According to Jeff Foster, humans have two core fears:
- Losing what we have
- Not getting what we want
Both keep us stuck and prevent us from making progress.
When was the last time fear of losing what you have or not getting what you want kept you stuck? What were the circumstances that caused the fear? What story did your inner critic tell you? Were there any patterns in the circumstances or self-talk? How did you resolve the fear?
Understandably, when my first marriage suddenly ended, I was scared. A lot. I constantly felt like an enormous ocean wave was about to crash over me. (If you’ve been following me, you know I survived and now gratefully live a life I love.)
Count Small Fears Too
Here’s an example of one of my smaller fears that repeats itself. I have a better handle on where the fear comes from but still need to find more effective coping strategies.
Because I have an overly developed pattern of not wanting to make people feel uncomfortable (according to a psychiatrist), I have a hard time requesting vacation time that I’ve earned because I fear not being available to work will cause my coworkers to be disappointed in me.
Since I fear losing what I have, I procrastinate requesting the time off, sometimes until a day or two before. By that time, my anxiety has increased, and I’ve made the situation much harder on myself and others.
As I write the words, I see the silliness of this fear. You might even be surprised that these circumstances could cause fear. I’ve earned the time off, so it shouldn’t be hard to make the request. Objectively, that’s true. But fear isn’t always objective as I’m sure you know.
So, what can you do when fear prevents you from moving forward?
Change the Goal
First, embrace the idea that the goal is not to get rid of fear before taking action. “Courage doesn’t mean we are never afraid, courage is simply daring to take action, despite our fear,” says Ruth Soukup, author of Do It Scared: Finding the Courage to Face Your Fears, Overcome Adversity, and Create a Life You Love (2019)
Retrain the Brain
Next, understand that because of evolution, humans pay more attention to the negative comments our minds create. Thousands of years ago, the negative thoughts kept us focused on diligently assessing threats in our environment.
As a result, the neural pathways in your brain are trained to leap right to negative thoughts. You might not even realize it sometimes. The good news is that you can retrain your brain and lay new neural pathways. Over time, the new pathways become stronger and ultimately the default response.
Wondering how you do this? The next time fear shows up and keeps you from moving forward, try this. Change your self-talk to a positive message such as, “thank you fear for trying to keep me safe but I’m OK and don’t need your help right now.”
Anticipate to Better Prepare
When you decide to take charge of your choices and go after a dream, count on fear and your inner critic showing up. Trust that your human tendencies will prevail which then allows you to prepare for the fear. You can anticipate it and the messages your mind will use to keep you “safe,” but ultimately stuck.
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about the message she developed for the times when fear keeps her from moving forward. By including it in her book, she gives everyone permission to create her or his own message to fear or to borrow hers.
Finally, the next time fear statements arise, get curious and ask questions. What story is the fear trying to have you believe? Is the story accurate? Are you really in the jungle being chased by a tiger or are you like me and weaving this convoluted story about coworkers being disappointed in me because taking the vacation time I earned makes me unavailable to them?
Getting curious and asking questions helps you dive deeper into what’s really preventing you from moving forward. Maybe you’re doubting your knowledge and skills. Or, maybe you don’t feel deserving of something bigger. Whatever the reason, the results are the same.
Let’s say you doubt having the “right” amount of skills for an opportunity that will move you closer to your dream. Ask yourself if you have already attained educational, professional, or personal experiences that would transfer to the fear-inducing circumstances. Think about times in the past when you’ve successfully learned new skills. You might have even taught yourself. If you’re having trouble answering these questions, ask someone who can give an objective assessment of your skills.
Wrapping It Up
The truth about fear is that it might be the reason you’re not making progress. Maybe you’re afraid of losing something you have. When we think about making changes, we often focus on what we have to give up instead of what we might gain.
Or, maybe you lack enough confidence so you don’t go after something you want because you’re afraid you might not succeed.
How can you fix this? Turn fear on its head by:
- Taking action before the fear subsides.
- Retraining your brain to think positive thoughts.
- Anticipating fear if you’re trying some new or big and prepare for it.
- Getting curious and ask yourself some questions about your fear. Is the story the fear tells true?
The next time fear statements are running through my mind, I will use these strategies so that I stop fear from writing my story.
What will you do?