ARE YOU LETTING FEAR HOLD YOU BACK?
April 14, 2017 Ingrid Johansson, Ph.D.
Fear has a huge influence on our lives and choices. By fear, I mean self-doubt, worries and anxiety. We all have fears, as fear is part of human nature—yet, sometimes fear is totally unfounded.
When we act in spite of fear, it often turns out that what we feared was not as bad as we had imagined. Sometimes what you fear is external, but it can also be a monster that you create yourself in your mind.
Most people prefer to remain, for much of the time, in their comfort zone, where they feel safe and comfortable; have the same thoughts as before; and do the same things they have already done many times.
There are no threats in the comfort zone, and it is devoid of frightening experiences. It may be alarming to change, and if you are afraid of doing so, you are not alone. You know what you have now, but not what you will get in the future. Between reality and your dream there is fear.
However, most of the fear we try to avoid is exaggerated, and in reality all that may happen when you battle your fear is that you learn something new.
The experience of embracing fear increases our strength and confidence. We can overcome fear if we acknowledge that we are afraid, try to look at the situation from different perspectives, and take action regardless.
Instead of confronting fear, we often make excuses in order to avoid facing that which frightens us. This is because we consider fear something negative as opposed to positive. If you are afraid of failure, you can change your way of looking at it, as there is no success without failure.
The more you fail, the closer you are to success. Remember that everyone who has succeeded in life has been afraid and overcome fear. So can you.
Fear may also be a reason for procrastination, such as delaying or putting things off until the last possible moment. Are you good at finding excuses for not doing all those things you know that you should do and that would actually be very good for you to do?
Then take a look at the examples below of common reasons for waiting, which may result in waiting until it is too late. Is this you?
Until I have children, until my children leave home, until I lose 10 pounds, until I gain 10 pounds, until I have more money, until I get a divorce, until I get married, until next year, until I retire, until summer, until spring, until winter, until autumn.
There are many benefits of breaking the habit of delaying things. It will give you a relaxed feeling, and freedom of choice—so you can select your priorities and think about your next project in advance.
Try to identify what distractions are problematic and how they hold you back; for example, a need to check your email or mobile phone for messages. Breaking down bigger tasks into smaller ones can enable you to place greater focus on every task. Giving yourself small rewards when you accomplish things may also help you avoid procrastinating.
Another piece of advice is to make yourself feel good before you start doing what you have been putting off. Find something that you know will put you in a good mood.
Calling fear something can decrease it. Maybe what you fear is something new and unknown, and therefore you are afraid.
Fear can be good for you because it keeps you alert. Try to welcome the pain and fear when there is no way to escape it—and remember, it will become easier once you start doing what you fear. It is the perception of it that may paralyze you the most.
Much of our fear originates from what we learned when we were young. You learned to be careful, that you can’t do this or that, and to be aware of what other people will think.
However, just because people said things does not mean that they are true. The fears and doubts you have aren’t even yours. You can let go of your fears and remind yourself that you are perfect as you are and that you don’t need other people’s approval.
One way to handle fear is to write it down. Draw two columns on a sheet of paper. Write a plus sign above one of them and a minus sign above the other. Write down the advantages and disadvantages of the change or challenge you are facing.
Then write the positive and negative consequences of making the changes and of not doing so. This may facilitate your decision-making process.
If you think that changes are difficult and challenging, what are you comparing them to? Remaining in a situation where you are not comfortable is no fun. What is more difficult, facing up to a challenge or remaining where you are?
When you are faced with a challenge, it is easy just to focus on risks. Is there any real risk or is it stepping out of the comfort zone that you fear? Remember all your previous challenges and fears. Did they change your life? Did you learn from them?
When in my life have I faced fear and overcome it? What happened? When in my life have I faced fear and stopped myself? What happened?
One way of overcoming fear is to do what you are afraid of many times on a regular basis. This will make you feel relieved and proud of yourself, and strengthen your self-confidence.
For example, if you are afraid of speaking in front of a large group of people, you can overcome much of your fear by doing it many times. I realized this when I obtained a lectureship at a university.
You cannot be afraid of standing in front of students every day for many years. The fear and insecurity simply disappear over time.
Another good piece of advice when you are afraid of change is to take baby steps forward. Tiny steps are not frightening in the same way as big changes, yet you are changing. You could decide to do one little thing that frightens you every day, to overcome the fear that holds you back.
A little fear or nervousness may be good for you in certain situations, such as speaking in public. You pull yourself together and concentrate on the task you are facing. Do you believe that you are more nervous about it than other speakers? This may have to do with comparing how you feel on the inside with how other people look on the outside.
Another way to cure fear is to obtain sufficient knowledge about the situation that causes fear. What do you fear? Failure? Rejection?
I remember a student I had some years ago who was very afraid of many things in his studies and life. I asked him if he feared failure or success. I still remember very clearly what an eye-opener that question was for him. He had never thought about the fact that he could fear success, only failure. How about you?
Choose Something New
Why do we fear success? Doesn’t it seem a bit stupid? Don’t we all want to succeed? The fear of success is more widespread than you might think—and there may be many reasons for it.
You may fear the unknown or think you do not deserve the consequences and rewards of success. You may fear success because you believe it does not fit your own self-image or other people’s image of you. You may fear success because you are afraid other people will dislike it or envy you.
You may believe you are not worthy of success, or fear that the real you is stronger, more powerful and talented than you can handle. You may fear that you will be expected to perform at a higher level than before and face even greater challenges with the associated risk of falling flat on your face.
On the other hand, if you let fear hold you back from success you diminish your true self and allow fear to control your life.
You may also fear making a mistake or a wrong decision or choice. But instead of using the word wrong, you can look upon choices in another way, namely as good choices, the best or not the very best choices. In many cases, you won’t know until much later whether or not your choice was the best. However, you should bear in mind that you can always learn from a good or a less-good choice.
When you feel frightened, you are giving power to the fear. Fear, whether it is fear of failure, rejection or success, is so powerful that it can paralyze you. Don’t let fear do that and conquer you.
Ask yourself what you are afraid of: failure, rejection or success. Are you afraid of the feeling of failure, rejection or success—or of its outcome?
One way of handling a challenge is to think about courage instead of fear. When you do something in spite of your fear you are courageous. The word courage comes from the Latin word cor, meaning heart.
Courage is a habit you can learn through repetition, which implies facing the fear repeatedly. Courage is not the absence of fear, but resistance to fear.
It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone and face risks and challenges, to think big and to feel an inner joy of life. You feel safe in the comfort zone. You strive for security instead of opportunity when you are in your comfort zone.
You may also feel weak and helpless, considering that you are a victim of circumstances over which you have no control. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the triumph over it, and reveals what you are truly capable of.
Courage enables you to face doubt and the criticism of other people. You can train your courage. The more often you are courageous and look fear in the face, the more courageous you will become. First of all, you may have to give yourself permission to be courageous and look upon yourself as a courageous person.
About the Author
Ingrid Johansson, Ph.D., was born in Sweden. In 1997 she completed her doctoral thesis in education at the University of Stockholm. The Joy of Life: Your Guide to Finding More Joy in Your Daily Life was published in August 2015 on Amazon as an e-book and a paperback book.
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