The first thing you need to understand about fear is that everyone is afraid. Fear is a basic human emotion that has kept us alive for hundreds of thousands of years. Without a healthy sense of fear, our ancestors would have been eaten by saber-toothed tigers or T-rexes straight off the bat. Fear is what stops you from taking unnecessary risks and getting yourself into serious trouble.
But while fear has an important role in your life, fear can also keep you small. It can stop you living a full life and following your dreams. But you can face your fears and overcome them. Fear is not in charge, you are! Here are eleven ways you can overcome your fears and live your best life.
1. Know your fears
Before you can start to deal with your fears, you need to know what you’re facing. Take some quiet time to have a good look at the fears that are holding you back. What scares you the most? What worries are keeping you awake at night? What do you think you’ll never be able to achieve?
Once you’ve pinned down your fears, you can start to tackle them, one by one, and take away their power.
2. Change your mindset
Mindset is a powerful weapon in dealing with your fears. Negative self-talk feeds self-doubt and eats away at your power to do anything to combat your worries. Luckily the human brain is adaptable, and it is not difficult to reprogram your mindset.
Choose to take off the negative blinkers that distort your fears into seeming bigger than they are. Replace words like ‘can’t,’ ‘impossible’ or ‘never’ with strong positive language like ‘I choose,’ ‘I can,’ and ‘I deserve.’
3. Write it down
Getting your fears on paper can take a lot of the sting out of them. Once they’re out of your head and on the page, they have a lot less energy, and you can start to assess them to see how much reality is there. Chances are, none of them will stand up too much scrutiny.
‘What if I screw up my presentation’ on paper immediately gives you somewhere to start. Ask questions, test your hypothesis. Why do you think that? What evidence is there to support this belief? And your answers will give you clues about how to deal with the fear. If you’re worried about your presentation skills, ask a colleague to help you rehearse. Get some public speaking training. Make sure your slides and handouts are robust and free of mistakes.
4. Bite-sized baby steps
Whether your fear is public speaking, nailing that job interview or sky-diving, no one said you have to do it all in one go. You will improve your chances of success if you take your big goal and break it down into bite-sized pieces. Every little success will build a strong foundation of increased self-confidence and decreased fear.
Write a list of things you fear or hate doing. If making a difficult phone call or replying to an email fills you with dread, assign one scary task to every day of the week. Check off each fear as you go and feel the weight of dread leave your body. That feeling of achievement and pride can become addictive, and you’ll set up a positive feedback loop. Soon the tasks you once dreaded won’t feel so bad after all, and you’ll check them off your list without thinking twice.
All those bite-sized achievements turn into stepping stones to success and self-confidence.
5. Outsmart your fear
Sometimes, the best way to disarm what you fear is to outsmart it. Work out what your fear is telling you to do. Maybe it’s highlighting a weakness or a skill you need to develop. Turn it around and use it to your advantage.
Minimize your stage-fright by getting some training in public speaking or interview skills. Make sure your preparation is thorough. Do your research, make notes, write speaking notes and do some dry runs. Rehearse with a friend or colleague.
No one would expect you to parachute out of a plane without proper preparation, tackle your fears in the same way.
6. Get support
No one said you had to overcome your fears all by yourself. It’s okay to ask for help.
At the very least you need informal support from the people who know you best and who believe in you. Your family and friends make the best cheer squad. They’ll be there for you to help you through the tough times and to toast your successes. Tell them what you’re trying to do and get their help.
It’s always a good idea to find a mentor or coach you can trust. Someone you can go to for advice or connect you to the right people.
And if you have trouble with anxiety, get professional help. You wouldn’t think twice about getting your car fixed, so why struggle through with fears when there are lots of professional options?
7. Make a plan
Dealing with fears means taking action. And the best way to do that is to have a plan. Treat it as a project and work out your big goals, intermediate goals and milestones, timelines, and resources.
Take the emotion out of your fears, and you’ll be able to tackle them in an objective and business-like way. They’ll stop being so overwhelming and turn out to be just another problem you can solve.
8. Look for inspiration
Everyone is afraid of something. Fear is a normal human emotion, and you can be certain that all the successful people you admire have had to overcome some fear in their life. Many famous actors have overcome crippling stage fright to pursue the career they love. Writers have to deal with the fear of the blank page or the fear of writing the follow-up to their best-seller. You can bet that the first men in space were afraid.
Look up people you admire, find podcasts or articles or memoirs or TED talks. Find out what they overcame to be successful.
9. Find a technique that works for you
There are all sorts of techniques you can use to overcome your fears. You can keep a journal, meditate, or use visualizations to help identify and neutralize the fears that are holding you back. Some people have little rituals to help them overcome stage fright or interview nerves. Others find positive quotes or affirmations can keep them motivated to keep going.
There are apps, books, websites and podcasts full of advice on how to overcome fear and anxiety. Go and try a few to see what works for you.
10. Get physical
You may not realize that you can be holding fear and stress in your body all the time. If you’re always in fight or flight mode, adrenaline will flood your body. Do a quick body scan to see if you’re holding fear in your body. Is your jaw clenched, are your shoulders hunched, your fists clenched? Are you frowning?
There are lots of ways you can relax those muscles and release the tensions you’re holding in. Choose from yoga to tai chi or meditation. Practice conscious breathing. You may not realize that your breathing is shallow, which can lead to increased anxiety because of reduced oxygen levels. Focus on slowing your breathing down, and feel your body relax. Your heart rate will lower, and your blood pressure will go down. You’ll feel a lot calmer straightway.
The other way to help deal with stress and anxiety is to get out and exercise. Whether it’s a brisk walk or an hour in the gym, exercise will help to take your mind off what’s worrying you and reset your mood.
11. Put things in perspective.
Worry has a way of distorting reality, especially at 4 am when you’ve been lying awake fretting. The first thing to do, to shrink your fears back down to a manageable size, is to try and assess how likely your fear will come true. On a scale of one to ten, how likely is it that you’ll go broke, or never get promoted?
Secondly, what’s the worst that can happen? You might have to tighten your belt, or stay in your current job a while longer, maybe.
Thirdly, look back on your previous experience. You are certain to have more successes than failures in your life. You’ve made it this far after all.
Fears can act as powerful filters and insight you to your power. They blind you to what you’ve already achieved. If you’re feeling pessimistic about your chances of success, step back for a minute and count up all the successes you already have under your belt. What mountains have you already climbed? Think of the promotions you’ve already won and the job interviews you rocked. Remember graduating or passing your driving test. All those successes big and small brought you to where you are today. Don’t let fear downgrade that effort.