Dealing with fear, even when you aren’t afraid.
I’d like to think I’m not afraid of a lot of things (barring snakes… ok, and mice). But the crazy thing about fear is that it sneaks in, in disguise, and can eat away at your soul if left unchecked. Nice visual, right?
Maybe, you too think you can name the few things that you are afraid of on one hand. But when was the last time you were angry, or doubtful, or insecure, or anxious? When was the last time you thought what you were doing didn’t matter, or wasn’t good enough, or that you wouldn’t follow through on your goals?
These are the many faces of fear. Anger is the fear of dismissal. Insecurity is the fear of isolation from others. Anxiety is fear that you won’t be able to handle whatever the future brings, that it will be too much. Doubt is the fear of making the wrong decision. Do you see the trend?
What’s programmed in us as a defense against true danger has morphed into a default pattern of thinking to deal with danger that we are simply making up in our heads. And I don’t know about you, but I find this exhausting,
So as I have been dealing with this in my own life this week, (what if the kids get sick at school? what if work doesn’t get better? what if my friends think I’m ridiculous that I am afraid to eat at a restaurant? what if I can’t get over my resentments and judgments of other people? what if I don’t achieve the things I want to?) I had to sit down and look for some answers before I made myself completely insane, or an alcoholic.
Here’s the good news. Once I identified that the common thread was fear, once I defined it, I could get to work. And here is what I learned.
There are a number of ways to deal with fear, overcome fear, or move forward despite fear.
Different approaches for different fears. See which one holds true for you.
1. There is no need to overcome fear if enough love comes in. Fear is the absence of love.
I know this sounds a little woo woo but when you think of it, it makes a lot of sense. If I loved snakes or mice there would be no issue. Those things are not inherently fear producing, it’s my thoughts about them that makes me afraid. But of course we know the fear of snakes is not debilitating to me in my life. It is all the other fears. So how can love dispel those fears?
If I have enough love for what I am trying to do, I will continue to move forward. I will practice taking action because the love drives me forward more so than the fear of failure or the fear of embarrassment holds me back. It reminds me of when my daughter was Cinderella for Halloween… and for the next 3 months.
She loved that costume so much she didn’t even care that no one was still wearing costumes or that it was too cold for a sparkly synthetic dress. She wore it anyway, every single day, all the way to Christmas. If I love something enough, I can do the same, overcoming fear becomes a non-issue, the fear simply no longer exists. Can I love taking care of patients enough? Can I love being a great coworker, a good friend, a loving mom?
But what about the things that aren’t as easily loved as a blue sparkly princess dress? This is where the idea of loving practice comes in. By making the decision to keep going, to keep practicing at something, the love of self-mastery and growth can dispel fear. Not a lot of people love a 3 hour tee ball game and yet there are a lot of people who love playing baseball.
To me, this idea of loving my way out of fear is really appealing, (I feel I have a great capacity for love, something I think many nurses share) but admittedly, there are times that this approach seems hard or unrealistic. If that’s the case we can try tactic #2.
2. Define the fear.
This is useful for the times you find yourself avoiding things or going down the “what if” rabbit hole. You know this story, the one where you have a new manager or you make a wrong decision and you go from mild anxiety to picturing yourself homeless, living in a box under a bridge with your children, destitute.
Defining the fear is a strategy that can be very helpful for these moments. Use Tim Ferris’s approach and jump into the worst case scenario pool. Go all in. It’s best to actually write it down, but in a pinch you can run through it in your head as long as you make sure you get to column 3.
In column 1, write down all the possible worst case scenarios.
In column 2, list anything that can be done to mitigate the risk, the possibility of an irreversible negative outcome, of these things.
In column 3, list what action you would have to take if these situations came to fruition. What you would actually do in the worst case scenario?
Basically what it comes down to is this. By doing this exercise you realize you could handle it. If you can handle it, the fear goes down… by a lot.
So what about the fear of not fitting in or disappointing the people you love? What about the fear of embarrassment? These fears are some of the trickiest since they feel so deeply personal.
3. Disappoint other people on purpose.
Ok, this is really actually impossible unless you can exert psychological telepathic control on the people around you. I have yet to meet anyone who can legitimately control people around them (although I keep trying to do it myself). Still, we tell ourselves that we can’t do something or we must do something because of some perceived external expectation of others. Disappointing the people around you or fearing that they will be upset is living in a fake future. And yet, by doing this, we often negate what is important or true for ourselves in an effort to control what other people will think or feel.
So we disappoint ourselves to avoid TAKING THE RISK of disappointing someone else. We feel awful now in an effort to avoid potentially feeling awful in the future. A little counterproductive when you spell it out. Maybe we should just go ahead and risk disappointing them (which may or may not happen).
The truth is, fear robs us from living in the moment, from being present in the here and now. Our brains move forward to something that may or may not happen. By accepting the uncertainty that we have absolutely no idea how things will turn out, we can move forward with passion and with love for ourselves and for the world around us.
This acceptance of the uncertainty brings us to the 4th and final tip.
4. Take action, ANY forward action.
As Mel Robbins says, “we are one decision away from a totally different life.” By making that one decision, by taking one small action, we can see ourselves in a different light. We go from having no control to taking control. And the snowball of success begins. We survive whatever story we had made up as a possible result of taking action.
By holding tight to worry, fear can keep us passive. If we focus instead on exactly what we want, (you may need to take some time to actually define this as well) that focus can give us energy. And we can use that energy to create value in our lives by taking one small step, by making the next best decision. Once we get a taste of the satisfaction and exhilaration of moving forward, staying focused, creating value despite uncertainty, we won’t be able to stop. We will want more of the same.
Fear will always be a part of our lives, it is part of our hard wiring. Having fear doesn’t mean we can’t be brave, that we won’t achieve what we want. Giving up fear doesn’t mean we act rashly, it means we stay focused and proceed (sometimes with caution, which is ok too). By identifying where fear is taking hold in our lives, we can expose it for what it is and release ourselves from its power, the power only we can give it.