Everyone is afraid of something. Even the bravest people are painfully aware of the risks and dangers they face (in fact one can say that the absence of fear isn’t courage, but stupid recklessness). However, they were able to maange the fear and overcome it. They climbed mountains, set up businesses, stood up for their beliefs. And so can you.
Fear is just a reaction to a situation—or more accurately, a perceived situation. More often than not, we’re not scared of a thing or an event, but what we think it will do to us. Sometimes the fears are real; sometimes they’re not. Here’s how to assess the risks and take control of the emotions, and turn fear into its most useful form: a sign to stop, think, and act wisely.
1. What are you afraid of?
The first step to conquering a fear is to recognize and understand it. Some fears are obvious (‘I’m terrified of rats’ or ‘I’d rather die than speak in front of a crowd.’) Others may be subconscious and disguise themselves under other emotions or excuses. For example, if you’re afraid of commitment you may tend to go out with all the wrong guys, and then find a reason to break up with somebody who actually has ‘relationship potential.’
To help you identify your fears, look at all the different areas of your life: career, love, money. Ask yourself, ‘Am I doing/getting what I really want? If not, what’s stopping me?’ For example, you may realize that you hate your job, but won’t quit and look for another one. Why? Are you afraid of change? Or are you avoiding the rejection slips when you apply to another company?
2. What do I think is a stake?
Despite our intelligence, human beings are not that different from other animals when it comes to basic survival instincts: we either fight to protect our territory, or we run away from great threats.
Even our complicated fears are based on that. Sometimes we feel something very important to us is being attacked or stolen. For example, a fear of commitment may be based on the idea that ‘I’ll lose my independence’ or ‘I’m just going to end up getting hurt.’ Or, sometimes we feel that we are too small to handle a situation. That’s why so many of us actually run away from success: ‘I’m not good enough to be a professional artist.’
It’s important to face our fear and ask, ‘What do I think will happen?’ Then assess if our ‘worst case scenario’ is really valid. For example, so many people are terrified of public speaking because they’ll think they’ll be laughed at. But crowds are rarely that mean. And even if they did laugh, would it kill us? Look at the worst case scenario and say, ‘Is it as bad as it sounds? Can I handle this?’
3. What is your fear costing you?
We avoid situations because we want to ‘protect’ ourselves. But we’re actually stifling our own growth, which can lead to regret, disappointment, and even misery. Ask yourself what your fear is costing you. Think: ‘If I weren’t afraid, I would be able to…’ or ‘If I am able to do this, I would feel…’
Of course, this is all your choice. Nobody can force you to face your fears or resolve them. But just ask yourself, ‘Am I in charge of my life, or is fear in charge of my life?’ Is fear dictating the situations you avoid or the opportunities you embrace?
4. Find something bigger than your fear.
If you say, ‘My fear isn’t worth it. My dreams are more important to me!’ then that’s great! Hang on to that feeling. It’s your motivating force. Magnify it. Make a vision board, write down positive affirmations, feed your enthusiasm. Let’s say you finally decided that you’re not going to let your fear of failure stop you from going back to school to finish your degree. Start researching on different colleges. Print out a fake diploma with your name and pin it on the mirror. Open a bank account where you’ll save your tuition money. Get yourself excited. Make your dream bigger than your fear.
5. Celebrate every victory.
Some days you’ll be inspired to take great, fearless action. But the fears do creep back, and you may feel moments of panic and occasionally be overwhelmed. It helps to set up baby steps, and to celebrate the small victories. For example, if you’re afraid of performing in public, don’t volunteer to do a song and dance number at the company anniversary gala. You can start by presiding over a meeting, or teaching a small class of kids at Sunday School (kids don’t mind if you make mistakes!). Start small and conquer your fear a step at a time.