We all know that fear is the one thing that holds us back from having the lives we envision and realizing our goals. Yet, in the face of fear, we often cower away from it, doing everything we can to avoid it, lessen it or remove it completely from our lives.
The paradox is that the more we try to escape fear, the more it haunts us and holds us captive to uncertainty. When we resist the lessons fear is supposed to teach us in life, we resist our own personal growth by building mental prisons that constrain us.
Recognizing this paradox, I wanted to share my own lessons in facing fear.
The biggest fear I have overcome, is an intense fear of flying. I used to get on a plane and sweat its entire duration, I was so nervous I would lose excess hair and jump at the sound of anything a little unusual sounding. I honestly thought I would deal with this fear my entire life, until I moved to Ohio and had to face a plane flight at a minimum 3-4 times a year to go home and see family.
As I boarded the plane to Wisconsin to see family or a work trip, I felt anxiety pulse through my body and the familiar reptilian brain take control. Yet, after I started flying roughly 4+ times a year, a funny thing started to happen, I let go. I let go of the metaphorical rope I was holding and relaxed into my seat as the plane took off. After years of personal beatings from my own mind, fearing the plane had a 50/50 chance of falling, the fear was gone.
What had changed….
I dipped my foot slowly into the water over and over again, facing the fear continually, despite believing it would last forever.
I experienced a similar occasion yesterday as I completed my third Toastmasters speech. Being on stage each week, going through the motions and speaking for at least 6-8 minutes in front of others each month, slowly changed me. My mind cleared and I can now process the feedback from previous speeches in a calm and collected way. I have moved from being able to just get up in front of others and not shake and turn red, to being able to use hand gesturing, voice tone and pauses in my speech.
A final example of a fear we all face, is the fear of poverty. Fearing poverty sounds so profound (OMG—I don’t have that do I?), but when it really comes down to it, it’s the fear we face daily, feeling insecure in what we have and always striving for more financial security. In the back of many people’s minds lies the fear of being a bag lady or man, living under an overpass and wondering how to make ends meet.
Given that this fear is so prevalent and old, there are many philosophers who have addressed it in the past, a favorite of mine being, Seneca, the Stoic Philosopher. In The Tao of Seneca: Practical Letters from a Stoic Master, Seneca shares that to combat the deep fear of poverty, the most powerful thing you can do is to practice poverty and evaluate how you feel along the way. Seneca shares that he tested himself by eating beans and rice each day, entertaining himself by socializing and reading books as well as living in conditions of minimal comfort.
In his personal evaluation, he finds that as the weeks pass by, he gets used to living on less and slowly grows to feel secure in the fact that his happiness is not contingent on the luxuries he felt he needed. By confronting poverty head on and living within the context of the poverty he feared so much, he grows to understand that he would be fine, if he ever needed to face this ill fate; source, Tim Ferris 4 Hour Work week.
Seneca’s experiment and my metaphor of dipping your foot into the water, follow a similar design in that each process involves slowly facing your fear, feeling it and then realizing that the fear is indeed manageable and that you can be ok on the other side of your fear.
What is the fear holding you back from your life goals? Is it the fear of rejection—get out there and invite someone to learn more about your business or ask for the sale. Is it the fear of losing money on an investment—invest into a mutual fund or educational course and see how that feels.
There is always a baby step that is right for you, but you need to be the one to elevate yourself to new ground. Often life will let you be comfortable, but if you don’t challenge yourself to move forward in conscious baby steps, at some point life will push you in a way you may not be prepared for. Prepare today and enjoy the fruits of your effort before the push.