a little effort, but there’s something inside all of us that pushes us to be more than we currently are. All we have to do is embrace it.
What holds you back? And what fear is at the root of it? Add a comment below, or share this post on Facebook 🙂