I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
At some stage in our lives, we have all been fearful. Perhaps we have struggled with a task like public speaking, maybe we have been worried about whether we will succeed at college or work, or we may have been fearful about being a good enough partner.
Whatever it is, don’t be fearful of fear! Because the first thing to know about fear and it’s good friends, worry and concern, is that they are perfectly natural. We all have a system within our brains which is designed to notice things to be fearful of, and then enable us to respond. This system is responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism within us, and it serves a useful purpose – preventing us from being hit by a car, or eaten by the proverbial sabre-toothed tiger. A great system to have, that is until we allow this mechanism to inhibit our enjoyment of life and stop us pursuing our dreams.
Fortunately, there are many things we can do to put this system on standby, as it were. Here are eight approaches you can use to move through your fears and out to the other side, where greater enjoyment and fulfilment lies.
1. Recognise that most fears aren’t real
The first thing to realise about our fears is that while our biological system may generate them, the vast majority aren’t real or something we really need to be concerned about. American author Jack Canfield describes fear as ‘Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real’. Basically we tend to ‘awfulise’ many situations. What we need to do is stop and try to gain some perspective. Take the opportunity to really look at a situation and work out whether the fear is actually real, or more likely, imagined.
2. Focus on the positive
Central to overcoming any fear is to focus on the result you want.. So if your goal it to become a great public speaker but you are currently fearful, imagine what giving a wonderful speech will do for your confidence (and your career). It’s also a good idea to imagine how great you will feel after you have succeeded. Visualisation of the end result makes the reason for overcoming your fear real and vivid.
3. Be grateful for the opportunity
Similar to focussing on the positive, when we are grateful for the opportunity that overcoming our fears present us, it shifts the focus away from fear towards the opportunity. So be grateful for the chance to help others when you give your presentation, rather than fearful that you won’t do a good job.
4. Uncover your story about the situation, and then challenge it
Often your fear is tied to a larger story that you tell yourself. So when you’re fearful, ask yourself, ‘what’s the larger story here?’ If, for example, you are nervous about going to an event where you will not know many people, ask ‘what is it about myself or my relationship to others that makes me feel so fearful?’ And once you uncover that story, then find evidence to challenge it. Chances are, you will be able to find plenty of evidence why you can do something. Think of positive past experiences, events where you were nervous to begin with but went anyway and had a great time. Focus on the nice things people have said about you in the past – anything to build your confidence and reduce the impact of the fear.
5. Stop being a perfectionist
When we expect to do things perfectly every time, we increase our anxiety and fears. While it’s good to have high standards, once you have committed to undertaking an action, then simply do your best and let go of the outcome. This will reduce your stress levels and increase the chances that you will perform well.
6. Talk to others who have overcome a similar fear
Other people are a great source of wisdom, so if you need a bit of support, talk to someone who has faced a similar challenge to you and see how they overcame it. Often the simple act of discussing a fear with someone can help to reduce its intensity and give us some useful advice in the process.
Meditation has been proven by science to have many wonderful benefits for us, one of which is to reduce the amount of gray matter in our amygdala, which is a key part of the system responsible for generating fear. The end result is that we become calmer and less fearful. Research has found that 30 minutes of meditation for eight weeks is enough to achieve this and other wonderful changes to our brain, such as increased happiness, more compassion and less anxiety/depression. Follow this link to get some free meditation recordings.
8. To succeed you must try
Finally, remember that to succeed at anything, you must try! As Einstein said, “You never fail until you stop trying.” Most people who have succeeded at something in life have risked failure, taken a chance, worked through it, and then found the gold on the other side. The alternative is that you miss an opportunity to really thrive in life. Don’t let fear win!
I hope this helps you to move forward in life and overcome your fears!
All the best,