This is Part 1 of our series on how fear can paralyze us, and how we get trapped in the mind-game of loathing ourselves for it. See Part 2.
Fear. It’s been a driving force in my life as long as I can remember.
I can still think of my very first memory. I was in a crib in the first home I recall. The room was dark and the door was open. I must have been two at the time. I could see the light from the dining room and hear my parents playing a board or card game with their guests. I must have been in that dream-like state. Somewhere between sleep and consciousness. For a toddler it has all the trappings of reality.
My mind’s eye was opened and spikes came up out of my bedding. I leaped up and cried for my parents. I remember a strange bearded man came in to pull me out. It wasn’t even my dad, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to get killed by the spikes. I jumped into a stranger’s arms just to avoid my current peril.
I continue to be driven by fear. A wise one. That tells me to not be foolish and get hurt, make bad decisions, and live with the consequences of poor choices. But I must beware of a fear that always lurks within my mind and heart. Fear of what others think-insecurity. Fear of failure-rejection by myself and others.
I’ve found fear to sometimes be paralyzing. It can stop me from making a decision, or acting on a decision that I once was fully convinced was right.
Fear can inform us of danger and looming threat. Even if it alarms us to a potentially bad decision or situation, we don’t want that fear to threaten our ability to act. How do we move from fear-induced paralysis to taking that information and acting?
1. Identify the Fear
Identify the real thing you’re afraid of. Uncover it. It’s usually not the surface fear, that thing that first comes to mind.
For example, if you’re nervous about a meeting tomorrow, what are you really fearful about? Giving a presentation so bad you’ll lose your job? That extreme result may be on your mind, but do you really have to fear that? Is your fear rooted in a previous failure?
Sometimes we don’t want to fail in front of people simply because-somewhere deep down-we think that means we are less of a person. Less of a man.
Maybe you’re afraid of having a conversation with a woman you’ve noticed. What’s the real fear? At face value for all of us guys it may be awkward embarrassment. But you know that even if she’s not interested, she’s not going to run away screaming and tell everyone that you’re a dangerous creep.
What are we truly fearing? Our imagined worst-case scenario? Or is it rooted in unmet expectations from an earlier time? Do we fear that starting up a chat that abruptly ends mean that we’re an unattractive, uninteresting, can’t-get-the-girl type of man?
In order to trump fear and start making confident choices, it’s important to identify the real thing we’re actually afraid of.
2. Evaluate if it’s real
What’s the fear that’s been identified? We’re not really afraid that one mistake at the office will likely lead to our immediate termination. And it’s pretty doubtful saying “Hello” to an attractive lady will end with a greeting of pepper spray. Once you’ve identified the fear, insecurity, or mind-game behind that fear, evaluate if it’s real.
Is it a real possibility? Is that an actual outcome that will happen? Eliminating worse-case scenario thinking can really be freeing.
Now is that insecurity founded upon something tangible? Maybe it’s a previous hurt or disappointment. But give yourself, and other people, a clean slate. Just because you were berated before for something gone awry doesn’t mean that’s guaranteed to happen again. Just because you’ve had a bad break-up doesn’t mean that your permanent reality is to be forever alone and repeatedly rejected.
This might sound nuts, but once you’ve identified what your real fear is, don’t run from it, expose yourself to it (excluding your fear of bodily harm). Afraid of delivering presentations? Take as many presenting opportunities as you can.
That may not mean signing yourself up to deliver a keynote in front of 200 people. But can you make presentations to a group of 5 people, then 10, then 20? Get yourself on a roll and build momentum.
Afraid of introducing yourself to strangers? Aim to say “hello” to 100 new people over the next 2 weeks. They don’t have to be beautiful or sought after people. It can be the homeless guy panhandling. A person near you standing in line. Just smile and say “hello.” Ask how their day is. It’s still a win for you even if the conversation moves nowhere. You are putting some wins under your belt, gaining confidence, and cultivating a skill.
It’s easy to fall into a cycle of listening to fears and giving them more power than rational thought. Don’t let fear hold you down. Identify it. Face it. Reveal it for what it is. You know what right decisions to make. Don’t let self-doubt cloud sound judgment.