Hands down, the most common reason I hear from my coaching clients for why they can't accomplish something is fear.
They may not call it fear directly, but that's what it is. They are afraid of some perceived bad outcome if they attempt the thing they really want.
And the irony is that the one thing standing between them and what they want in life isn't really substantive. It is just a feeling, usually without any basis in reality. Most fears are that way — feelings without substance.
If you look back over the fears you've had during your lifetime, you'll probably discover that most of them were unfounded. What you fear either didn't materialize or wasn't as bad as you feared.
And here's another interesting thing about our fears. What we fear most isn't usually the thing we think we are afraid of. It's the feelings we have that are associated with the thing we fear.
Here's an example of what I mean . . .
Like many people, I'm afraid of public speaking. Why am I afraid? Because my nervousness might cause me to perform poorly, I might not be interesting, people might judge me or talk behind my back.
But in truth, these things have rarely happened when I've spoken in public, and even when they did, they didn't cause as much angst as my perceptions and feelings about the situation did. Those embarrassing, bad feelings are really uncomfortable. Especially when I whip myself with them for days and months.
Most of us don't have to deal with fears of really fearful things — imminent physical danger or catastrophe. And even if those do happen, they are few and far between.
What most of us fear are the feelings that come with the "what ifs" in life.
What if I fail?
What if I look stupid?
What if I lose my job?
What if no one loves me?
If you look at one of the things you fear most and think about it for a minute, you will start to experience the feelings that this fear brings about, even if you aren't under any immediate threat.
You might feel some anxiety, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, inner distress, sweating, and agitation. And these are not good feelings. We'll do just about anything to avoid these feelings, including avoidance of something we really want.
Do you see yourself here at all? I think most of us do.
If there were no such thing as fear, consider all of the things you might have accomplished in life. Here are just a few of the things I might have done if fear didn't exist:
Made more speeches in public!
Left a college that wasn't a good match for me and gone to one that was.
Establish stronger boundaries with people.
Spoken up for what I wanted more.
Taken more risks.
Traveled more when I was younger.
Had more adventures.
Taken dance classes.
Taken art classes.
Started writing earlier.
I could keep going but you get the idea. I'm sure you have a long list too.
If we could only conquer fear, kick it in the butt, and lay it flat, we could accomplish so much, be so much, enjoy life so much more. Wouldn't that be amazing?
For anyone who has suffered from debilitating fear and anxiety, I know this is easier said than done. We can have the best intentions of kicking fear in the butt, but when fear latches on, sometimes it can take some work to weaken it.
Here are some practical actions for loosening fear's grip on your life:
1. Awareness. Just knowing that most of your fears are unfounded can empower you. Look at the fears you've had in the past. Have the situations you feared come to pass or really debilitated you? Most of the time the answer is "no."
2. Kill the root. Dig deep for the root cause of your fears. Once you isolate it, shine the light of inquiry on it. Is this really true? Most of the events or situations that first caused our fears are long gone or no longer relevant.
3. Find the facts. Sometimes researching the facts about something you fear will make the fear more manageable. I lost a friend to ovarian cancer and started fearing that I would get it too. Then I researched the statistics on getting it and saw my odds were slim. I kept those statistics handy when the fear crept back in.
4. Be prepared. If you fear something like public speaking or making a presentation, anything that requires preparation, then do the preparation. Be over-prepared. Practice. Nothing cures fear like being ready.
5. Reframe and retrain. When you find yourself in a cycle of negative, fearful thinking, break the cycle. Wear a rubber band on your wrist and gently pop it to remind yourself to stop the thoughts. Then reframe your thinking by substituting new, positive thoughts to fill the void. Practice this often until it feels natural. You will rewire your brain to think differently, which will change your feelings.
6. Breathe. When you feel the symptoms of fear (heart racing, anxiety, etc.), take 5 minutes to do some slow breathing from your diaphragm. This will help calm your body and mind.
7. Create a vision. Writing down your vision for what you want in life makes it more concrete. Seeing it on paper removes the swirling thoughts from your brain and captures them. Now you can see clearly to define the actions you need to take. They don't seem so intimidating.
8. Exercise. It makes you feel stronger, clearer, more powerful, and healthier. When you feel good physically, you will feel good mentally.
9. Focus on the task at hand. Occupy your mind with something that you enjoy doing. Get "in the flow" of creativity and focused action. This leaves little room for fear to creep in.
10. Create a plan. If you have a vision, write down every action step it takes to make that vision a reality. Break it down into the smallest possible actions. Small actions aren't threatening. You can do them easily.
11. Create a calendar. Put your small actions on a calendar so they have a definite deadline. Taking action and seeing that you can accomplish something quashes fear.
12. Unhinge from approval. It took me a long time to realize that I couldn't keep everyone happy or get their approval. When I tried, I compromised myself. Now I worry far less about what other people think, and it is so liberating! You will never win approval. Be yourself, and those who love you as you are will be those you want around you.
13. Unhinge from perfectionism. Another big realization. Perfectionism is boring, impossible, and draining. Embrace your flaws and laugh at them. They connect you to the rest of the flawed people in the world!
14. Laugh and have fun. If you can take yourself and the world less seriously, you will be able to enjoy life fully. We have this one life, so why spend it worrying and fretting?
15. Connect to something larger. This may be your spiritual life, a cause, or a purpose. Find a way to connect your actions to something meaningful to you. Fear doesn't tread in these places.
16. Prioritize and simplify. We don't have time in life to do everything. Often fear and worry enter when we have too much to do and our lives are too complicated. Focus on the top 5 most important things in your life, and give yourself the time to experience them fully.
17. Wait before reacting. Often fear makes us take knee jerk reactions. We might say something we don't mean. We might make a poor decision. When you encounter fear, force yourself to wait a day before acting. Let the feelings subside. Then you will see that most of your fear is just feeling, not substance.
18. Get inspired. Keep inspirational and motivating books and other materials on hand to help you reframe your thinking and lift you up. Read about people who have overcome their fears and achieved great things.
19. Get support. Build in a system of support and accountability with a counselor or coach who can help you heal and moved past your fears. Taking this step is one of the most proactive things you can do to kick fear in the butt.
20. Count your days. Realizing how many days I likely have left on this planet was a real eye opener. Assuming you live to age 90, count how many days you have left. Do you really want to spend them in fear?
Fear doesn't have to hold you back. You have an amazing life just beyond the veil of fear. And that veil is thin and vaporous. Do everything in your power to kick fear in the butt. Don't let it stand in the way of you and everything you were meant to accomplish and enjoy in life. Put these strategies into practice every day, and you will see fear evaporate before your eyes!