What’s the one thing you want to do? What does fear keep you from doing?
I’ve been thinking a lot about fear in the last few weeks. I’ve been contemplating the question If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do that you aren’t doing now? When I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that my life would look pretty different if I set my fears aside.
Fear is a survival mechanism—it helps us keep ourselves out of harm’s way, and it helps us react to danger quickly. In that respect, fear is a wonderful thing. The problem is, your body can’t tell the difference between real dangers and those you’ve simply imagined. And when you’re feeling fearful, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re doing the right thing by just staying put. If you’re safe right now, why risk that by taking an action that might have unforeseen consequences?
Think about how often you find yourself saying It just doesn’t feel right when you start planning toward a goal. Most of the time, that’s fear talking. If you had good reason to be afraid, you wouldn’t have time to think about how you’re feeling—you’d judy react. You’d know, instinctively, that there would be plenty of time for assessing your feelings after the fact.
Being fearless doesn’t mean feeling no fear. It means acknowledging your fear and doing what scares you anyway. It means, as Mary Shahan puts it, finding your boldness.
So how do you get past fear?
Name it and tame it.
The first step is figuring out what you’re really afraid of. Let’s say you’ve always wanted to go to Paris–but you’re afraid that you don’t speak French well enough to make yourself understood if you get lost. Okay, you’ve named your fear.
The second step is to think of the easiest way to eliminate it. What if you sign up for a tour of Paris and let the tour guide do the talking? What if you start studying French with a free program like Duolingo? Every time that fear pops up into your mind, smack it down with a logical solution. It doesn’t matter whether you’re actually going to employ that solution—the point is to keep fear from taking hold. Keep planning to do what you want to do and you might just be able to leave fear behind.
Let knowledge give you power.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I’m a huge believer in research, given the fact that I’m a professor. We’re lucky that the Internet makes research much easier than it used to be. Any time I’m planning a trip, I read everything I can find about my destination. Whether or not you need to know something particular about Paris is irrelevant; the fact that you do know a lot about it will make you feel better equipped for the journey. Plus, any time fear creeps in with its million-and-one What if questions, you’ll have the answers to shut it down.
Be willing to look like an idiot.
Any time you don’t know what you’re doing, you run the risk of looking foolish. Here’s my response to that: So what? You won’t be the first person to mispronounce a French word (though fear would like you to believe that.) True, someone might laugh at you. But so what? Their rudeness is their failing, not yours.
The fact is, you’re probably not the first person to make any particular mistake. This means your misstep isn’t going to be memorable to anyone but you–and you have the power to turn it into a funny story about your Paris adventure. When you own your mistakes, you ndercut their negative power.
Anticipate the worst case scenario.
Rather than telling yourself Everything will be fine—which you won’t believe anyway (because if you did, you wouldn’t be dealing with fear)—ask yourself What’s the worst thing that could happen? Chances are, the answer to that question is something you can actually deal with. What if you can’t make yourself understood in French? You’ll have to point to words in a phrase book. Or use hand gestures. Or find someone who speaks English. If you’ve already planned how to survive the worst case scenario, you’ll be ready when it arises.
Being fearless, no matter what it is that scares you, means giving yourself the opportunity to grow bolder. And growing almost always means we’ll move through the occasion awkward stage. The trick is to make sure our fear of those awkward moments doesn’t keep us from considering new possibilities.