Fear. It’s a powerful word, and it can be ugly.
Sure, it has the potential to save us from real dangers, like sabre tooth tigers and public speaking.
It also has the power to breed jealousy, anxiety, self-doubt and can be where self-destruction begins. If we detect fear, we often say no and stall personal progression.
Fear does not have to lead us in this way. With a conscious mind, fear can be a key to freedom.
Let’s start slowly, rather than take up free solo climbing.
Imagine this: you’ve been invited to go to dinner with friends, but since a certain someone is also attending, you’re uncomfortable. It’s incredible how 90% of the guest list makes you thrilled, yet somehow one human can make you rethink it all.
You hesitate, think about possible scenarios too much, become anxious, care too much about what you’ll wear and how you’ll present yourself. You might even consider cancelling. You think your couch will love you for better or for worse.
It’s the action that follows these reactions that form your patterns and your confidence. This is where the power lies.
Fear needs addressing before it makes you into someone you haven’t agreed to become.
Hey, fear. You listening?
Fear As We Know It
Seemingly prewired in us, is an urge to take the path of least resistance.
When we ignore or avoid the concept that we were ever uncomfortable in the first place, we’re depriving ourselves of the opportunity to better understand our insecurities.
Are you worried about being compared? Or belittled because of someone else’s insecurities?
Let the instance of fear initiate a self check-in. Find and face the real, initial reaction. Let’s dig in further.
Step 1: Recognize It
Calling yourself out on being scared, uncomfortable, or uneasy is the first step. Recognizing when you feel this way calls for further investigation. Be gutsy, don’t ignore that nagging feeling.
How do you recognize fear? Sometimes it’s physical like heartburn, sweaty palms, tingles, shortness of breath or feeling inexplicably tired. Other times, it’s more of a character trait change like loss of sense of humour, lack of motivation, overly loud and opinionated or the opposite, very quiet and unsure of the group dynamic.
Step Two: Ask Why
You’ll gain more patience as soon as you can figure out why you’re uncomfortable. Start by asking yourself more targeted questions like the ones below to find your “why.”
- Are you fearful of being embarrassed?
- Does not having all the answers make you uncomfortable?
- Do you feel physically unsafe?
- Are you worried about exposing a side of yourself that you’re uncomfortable with?
- Does the situation or person make you feel agitated?
- Is this reaction emotionally justified or would you like to rewrite your reaction?
Step Three: Action
Now’s the time when you decide if your “why” is justified or could use a tweak. You may see an opportunity to try something new, to empathize with another, to grow patience or to learn to avoid a situation. Each case warrants a different answer, but before you write your action, think big picture.
Will your action now lead you closer to the person you want to become? Will it hold you neutral or hold you back?
Lead the life you want to live (even if it means saying no).
Step Four: Reflect
You’ll need some time for this one, but with some perspective look back and see the ripples that were caused by your action. You’re now in the space to face a fear, so put it to practice and look within.
In a quiet space where you have some free time ask yourself:
- What’s making me most happy right now?
- What/When/Who makes me feel most insecure?
- Could I have more confidence?
- What situations would I like to be mentally stronger in?
In theory, these questions will provide an overarching check in on your progress since your last big or little “facing fear” moment. Be as real with yourself as you can – you’re the only one holding yourself back.
But Wait, How Can You Grow to Love Fear?
Knowing your insecurities means you can work on them instead of hiding what triggers them. This idea is supported in Chamorro-Premuzic’s book Confidence: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Insecurity, and Self-Doubt. “The truth is often painful, but less painful than ignoring it.”
Facing your fear is an opportunity for growth, “It is a motivating force, because being dissatisfied with yourself is the best reason for wanting to improve.”
Chamorro-Premuzic explains, “In fact, lower confidence is key to gaining competence, which is the only effective strategy for gaining genuine confidence–confidence that is warranted by one’s actual competence.”
Endless opportunities are available when you confront fear. This shift in perspective makes saying yes more exciting!
The thrill of something new will be something you pursue. Maybe it’s rock climbing or a vacation with strangers – the thing that matters is that you said yes (especially if your tendency would have been to say no). You just may make more friends.
Your own fears can expand your empathy. You are not the only one who has made or broken plans based on fear. When you confront your fears, you can also expand your empathy for others (even those who are acting unpleasantly). Self-empathy allows you to better connect to your intentions, be honest with yourself, and execute goals concisely.
Finally, empowerment. With your newfound introspective ways you can aid others in learning how to find freedom through their fears.
Take Diny Harrison, the first female to become an Accredited Canadian Mountain Guide (ACMG) in Canada in 1992. Since achieving her own personal goal she’s been able to mentor hundreds of women. For the last 8 years, Diny has helped to teach at the Alpine Finishing School to support females in developing the physical and mental skills they need to pursue a career in the outdoors.
Not alone in her pursuits, Claire Smallwood, founder of SheJumps and Kate Devine a guide, Avalanche Forecaster, and management at Selkirk Lodge also make this monumental program a success. These women have found a way to let their fear fuel themselves, their career and the next generation.
Facing fear looks good on us all.