Facing Your Fears

What’s stopping you from doing what you want and having what you desire? With rare exceptions, when you strip away all the excuses, it’s fear-fear of doing whatever it is that you must do to achieve your goals.

Fear is one of our most basic instincts and it’s key to our survival. It’s easy to dismiss fear as cowardice, but it’s not. Rather, cowardice is just one of many possible responses to fear; courage is another. Fear itself is not necessarily bad. In fact, it serves a purpose by protecting life and helping us avoid danger.

Fear can get our hearts pumping and our adrenalin flowing. You probably know people who like being scared because they like what it does to their bodies-these are thrill-seekers who search out dangerous activities and who use their fears to accomplish amazing things. Whether you like roller coasters and parachuting and mountain climbing or not, you don’t have to enjoy fear to make it work for you.

The key is to understand your fears and put them in perspective so you can deal with them appropriately. When you feel fear, before you respond, stop and figure out: Is there a real danger there? If so, exactly what is the danger and what do you need to do to protect yourself? And if there’s no real danger, what is driving the feeling?

What are you afraid of?

What frightens you? Flying? Jumping out of an airplane? Maybe you’re afraid of water. Or creatures-dogs, cats, spiders or snakes. You might be fearful of crowds or public speaking-or even change. And it could be that you’re afraid of anything that involves risk.

The reality is that life is risky. Anything worth having is likely going to involve some sort of risk, whether it’s physical, financial, or emotional. And it’s natural for those risks to generate fear. What separates achievers from non-achievers is that the achievers know how to control and use the natural emotion of fear to their advantage.

Uncontrolled fear robs you of your self-confidence and your ability to be effective. Fear that is under control and managed can be extremely productive because it can drive you to carefully examine risks and take steps to control and minimize them.

Responding to fear

There are three basic ways you can respond to fear:

1. Ignore it.

2. Avoid it.

3. Confront it.

Simply ignoring fear-for example, thinking “I’m afraid to do this but I’m just going to plow ahead,”-is the least effective way to respond to feelings of fear. You can’t completely ignore your fear because if you don’t deal with it, it will always be in your mind, causing stress and blocking your ability to perform at your peak.

Denying fear-insisting that you’re not really afraid, you just “don’t want to do” that-is a form of ignoring it. If you know that taking a particular action could produce results you want but you refuse to do it, do some careful self-examination to determine if you’re really denying a fear.

Avoiding fear is only slightly better than ignoring it. At least when you avoid fear, you have acknowledged it and are trying to push it to the side and go around it. But that’s only a temporary fix for a long-term problem.

What works best in both the short- and long-term is confronting your fears and overcoming them. Recognize what you are afraid of, take ownership of it, deal with it, and work on achieving your desired result. In the process, you destroy the fear.

Confronting your fear lets you shine a light on it, and when you do that, you’ll often see that the fear isn’t real. Think back to when you were a child and believed that monsters were lurking under your bed or in the closet. Your parents would come in, turn the light on, and you could see that there were no monsters. Shining a light on adult fears is not always so simple, but it’s just as effective. For example, let’s say you’d like to make an investment, but fear is stopping you. Shine a light on it. What are you really afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen? Now, what can you do to reduce the risk? And if you do that, is your fear still valid?

Remember that on the other side of every fear is freedom, achievement, and peace.

The most common fears

We like to believe that we are special and unique, but when it comes to fear, we are rarely in a class by ourselves. Fears that tend to stop most of us from reaching our goals include the fear of failure and its companion fear of success; fear of ridicule; fear of discomfort; and even fear of the spotlight. Let’s look at each of them.

Fear of failure is completely understandable. No one likes to fail. We don’t want to disappoint ourselves or others. But just because you make a mistake or are not immediately successful does not mean you’ve failed. The primary way we solve life’s problems is through trial and error. When you make a mistake, you haven’t failed-you’ve simply learned a strategy that didn’t work. None of the great inventions that we take for granted today were successfully produced on the first try. Even the best sports players don’t score every time. Put your fear of failure into this context: Some of the things you try won’t work, but all that means is that those things particular things you did didn’t work. As long as you try again, you didn’t fail and you are not a failure.

Let’s look at the opposite side of the fear of failure and consider the fear of success. The fear of success can be almost as paralyzing as the fear of failure, and it often follows when you’ve conquered the fear of failure. Some people let the fear of success sabotage their efforts because they’re afraid of what might happen when they become successful. Success can be both intoxicating and frightening. Conquer your fear of success with a plan to manage your success.

Still another common fear is that of ridicule. We don’t want to be made fun of. You can’t control what other people think and say, but you can control how you react to it. Of course, just ignoring ridicule is much easier said than done, especially when the ridicule is coming from someone we care about. It helps to attempt to understand what’s driving the person who is doing the ridiculing-most people who ridicule others are attempting to mask their own weaknesses and fears. Consider diffusing the ridicule with semi-agreement: “Sure, I may be crazy for trying, but at least I’m trying-and you never know, I could succeed.” And when you do succeed, you won’t have to say a word.

The fear of discomfort can be quite powerful. Most of us like to stay in our comfort zone with familiar people and things. Certainly it’s easier to do what’s comfortable, such as watching television rather than heading to the gym or staying in a dead-end job rather than doing what it takes to get out of it. But doing what’s comfortable today will likely result in something worse than discomfort tomorrow. Staying comfortable means staying in a rut and not stretching for something better.

It’s also understandable to fear the spotlight. Every day we see the most intimate details of the lives of politicians and celebrities held up for scrutiny by strangers, and while we might be intrigued by scandals and gossip, we don’t want to be under that microscope ourselves. Fortunately, most of us don’t have to seriously worry about that. But you might fear being the center of attention even in a small way, such as having to make a presentation in front of a group or even being recognized for an achievement. With practice and preparation, you can overcome a fear of the spotlight.

Use the incredibly powerful tool of visualization. If you focus on your fear and visualize the worst happening, it certainly will. Instead, visualize your success and the results you want, then see yourself going through the steps that will make that happen. When it comes time to actually do whatever is causing you fear, you’ll be relaxed and confident because you’ve done it before in your mind and you know it’s going to work.

It’s also important to recognize that fear is contagious. You can be infected by other people’s fears. Sometimes these people are fearful because they genuinely want to protect you; other times, they express fear that they hope will stop you because they are afraid your success with reveal their own shortcomings. In either case, you need to give yourself a mental vaccine to protect yourself from other people’s fears.

Unfortunately, for most of us conquering fear is not a one-time thing that we can do and then never have to deal with again. Fear is a normal emotion that you will experience over and over. The key is to not let fears scare you into inaction but to use them to prepare yourself to reach your goals.

Jacquelyn Lynn (http://www.jacquelynlynn.com) is a business writer based in Orlando, Florida, and the author of Entrepreneur’s Almanac (Entrepreneur Press Nov. 2007); Online Shopper’s Survival Guide and co-author of Make Big Profits on eBay (with Charlene Davis). She is also the host of Doing It Right Radio┬« (http://www.doingitrightradio.com).

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