We are all afraid of something. Whether it is fear of what may happen today or tomorrow, or fear of the consequences of yesterday – we all seem to be able to find something to be afraid of every single day. We fear change and we fear staying the same. We fear living and we fear dying. In business, fear can destroy everything that you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
So, why is it that fear has such a powerful hold over us? Essentially, fear is a primal instinct built into us so that we can anticipate change and react quickly in life-threatening situations. Whenever we sense danger (be it physical, psychological or otherwise) our sympathetic nervous system is stimulated and we are mobilised to either fight or flee. We experience this as fear.
The problem is that this primitive kind of system is somewhat at odds with life in modern society. The fight-or-flight instinct may be useful when there are dinosaurs running around and you have little more than a loin cloth with which to defend yourself, but it can be crippling when it reduces the complex human mind to a state of chronic anxiety. In other words, because humans are able to think long term, many of us have become stuck in fight-or-flight mode. As a result, much of the essence of who we are is often locked up behind our fear and we find ourselves only half-living our lives.
Fear is an emotion so powerful that we experience it as a physical sensation. When you are consumed with fear, you are unable to access the talent and potential that you already possess within yourself. It blinds you to the abundance that is all around you.
If you are going to live a truly contented and fulfilling life, you have to conquer your fears; and there are primarily two ways of going about this – you can either face your fear head-on until it loses its hold over you, or you can just let it go. Neither approach is easy, but both work.
You will be able to overcome your fears if you have enough energy, power and excitement to face whatever reality is causing you to feel afraid; i.e. use your fight-or-flight instinct to your advantage. Do not leave the adrenalin that your fear is creating to fester in your body – use it to give you the courage to challenge you fear head-on. You will find that you have more power within you than you ever imagined.
If you are not comfortable with such an aggressive approach, there is another, equally valuable, option. Try to quieten your mind so as to free up all of the energy that is being drained by your emotion. You may not realise it, but you require much more energy to feel afraid than to get rid of your fear.
Regardless of the strategy you choose, what is important is that you are doing something about your fear. It is often, ironically, getting to the point where you are brave enough to do something about it that is the most challenging part. Yes, we are even afraid of confronting our fears.
Luckily, there are several powerful tools that you can use as you tackle your fear.
1. Stop asking: “What is wrong with me?”
Because fear is a stifling emotion, we often get stuck feeling that there is something wrong with us for being so afraid. We may also ask ourselves the subtler question: “Why can’t I figure this out?” In the end, this self-denigration becomes even more debilitating than the fear itself.
We typically place a great deal of pressure on ourselves to take charge of and handle our current realities. The more afraid we are, the more we feel that we are failing to control our surroundings, and the deeper we sink into the feelings that we are not able to cope. This can have a devastating impact on our self-esteem.
When we always expect to fail, we are blocked from seeing the answers that are inside of us. This is why education is such a powerful tool in shaping and overcoming fears – we need to acquire certain knowledge, attitudes and skills or our fears will get the better of us every time.
2. Know your stuff
The value of education in this regard is two-fold. On the one hand, it helps you become aware of what you know and what you do not know. On the other hand, education gives you the confidence to take on challenges in specific areas or disciplines because you can be sure of your knowledge.
Education also takes numerous and divergent forms. Some people, for example, educate themselves by seeking out adventure. This is education by experience – by having the experience of conquering one fear (for example, a fear of heights), these thrill-seekers come to see that they are capable of surmounting any fear. There are others who use the pursuit of knowledge to achieve the same end.
When you are educated, you know that the best strategy is to accept that scary things are inevitably going to come your way. Fear is never of what is happening now; you can only be afraid of some future event. There is no point in obsessing over something that has not even happened yet (and may never happen). Realising this is the first step toward compartmentalising your problems. When this happens, you will slowly begin to feel as if you can cope again and your self-respect will be restored. In turn, you will also have more courage to face your fears; and it all comes back to education.
3. Give yourself a time limit
In business strategy, the expression “one-day fear factor” has been coined to describe the process of allowing yourself to feel scared of the unknown for one day but then, on the second day, forcing yourself to go ahead and deliver anyway.
Few people understand what it means to let go of an emotion but it is an essential skill.
