Recently I was asked to give a presentation in New York to a group of awesome, professional women. As the trip approached, I researched some of the women attending…and I started to feel more and more intimidated—even scared.
All of these women were incredible, successful, confident leaders in the prime of their careers. As the trip approached, I was convinced they’d see right through me. I thought somehow I was invited to present by mistake. I literally considered cancelling the trip with just a few days to go.
But then I remembered a close friend’s advice on how to get over insecurity: to look for ways to be kind, to be interested in others, and to engage with them.
I decided to jump in and do it scared.
You know what? I had an incredible time! I made wonderful new connections and had a few truly amazing experiences. I am so glad I didn’t let my fear get the best of me.
I also realized something else important: Fear isn’t always a bad emotion.
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But often, fear also holds us back. Not every fear or worry we experience is valid or even necessary. In fact, many of us are in “fear overload” because we’re simply overwhelmed. Our body and brain tell us this sense of overwhelm means we’re in danger. Living in “fear mode” takes a toll on us. We experience many symptoms of stress we may not even recognize as being stress-related
In his book, The Gift of Fear, security specialist Gavin de Becker says, “The fact that you fear something is solid evidence it is not happening. What you fear is rarely what you think you fear—it is what you link to fear.”
In other words, many of the situations we fear and worry about aren’t actually happening. We use fear as a method to protect ourselves from “bad experiences” as though it’s a magic spell. In reality, life just happens and many of our fears are unfounded. Fear often simply holds us back from experiencing all life has to offer.
If you’re tired of worries holding you back, get ready to conquer your fears once and for all! A simple shift in perspective is all it takes to get many fears and worries under control. So, get ready—let’s tackle fear!
1. View Life as a Learning Experience
Life is full of chances to learn. Often our fears stem from putting pressure on ourselves or feeling like we must immediately experience success when we take on a job.
To achieve something big, we should understand there is a journey involved. We may possess a clear picture of where we want to go, but we need to take the path before we get to our destination. The road is FULL of chances to learn and grow.
People who are successful view setbacks as opportunities to learn. They view mistakes as chances to troubleshoot, experiment and test the waters. They don’t take life too seriously (even if the job at hand is serious). Nothing will ever go exactly as planned. We will always face unexpected obstacles and challenges along the way. How boring would it be if we didn’t find opportunities to learn?
View each day as a chance to learn a little more about yourself, let go of guilt and fears of mistakes. Stretch yourself a little further. When you’re facing a scary situation, a challenge or a tough time, ask yourself, “What will I learn from this experience?”
2. Lower Your Expectations
Expectations and anticipations cause fear. Think about public speaking. We picture walking up on stage, turning red, tripping, babbling, and generally making a fool of ourselves. We anticipate the worst. On the other side, we set the expectation high—if we don’t absolutely KNOCK THE SOCKS off our audience, we’ve failed.
It’s time to lower expectations in both directions. Most of us (most of the time) won’t fall on our face, babble incoherently, or insult our audience. Most of us also won’t give such a life-changing and memorable speech we’ll embark on a public speaking career (unless motivational speaking is your thing). Most talks, toasts, and speeches will fall somewhere in the middle category, and it’s totally okay.
One tip to help you crush your fear is to remind yourself to stay realistic about expectations. Keep your expectations positive, of course. Hope for the best and don’t expect the worst. Plan for the situation to go smoothly and well. Prepare as much as possible and approach tasks in a calm, methodical and organized manner.
Keep in mind most won’t remember one project, event, post or outcome. We often forget we’re not the central focus of everyone around us. If we fall flat on an attempt or even embarrass ourselves, the moment is probably much more memorable for us than for everyone else.
3. Let Go of Perfection
Many of our fears are driven by perfection and comparison to others. We fear we’re failing as wives, moms, homemakers and friends because we look at standards we see on social media and feel as though we’re not living up.
People on Instagram, Facebook and other sites often post only their success. We post carefully curated and cultivated images of our lives—the beautifully decorated cake, the family photo in matching outfits, the fun party full of smiling guests. In most cases, this image of perfection doesn’t quite tell the whole story, and shouldn’t be the standard to which we all hold ourselves.
Perfection definitely doesn’t exist. We all face struggles. If we fear we’re not good enough, we’re failing, we’re not measuring up, chances are high it’s because we’re holding ourselves up to an unfair standard.
Combat fears of failure by letting yourself make mistakes! It’s okay to laugh at yourself. Share your Pinterest fails and the day you got to the office wearing mismatched shoes! If social media is making you feel bad, take a break. Remind yourself—nobody, even on Pinterest and Instagram, is perfect.
4. Stare Back at Your Fear
One of the most effect tools in tackling fear is simple to acknowledge it. Admit you’re scared to do something, whether it’s ziplining on vacation, launching your own business or having a new baby. It’s perfectly okay to admit you’re scared.
Examine WHY you’re scared. What is it you’re afraid of? Is it the pain? Is it concerns you’ll fail? Is it a phobia or fear of heights, water or another element of the activity?
Once you’ve pinpointed your why, the fear becomes much easier to combat. Find solutions to the worst-case scenario and prepare ahead of time. So, you’re scared to launch your business because you don’t want to fail? Is your savings prepared? Did you create a business plan? Do you have a backup plan?
Similarly, if you’re afraid of an activity like ziplining, flying or swimming, explore why. Talk to a therapist to help you work through your fears, especially if they’re holding you back. Take lessons to learn how to prepare for the activity fully. Following through might feel scary, but acknowledging our fears is often the first step to overcoming them.
