We all experience fear in life. Fear is an unavoidable facet of the human experience. It can come in varying degrees and be related to many different things. For instance, hearing footsteps inside your house when you know that you are the only one home or you might experience a rush of terror while watching a slasher movie. Fear also looks like…Fear of making a mistake. Fear of discomfort or pain. Fear of vulnerability. Fear of uncertainty. Fear of success. Fear of death. Fear of heights. Fear of spiders. The list goes on and on..
Fear is your soul’s GPS but fear doesn’t speak with words. The fear reaction starts in the brain and spreads through the body. Our breathing and heart rate increases. Our peripheral blood vessels constrict and our central blood vessels around vital organs dilate to flood them with oxygen and nutrients. Our muscles become tighter as they are pumped with blood, ready to react. Metabolically, levels of glucose in the blood spike, providing a ready store of energy if the need for action arises. Similarly, levels of calcium and white blood cells in the bloodstream see an increase. It is a fundamental, deeply wired reaction to a perceived threat.
People generally consider fear as an unpleasant emotion while others go out of their way to trigger it by jumping out of planes or watching scary movies. Fear can be very powerful and we typically interrupt any fear-like sensation as danger. Don’t move ahead! And our brain is REALLY great at jumping in to rationalize this behavior seeing it as protection. The result… we take no action and zero growth occurs.
BUT what if we are misinterpreting the message?! What if the message is to DO IT?! What if fear is really your ally? When positioned as an adversary, fear frustrates progress. Yet, when recognized as an ally, it can offer incredible insight. Here’s the thing… How you decide to navigate fear will affect your success in life so why not make it a powerful weapon in your arsenal? For example, if the fear of having a heart attack before your grandkids graduate makes you eat more vegetables, then you should be grateful because that fear just gave you more years on your life.
Once we understand that fears are not things we need to be “afraid” of, we suddenly have all kinds of options for living our lives more fully in all the ways we wish. Here’s why your fears can be your biggest allies:
- Fear shows you the edges of your boxes. Our typical reaction to fear is to turn the other way and run. As such,
fears delineate our safe zone. Most people like to stay within their comfort zones where there is no fear. This provides you with a place where you can comfortably be and feel safe. But a lot of life and experience lies beyond that box of safety. If we want to fully experience life, we will want to push ourselves outside that box and against those fears.
- Fear can expose our false identities. Many people believe that there is a core identity that defines who they are. While that may be true, most of our identities are actually defined by our limitations rather than our essence. For example, a fear of water might keep you from swimming in the ocean or lake while enjoying a vacation. You may even tell yourself that it’s a preference and that you really prefer to stay dry and clean, rather than wet and sandy. Leading you to decide that you are simply a land-lover. That’s who you are and you accept that as a fact. Another example is I’ve listened to many clients tell me they are overweight or shy. That’s just who they are… always have been, always will be. But when we look closer, we can see that there isn’t an essence of being overweight or shy. Instead, they are simply afraid of being seen. When we recognize that fears highlight our limitations and do not define our identities, we begin to have some wiggle room for expanding our choices, moving beyond the edges of our boxes, and experiencing more freedom in our lives.
- Fear itself is simply an illusion. Often we treat fear as a “thing.” We must defeat it, change it, overcome it. But fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present, and may not ever, exist. Fear, at most, is a cascade of chemical responses in our body set loose by a mental thought or physical threat but it has no substance. We interpret the cascade of chemical responses as a thing. Realizing that fear is not a thing out there that can hurt you is an excellent first step to being able to use it to your advantage. While context, distraction and social learning have the potential to influence the way we experience fear, a common theme that connects all of them is our sense of control. When we are able to recognize what is and isn’t a real threat, relabel an experience and enjoy the thrill of that moment, we are ultimately at a place where we feel in control. That perception of control is vital to how we experience and respond to fear. When we overcome the initial “fight or flight” rush, we are often left feeling satisfied, reassured of our safety and more confident in our ability to confront the things that initially scared us.
- Fear always separates us from incredibly good things. I am sure you have heard the George Addair quote, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” Once I realized that fear is an illusion and that it is simply showing me my limitations, I eagerly set off to move through my fears whenever they arose. The most surprising thing about this practice of consistently facing my fears was that I often found the biggest gifts that have enriched my life immeasurably have been found beyond those fears. Often that gift has been far beyond anything I could imagine. Imagine how enriched your life can become when fear no longer blocks your creativity, your love, your possibilities! When you recognize fear as a delivery system for clear thinking and enhanced focus, you will capture an extraordinary opportunity to produce results at the highest level.
- Fear wants to be your ally, rather than your bully. That cascade of chemical responses in our body was originally designed to save your life! You want that to happen when you need to run for your life or jump out of the way of a charging bull. Fear has always been our ally in that way. But we later developed a sense that fear was something out there, terrorizing and bullying us. It became our nemesis. Something to defeat or something to limit us, depending on our perspective. It’s true that the devil is in the details. But people often miss them. Distractions are everywhere. In the midst of chaos and confusion, however, fear sends this powerful message: Pay closer attention. If you do, you are rewarded with new avenues of perception. With an expanded vision of what’s possible, you can literally and figuratively see things more clearly. Now when I feel fear, I get curious! What’s this limitation? What gifts are hidden in this direction? I rely on my fear to guide me into my next expansion. And it has never yet let me down!
So…what is the best way to move through your fears and turn it into your ally? It’s simple… Action.
Action is the antidote to fear. Action metabolizes fear. It isn’t that you still won’t feel afraid. But you must learn to feel fear while taking action. Fear these days is very rarely protective and is usually directive.
When you find yourself feeling fearful, simply explore the illusion. Picture your fear in front of you. Move toward it. Let it surround you. Talk to it. Interact with it. You will notice quite quickly that fear itself is not some terrifying thing, but an illusion of smoke and mirrors. With this knowledge, you are well on your way to making an ally out of your fears.
I’ve heard people talk about wanting to change careers, travel more or tackle a new hobby. I’ve heard people talk about wanting to start a podcast, move to a new place, or have that difficult conversation. But they don’t. They are letting their fear paralyze them.
We can think, strategize and plan all we want to feel more “prepared.” And that’s important but it is simply a disguise for our fear, and we find ourselves in an analysis paralysis cycle where we are still not moving forward. Action is what gives us the proof that it’s possible. Action is what challenges our anxiety, providing evidence contrary to our fear.
Thinking about changing jobs, but feeling unsure? Go beyond just looking. Update your resume and apply for a job. Take action.
Wanting to make new friends, but worried about rejection? Extend an invite. Try a book club. Schedule a coffee date. Take action.
Take a small action step and then reflect on what happened. Did your fears play out? Did you fail? Did you mess up? Did the thing you were afraid of actually happen?
In most cases, the answer is no. Our fears rarely play out like we think they will. And the only way to know that is to take action. It’s scary and difficult, but remember: you can do difficult and scary things.
What are you currently dreaming about and how is fear standing in your way? Remember, action is the antidote for fear. So what small action step can you take today?
Will you shut down and become a casualty of fear? The choice is yours. Courage is simply taking action in spite of fear. Ernest Hemingway famously described it as “grace under pressure.” Got grace? Turn fear on its head and let “grace under pressure” be your guide. Elevate your commitment to excellence by taking action in spite of fear. Then watch your results soar!