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Ah, fear: the one thing guaranteed to stop us in our tracks when we’re on the edge of glory, growth, or a brand new venture. The most effective tool of what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance in The War of Art, and our biggest obstacle when we’re groping for courage in the dark.
I know you’ve felt it too – the split-second between exhilaration and flat-out panic that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Why is fear such a universal reaction to something new & thrilling, and how can we move through it?
First off, congratulations on feeling the fear – it means your new venture/habit/idea matters enough to shake your old stories loose. Whether it’s a new gym habit, a sugar-free commitment, or the will to scale your online business, the newness of the challenge drives your amygdala (lizard brain) into action. Why? It believes you’re facing a huge danger like a hungry sabre-toothed tiger or something equally fatal, so it floods you with fear to help you run away.
Now, that worked great for our caveman ancestors, but it’s a killer for modern-day innovation. We simply must get through the fear if we hope to evolve.
I’m so glad you asked.
Here’re 4 ways to look fear in the eye:
Name your fear.
Unless you’re walking around with generalized anxiety disorder, what you fear is usually very specific.
“I’m afraid of public speaking.”
“I’m afraid I’ll make a fool of myself.”
“I’m afraid they won’t like me.”
When you name your fear, you get a handle on just how debilitating it feels so you can ease your way into courage. Interestingly enough, fear always feels way more intense than it actually is. That’s because your primal lizard brain hasn’t evolved enough to differentiate between life-threatening fear (sabre-toothed tiger) and regular fear (giving a talk or speech onstage). You have to realize that what you fear is usually less world-shifting than it seems.
Naming your fear’s also useful to pinpoint what exactly it is you fear. However broad or specific the fear is, there’s usually a core element that’s spiking your adrenaline & cortisol levels; you want to isolate that core element so you’re no longer frozen in fight-or-flight-mode.
Brainstorm how you can ease your mind.
Having the courage to look fear in the eye is having the courage to face the bogeyman under the bed without backing down. You already know that your fear won’t kill you, so you can breathe through the maelstrom and let your problem-solving genius perk up.
Scared of public speaking? Maybe you can shoot a short video and share with a few supportive girlfriends, or join a local Toastmasters near you.
Afraid you’ll make a fool of yourself? How about you prepare as much as possible and let the Universe handle the rest? Fretting over the outcome keeps you stuck and unable to do your great work, so breathe and dive in.
Choose 1-3 simple actions to build daily momentum.
Depending on the nature and scope of your fear, it might take a while to shake it loose. You need momentum to “feel the fear and do it anyway,” so you need daily actions simple enough to fly under lizard brain radar and move you forward. These should be short, small actions you can do and move on to other things.
Going back to the fear of public speaking, a simple daily action could be recording a 5-minute voice memo in your phone so you get used to hearing yourself speak. If 5 minutes feel too much, start with 1 or 2 minutes and work your way up from there.
When you commit to these simple daily actions, you steadily move forward and find yourself acting in spite of the fear. Are you with me?
Recruit a support system.
Having trusted, compassionate souls in the trenches with you makes it easier to face your fear and keep it moving. Whether it’s a coach, a mastermind, or an accountability buddy, be sure you have external support to talk you down from the crazy-making when it comes. You know it’s gonna come, right? Plan ahead and don’t get tripped up by your lizard brain’s gimmicks!
The courage to look fear in the eye is the result of mindful, simple actions that reframe the fear as an opportunity or challenge to grow and evolve. When you reframe it this way, you open up a whole new world of possibilities to surge forward and not be held back by fearful illusions.
Name your fear, brainstorm ways to ease your mind, choose 1-3 daily actions to build momentum, and recruit a support system to get you through the difficult times. Taking the time to do all the above teaches you to process fear differently and turn it into fuel for your success.
Are there other ways you get the courage to look fear in the eye?
Share them with me in the comments below.