No matter who you are or what your life has been like, I’m willing to bet the farm that you’re afraid of something. Fear doesn’t discriminate based on race, color, religion, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, or age. None of it. If you’re human, you deal with fear.
As basic an emotion as fear is, it wreaks havoc on our fairly safe existences. Yes, we certainly have our share of terrifying diseases and natural disasters, but the current life expectancy for a woman living in the US is 78. Compare that to he average of 35, which is what it was 200 years ago (and for centuries before that until I started going up about 1875), and I would say we’re generally pretty safe.
What we lack in physical fears – saber toothed tigers, dying in childbirth, tetanus – we more than make up for in our psychological fears. Losing your job, racking up debt, speaking in public, while none of these things is going to hunt you and eat you alive, it still feels like it.
Fear is fear – no matter the source. The brain’s response to it is the same. You go into fight or flight mode and your rational brain shuts down.
While this response was great when the options were kill the predator or run from the predator, it is rarely serves us in the modern world.
Having your brain hijacked by fear causes you to be 25 times less intelligent than under normal circumstances.
If that’s not motivation enough to get fear under control, I don’t know what is.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE FEAR
The first step to overcoming fear is to recognize that it’s there. A common reaction to fear is to try to push it down, but that just causes more problems.
It will take some emotional self awareness to recognize the fear, but there are some common patterns to look for to help you notice it.
- A persistent bad mood around a particular topic
- Becoming less proactive
- Ignoring problems or weaknesses
- Focusing ONLY on problems or weaknesses
While fear is not necessarily the root of all these behaviors, if you’ve got one or more, it’s worth investigating the reason. Based on my experience you would be surprised by how many times fear is the cause of your behavior (my clients are frequently surprised to find it lurking there).
Additionally, if you have a history of a frustrating behavior (giving up too soon, missing out on big experiences because you waited too long, burning bridges), you may find fear hidden behind that as well.
UNDERSTANDING THE FEAR
Once you’ve acknowledged the existence of fear, now it’s time to dive into and figure out what’s going on, on a deeper level.
Break the fear down into understandable parts. Oftentimes we are willing to acknowledge its existence, but not willing to dig into what’s causing it.
Without making sense of the feeling, you give it the power to flare up whenever you’re presented with a similar situation.
Consider what would actually happen if your fear came true? Have you seen other people go through similar trials and still be successful and happy? Can you see how that could be possible for you too?
For example, one of our greatest fears in todays world where social media runs wild, is not being seen as enough. We concern ourselves with making our pictures instagram perfect, our quips be witty at 280 characters or less, and our videos be viral. And many times we sacrifice something of ourselves in the process.
Been there, done that.
But what REALLY happens if you suddenly lose 100 followers in one tweet? Does that make you less of a person? Does someone get hurt or die if you don’t get “enough” likes on your post?
What are the real life ramifications if someone on the internet doesn’t like or approve of you?
Now I could spend the next 1000 words telling you why you’re enough and opinions of the internet don’t matter – but you’ve got to unpack whatever it is you fear for yourself.
Otherwise, my tips are meaningless.
WORK THROUGH THE FEAR
You recognize your fear, you understand your fear, and now it’s time to change your results.
Whatever you are afraid of is stopping you from achieving the results you want. Maybe you’re afraid to fail, so you’re not even trying.
Well, it’s time to try.
Take a look again at who you are when you’re NOT in fear. What do you want? What are your core values?
Are you acting from a that place, or is fear running the show?
How can you change your behavior and actions to reflect the person that you are, not what your fears are trying to tell you to do?
If you’re struggling to figure out how to make that happen, here are some ideas to help you resolve the difference between who you are, and who fear thinks you should be.
Deal with Negative Emotions
Have you ever noticed how when you’re in a bad mood, everything looks bad? Maybe you’ve had a bad morning and a coworker cracks a joke that you would ordinarily find funny, but on that day you take it as a personal attack. Or perhaps you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and now you hate your entire wardrobe (and purses, and shoes, and home!).
A negative mindset casts a long shadow
It will inhibit the way you feel about just about everything good in your life, and it will cause you to notice even more of the bad.
Negativity bias is real. We are already programmed to notice the bad, and that’s exacerbated when our mood is low.
If one of your fear indicators is a bad mood, then when that happens you need to stop and take notice. Make yourself aware of WHY you’re in a bad mood – has something happened to you to warrant it or is the fear in charge?
Take a step back and work on letting go of those emotions.
Start Solving Problems
One of fear’s nastier tricks is to paralyze you. You go all deer in the headlights and stop making decisions and solving problems.
If your struggle is procrastination or perfectionism you need to start taking some action and solving some of the problems that are in front of you. Don’t start with the big stuff right away since fear inhibits your decision making, but do start somewhere.
A major cause of the procrastination/perfectionism trap is setting overly lofty goals. This allows you to feel comfortable not reaching or working on them, because they are, in effect, impossible.
Bring your goals down to earth and write out a list of baby step ACTION oriented tasks that you can get started on RIGHT NOW.
You will not only start making real progress, you’ll also start to feel better as well.
Never Stop Learning
One of the things that drives fear is the unknown. And sometimes, being afraid of what you don’t know, can actually stop you from doing anything.
Even if you’re an expert in your field, you may still be dealing with imposter syndrome that is stopping you from living up to your potential. And one way to deal with this is to always be learning.
Take 10-30 minutes a day to grow and enhance your skill set. Read a book or take a class that interests you.
Just don’t let this turn into another form of procrastination. If you find yourself constantly saying you don’t know enough to begin – that’s procrastination. Go back up to the last section and get started right now.
Solo entrepreneurs and first time moms have something major in common – isolation. It’s not to say that they must be isolated, but they frequently end up doing their thing alone.
Being in this bubble is both lonely and fear inducing. It’s easy for the fear to take hold when you have no one to talk to about it.
Getting support from someone who’s been there, done that can calm so much of the worry. A mentor, a peer, or a coach can help give you a place to talk about your emotions. They’re also someone to help you figure out what’s worth focusing on and to help you realize that being afraid is normal.
Other people can also help give you perspective on whatever you’re working on, so that you can see what needs work, and what doesn’t. This helps you create those action steps I talked about above, which will help keep the fear from interrupting in the first place.
If you’re struggling with getting something important started or can’t manage to keep it going, please contact me. Coaching can help reclaim your power so that you’re not letting fear hijack your brain and run your life.