Your relationship to fear is the single greatest factor that will determine the kind of life you live.
Fear is the driver of the vast majority of anxiety and stress that we experience in our lives. Fear limits our thinking, puts us into a negative state, and prevents us from growing. Worst of all, fear prevents us from taking action. It stops us from introducing ourselves at networking events or having that difficult conversation with a friend. It stops us from taking that project on because it requires a public presentation or from starting that business or writing that book.
Our brain naturally seeks to avoid fear. It treats fear as a boogeyman, something that is scary and should be avoided at all costs. This is why we tend to ignore those things that make us uncomfortable. Your brain would rather move on to something else than deal with the fear.
The most common fears occur when you experience:
- Anticipating that something bad is going to happen.
Think about when you are trying something for the first time. There is an enormous amount of uncertainty. You may not know how to actually do it. You may have no idea how things are going to turn out or what to do next. The uncertainty is what fuels the fear, which in turn gets you to stick with the comfortable. If you consistently stay in your comfort zone, then you won’t grow.
Maybe it’s not uncertainty but certainty of an outcome that is stopping you from getting to the next level in life. Often times our past will predict our future. The last 3 times you tried speaking in public you failed miserably. In this case, your fear is based in anticipating that something bad is going to happen because it has happened before.
If the core basis of your fear is uncertainty about a task, project, or event, then certainty is the cure. When you face your fear and take action towards it, you gain more certainty about the situation. As your level of certainty increases, the feeling of fear decreases. This begs the question, how do we get to a place of certainty then?
If you are unsure on how to do something, getting started is the key. Once you face your fear and dive in, you begin learning and creating new connections within your brain. But you cannot learn how to do something unless you actually start.
Example: You want to ask your boss for a raise but keep avoiding the conversation. Fear takes root in your brain and starts taking you down a path of all that could go wrong. Your boss could say no and that rejection would be horrible. Your boss could get upset and fire you for being greedy. Right now is not a good time, wait until he/she is in a better mood. The point is, when fear is in charge, it shifts how you think. Instead of focusing on solutions and possibility, you focus on problems and negative outcomes. The more you focus on fear, the easier it becomes for your brain to engage in fear based thinking. Your mind is constantly making new connections and deepening existing connections. In order to change, you must develop new connections as it relates to fear.
TIP: A shortcut to action can occur if you reframe why you are doing it. In the above example, if you reframe asking for the raise to be about your family instead of yourself, it may provide the courage needed to act. This is not about making a little more money, it’s about improving your family’s well being.
Change your relationship to fear
Instead of viewing fear as something negative, start viewing your fear as something positive. Fear is your ally, it serves as a signal to help you take action. When you start to look for your fear and take action, you will immediately begin to prioritize better.
Take action on those things that cause you the most discomfort, anxiety and stress and the fear will melt away.
Eventually, you will create a new discipline of always attacking fear when it arises and the more you do this, the less fear you will experience.
When I first started practicing law, I was in constant fear. I had no idea what I was doing and had little knowledge. I remember my first hearing in federal court. I spent 6 hours preparing for the hearing and endured enormous stress and anxiety. The hearing itself took me about 10 minutes.
I have since done over 200 of these hearings and the fear is gone. I know spend about 15 minutes preparing. When I look back it’s almost comical that I was so scared. But I now have certainty and know exactly what to do at these hearings. That certainty and knowledge was only achieved by facing my fear and taking action.
The more you face your fear, the more certainty you will have. As you get more certainty, you will have less fear. It’s that simple.
How to change your relationship to fear.
There is a simple technique that can help you change how you view your fears. It starts with creating new connections in your brain as it relates to fear. To create a new perception of fear, you must give attention to the new belief for a long enough period of time for it to become hard-wired in your brain.
The simplest way to do this is to start using affirmations. Affirmations are statements that you repeat to yourself.
- I embrace fear
- I am grateful for fear because it leads to growth, improvement and success.
- Facing my fears makes me stronger
- Fear is an ally and will make me better and more successful
Now, the real challenge is repeating the affirmations for a long enough period of time for them to become effective. Brain science has established that the more we pay attention to something, the more embedded it becomes in our brain. By repeating affirmations, you are focusing your attention on new connections and if you do it long enough, those connections will become more deeply embedded. This will naturally change your perception and more importantly, your default behavior.
Example: You consider yourself a horrible salesman, which is why you never took the chance to get into sales. Over the years you may have told yourself ten thousand times how lousy you are at sales. You have naturally created a deep connection as it relates to your ability to sell. The only way to counter-act this, is to create a new connection that you are gifted at sales. This is why affirmations work, if they are done consistent (multiple times during the day), over a long enough period, new connections will emerge and eventually these connections will become dominant and your perception and behavior will change automatically.
- The moment you wake up, spend 3 minutes of focused time repeating your affirmations to yourself (you can do it aloud or silently).
- While driving to work, spend the first few minutes repeating the affirmations to yourself.
- While driving home from work, spend the first few minutes repeating the affirmations to yourself.
- While lying in bed, repeat your affirmations to yourself for a few minutes.
If you do the above and stay disciplined, you will begin changing your perception of fear, which will put you on a path of accelerated learning, growth and success.
‘I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear is gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” Frank Herbert, Dune.