Beware of being drawn in by the hidden “reward” for getting stuck in a specific feeling; that is, do not use fear as an excuse to procrastinate. Realise that, at some point, you are going to have to do/face whatever it is that you are afraid of doing/facing. You may, for example, be afraid of speaking to your parents about something; but will you not eventually have to talk to them about it? The fear is not going to get you out of it so you are causing yourself unnecessary pain. There is no payoff to fear – it is a useless, crippling emotion. So, instead of being afraid, learn to forgive, confront or accept the emotion that you feel and move on. There is no value in staying stuck.
4. Learn to develop options
There is always one more option, another strategy or a tactic for dealing with your circumstances. Even in the face of the most overwhelming opportunity or the most terrifying challenge, there is always more than one approach to take and, just by confidently sticking to your chosen approach, you will make headway.
One of the worst things about fear is that it often causes us to make poor choices. Fear shortcuts the mental process of thinking things through so the choices we make when we are afraid are often illogical, irrational and short-sighted. As a result, choices made out of fear can be highly detrimental.
The solution is to adopt a simple rule of thumb: In life, only ever accept the best – from yourself and others. Always expect to receive the best and, when you decide to do something, do it to the best of your ability with love, commitment and passion. Do not allow the urge to escape a scary situation override your ability to choose wisely or perform quality work. In other words, empower yourself by making every choice a positive choice. Whenever you have to make a choice, ask yourself whether there is a positive choice that can be made.
Shame, pride and impulsiveness all stand in the way of making good choices. Turn these emotions into acceptance, humility and patience and you will make unbelievably powerful and well-thought-out decisions.
5. Watch your words!
The world is what you make of it. Be aware of what you say about yourself and of what you will allow other people to say about you. Think and speak negatively and this is what will manifest in your life. Talk yourself and others down, let others talk you down – and down is where your will find yourself.
Repeated thoughts cause our brains to form neural pathways making it harder and harder for us to change the way we think and feel – negative thinking can be a very difficult habit to kick. Eventually, thinking badly of ourselves and others just feels natural.
Start observing your emotions as they arise and catch yourself before you fall into the rut of negative thinking. You must also be very careful who you allow into your life – the things that people say and do to and around you can have a very powerful influence over your own thoughts and actions. Avoid people who thrive on criticising others and do not allow people to talk down to you.
Break yourself in by trying to go one week without criticising anyone else or yourself. At first, it will be really hard to see the positive in most situations, but it is skill that can be learnt. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.
6. Work though your emotions
When you feel your emotions begin to take you over, use this easy activity to help you process them:
- Write down one advantage of whatever emotion you are feeling. So, if you are fearful, write down an advantage of feeling fearful; for example: “Fear keeps me motivated”.
- Think about this advantage. Does it make having to experience the negative emotion worth it? If so, you can feel contented to continue feeling that emotion for a little bit longer. If you can see that the value of the advantage does not outweigh the pain of the emotion, you will be able to let go of the emotion.
- Now list a disadvantage of the same emotion. Does the advantage of feeling the emotion outweigh the disadvantage of feeling it?
- Go back and list another advantage and continue with this process until you have run out of advantages and disadvantages. Do not simply make a list of advantages/disadvantages; rather work through them one advantage and one disadvantage at a time. You will find that, if you keep on doing this for a while, you will become much calmer and feel more grounded in your approach. The fear will disappear.
7. Look for a win-win solution
We often let ourselves lose, while others win or make others lose so that we can win. It does not have to be like this. A win-win solution allows both parties to benefit. When you make others win and get something out of it yourself, you are initiating powerful change in your life. This is why being charitable is rewarding it itself as this involves creating a win-win situation through working for something that is greater than yourself. The good that you do will have a domino effect that eventually comes back to you.
The most challenging part of overcoming fear is the initial decision to sign-up, become present and aware, step up to the plate and say “yes”. You will never conquer your fears if you are not wholeheartedly committed to doing so.
Start saying yes to everything of which you are afraid: You may end up doing things of which you never thought yourself capable. At least find out what this is like to live your life in this way. Even if you decide that it is not for you and go back to not saying yes to everything, you will at least have proven to yourself that your fear cannot control you. This is far more powerful than doubting yourself and living in fear for the rest of your life.
Regenesys Business School teaches spiritual and emotional intelligence in all its courses as it recognises that we all have fears and that education is one of the most powerful forces to allow us to conquer them. Do not let your fear rule your life. Take charge; educate yourself; empower yourself. Become the master of your fears and you will be the master of your destiny.