“You have nothing to fear but fear itself!” Franklin D. Roosevelt
Do you remember, when you were a child, and your friends or siblings dared you to do something you were feared, such as jumping off a bridge, going somewhere you knew was out of bounds, or doing something your parents had told you not to do? I still remember hearing them chanting, “Go on, scaredy cat, what are you afraid of?” The answer: Dying would be the number one thing I was afraid of and getting in trouble off Mum ran a close second! Sometimes I would “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, as Susan Jeffers says. Other times, I let the fear win and “chickened out”.
I’m currently part of a business productivity challenge where we were discussing what stops you from pushing forward and completing projects or launching exciting new ones? It was surprising how many people, many of whom are already successful business people, acknowledged that fear is holding them back from achieving their dreams.
It may be fear of failure… or fear of success! Others fear rejection or fear not being good enough to achieve success. The funny thing is, most of the things we fear aren’t real or won’t ever happen. Sadly, many of us allow our fears to hold us ransom.
So, what exactly IS fear?
According to Wikipedia, fear is a feeling induced by perceived danger or threat which causes a change in metabolic and organ functions and ultimately a change in behaviour, such as fleeing, hiding, or freezing from perceived traumatic events. Fear in human beings may occur in response to a specific stimulus occurring in the present, or in anticipation or expectation of a future threat perceived as a risk to body or life. The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to confrontation with or escape from/avoiding the threat (also known as the fight or flight response), which in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) can be a freeze response or paralysis.
During my business life, I’ve been successful in overcoming fear on a number of occasions, yet I’ve also let fear hold me back at other times too. It’s only natural to want to push past fear.
How can we overcome fear?
Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, suggests that if you want to overcome the fears that hold you back, you must first acknowledging your fear, feel the fear and realise there’s nothing wrong with having that fear, then asking yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” After this, he says you should prepare a “battle plan” and train yourself to battle the fear, then take small steps toward overcoming the fear. As you journey toward conquering your fear, you must also celebrate small wins along the way.
Breathing is one strategy I’ve used with great success. When I’m in a stressful situation, such as public speaking, I take at least three long slow deep breaths in and out, then step into my fear, imagine the most positive outcome and just do it. Once you get started, the fear usually disappears and sometimes, you even get to enjoy the thing you feared!
Others suggest following the advice of Eleanor Roosevelt to “Do one thing every day that scares you” (those Roosevelts must have been totally fearles!). The theory is that by pushing through your comfort zone to overcome small fears, you become comfortable with the uncomfortable and somewhat desensitised to the overall concept of fear.
Another technique for overcoming fear is called the AWARE technique:
A – Accept the fear or anxiety. Don’t fight it, as this will not make it go away.
W – Watch the fear and when you notice it, scale your level of fear and start to breathe longer on the out-breath
A – Act normally. Remain calm and carry on talking or behaving as if nothing is different. This sends a powerful signal to your unconscious mind that its over-dramatic response is actually not needed.
R – Repeat steps 1, 2 and 3 in your mind if necessary. You’ll soon calm down.
E – Expect the best. Practice makes perfect, so practice a lot. One of the greatest feelings in life is the realisation that you can control fear much more than you thought possible.
There are times when I totally conquer my fear and go on to achieve great results, yet there are other situations where I still let fear win. I think it really depends on the situation, but the slow breathing/positive thinking technique works really well when there’s an immediate fear. It’s the “big picture” fears that sometimes get the better of me, and they’re the things I’m working on, day by day.
What tools or techniques do you use to overcome fear?
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