5. Remind Yourself of Your Successes
Guess what? YOU are good at many tasks! You are valuable. You have achieved awesomeness!
We’ve all achieved hard goals in our lives. We’ve all overcome challenges and worked hard for what we’ve wanted. We’ve all had huge successes!
Sometimes when we’re feeling scared, anxious or fearful, we get in a downward spiral of thinking, “I never…” or “I always…” We fixate on the times when we came up a little short or made mistakes. We do what psychologists call ruminating—we play scenarios over and over in our heads like a broken record.
To stop the replay, think of the challenges in your life you’ve overcome. Think of hard situations you’ve been through and survived. Think of the innovative ways you’ve figured out solutions to problems and solved conundrums in your life. What’s the toughest job you’ve completed? The hardest thing you faced up to and came through? Remind yourself you got through the experience and you’re still here to tell about it!
When we revisit our strengths, we reframe ourselves as able and proactive. We see what we’ve accomplished a lot and we’re reminded of our value.
6. Push Out of Your Comfort Zone
It’s very easy to embrace our fears as a reason to stay in our safe space. We might not feel happy with where we are and we might want more, but we tell ourselves it’s too scary out there, so we’d better stick with the familiar.
Life is short. When we stay in our comfort zone, time passes quickly because we’re not breaking out of ruts and pushing ourselves. We’re simply treading water and allowing life to pass along.
If you want to overcome fear, break out of your comfort zone. Guess what? It’s going to feel uncomfortable. By the very nature of doing so, when we move out of our comfort zones, we move into a less comfortable space. It’s uneasy. It’s new.
If we don’t take on new projects and goals—even scary, uncomfortable, maybe-even-painful projects and goals—we won’t grow to meet our full potential. It’s perfectly fine to live a safe, calm life, free of drama and excitement BUT when you look back on your life…is safe what you will want to remember? “She lived a safe, sheltered life.”
Do something to cause you to squirm a little. Do something that makes you cringe or feel nervous, or even break out in a little bit of a sweat. Push beyond your comfort zone and live your life to the fullest capacity.
7. Stay in the Moment
Fear robs us of joy today because we’re focused only on what’s to come. We worry about scenarios that may never happen and imagine situations playing out in all sorts of unfounded (and probably false) ways.
To overcome fear, remind yourself of where you are right now at this moment. Chances are you’re relatively comfortable. Your needs are met. You are safe from harm, cold, hunger and a myriad of other issues plaguing most of the world.
When you start to feel yourself traveling down the fear spiral, worrying about what could or might happen in the future, come back to the present. Remind yourself in the current moment things are okay. Don’t worry about the next ten years, or even the next ten months. For the next ten minutes, you are okay.
We often assume we need to take big, insurmountable leaps to combat problems we see in our future. Giant steps become overwhelming and paralyzing. Instead, if you’re worried about not having money for retirement, for example, ask yourself what baby steps you should take right now, this week, to move in the right direction. Can you put away $20? Do it! Then next week, see how much more you can put away, and so forth. Don’t worry about achieving the big picture or the amount being “too small to make a difference.” Simply do something—as much as you can—right now.
When we fear the future, we may feel like our actions today are futile. Instead, little actions can add up in a huge way. None of us knows what the future holds, so simply do what you can today and stay in the present.
8. Talk It Out
One of the best ways to crush your fears is to talk about them. We might hold our fears in, worried they’re too “crazy” to share with others or feeling like we’re not normal. Pick your most open-minded pal and talk your feelings out.
Alternatively, if you can’t bring yourself to say it to a friend or if you feel you’re really struggling to overcome a fear, consider talking to a professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy or “talk therapy” is very beneficial in overcoming fears and anxiety. Sometimes holding worries in allows them to become much bigger than they need to be. Talking your feelings out really helps.
Even simply journaling or writing out your fears helps you gain perspective. Allow yourself to free-write all your fears and concerns in your head. Play out the worst-case scenario, even if it’s over the top (“I’ll completely fail. Everyone will hate me!”). Once your thoughts and fears are all on paper, chances are high you’ll feel much more in control. You may even review your fears and realize they’re unfounded or yes, even a little silly.
Talk your feelings through, write them down and get them out. This is one of the best steps to letting them go.
9. Do it Scared
Our fears hold us back. They keep us from doing what we want. They keep us from living our lives to the fullest. In many ways they may protect us, but in many ways fears are unhealthy and even crippling.
Tell yourself to “do it scared.” The next time you find you’re holding back on something you really want to do because of fear, worry or insecurity, do it scared. Jump in.
We often wait for the perfect time to come along. We look for life to hand us an invitation and to feel easy and comfortable, but we know, most rewards in life don’t come without work. No pain, no gain. Goals that are truly worth it are rarely accomplished easily.
If there’s something you want to do and your waiting for your fear to pass, suck it up and do it scared. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by. The chance of a perfect easy route to present itself is low, so don’t wait.
I know, it would be wonderful if there was a way to turn off our fears, especially when we don’t see them as rational or wonder what purpose they serve. Remember, our fears are there to protect us, though. They keep us from running into unsafe situations. They help us choose practical and informed decisions.
Feeling fear isn’t a bad thing, but we need to recognize the feeling for what it is. Sometimes fear is part of our growing and learning process. It’s a natural step along the way. We might feel fear but we shouldn’t hold back because of it.
Acknowledge your fear. Learn from the feeling and find a way to move past it. If you feel fear and worry are insurmountable or taking you from a life you want, it may be time to consult with a professional.
Otherwise, combat your fears once and for all, by viewing them as tools to guide us and keep us safe rather than holding us back. Feel it, move past it and go for it!