Three Steps to Overcoming Your Fear
Thousands of years ago, when we were hashing it out with big-toothed cats, our fear response made sense. When trouble loomed, our internal systems leaped into action. Our breathing sped up, our hearts pounded, our attention snapped into focus. We were on heightened alert, tingling with anxious anticipation. Everything was seen through the filter of danger, of a potential threat to our survival.
This worked well in the past, but when our daily threats changed from big cats to the big presentation, those responses weren’t as helpful. Our bodies are wired for our past, keeping you average in the present.
Doing work that matters, following your passions, changing your ways, stepping up and doing the right thing…these can be frightening experiences. As such, they set off your fear responses. Your brain is telling you you’re in danger and so you back down.
You stay right where you are, where your brain thinks it’s safe. Sure, you’re unhappy, stifled, bored, and settling for a sub-par life, but you’re safe. Or so your prehistoric brain thinks.
This is no way to live. Imagine what you could do–would do–if you weren’t afraid (Of the non-threats, of course. If a bear is eating your lunch, be afraid).
You’d start that business instead of making excuses. You’d pitch your idea instead of researching just one more day. You’d launch that blog you’ve been thinking about instead of talking yourself out of it, once again. You’d be the person you’d look up to instead of fitting in and fading out.
The old response is keeping you from the better life that’s just around the corner. Below are a few tips to help put that knee-jerk reaction in check.
Give It a Name
The fuzzier it is, the bigger it seems. A vague feeling of dread is like a fog: it expands and surrounds us. The actual issue might be small and unlikely, but as that vague feeling it seems unbearable. The antidote? Define it. Write down on a sheet of paper the details of what scares you. What, exactly, do you think is going to happen? And why, exactly, does that scare you? Nine times out of ten, you’ll realize the big fear is actually a small matter. And, just like that, the “threat” will be stripped of its worrisome sting.
This is a good one. In his book Iconoclast, author Gregory Burns, M.D., Ph.D., outlines the mind of those men and women who aren’t afraid to do the unexpected, the unfamiliar, the outrageous (and courageous). One of the things that set them apart is how they reframe their bodies response to fear.
The average person feels the butterflies in his stomach and says, “I’m nervous. I’m freaking out. I can’t do this.”
The iconoclast feels the same butterflies and says, “I’m ready.”
They take the same responses and mold them into a different story. They give fear a different meaning. It doesn’t mean danger or a time to back down. The heart beating, the palms sweating mean they are stepping up and doing the right thing. It’s a sign that they’re doing something that matters.
They take the cue and take action.
Tire It Out
Studies have shown that our brains can’t stay afraid for an extended period of time. It’s such an intense reaction, it gets tired. So, when you do the thing that scares you, those crazy feelings won’t last forever. Your body will adjust. You’ll calm down. Knowing this in advance, you can tell yourself that you might feel incredibly anxious now, but it won’t last for long.