This might be the most important thing I’ve ever written. [It’s also long, so, um, sorry about that.]
I didn’t realize how deep and embedded fear was in my grey matter, really, until this year. Know why I realized it? Because I finally learned enough about myself, how I work, and what I can handle to set myself up for actual (gasp) success.
I stalled like a bad bad donkey on a one-lane dirt road facing off with a bus full of screaming children. Or something. I don’t know. Obviously my metaphors & analogies are sloppy today. I should probably go back and delete them all.
Anyway, the point is, I STALLED.
And this time it was NOT, as so many other times before, due to poor planning, unclear vision, lack of motivation, or a failure to actually schedule in time to do the work.
No, it was just pure gut fear.
Oh, HI, Fear, Haven’t I Killed You Yet?
The funny thing is, I thought I’d dealt with this fear before. (Wait, how is that funny? I don’t know. Nevermind.)
I’ve read Pressfield’s books, um, more than once. I read Jeff Goins’ blog. I soul-search. I pray. I journal. I’ve clarified my vision and found my purpose and gotten encouragement and faced my fears. Heck, I even meditate. [CRUNCHY. Yes, I know.]
Except obviously I hadn’t dealt completely with my fears.
Fears, you might not know, don’t always show up for a showdown when you ask them to.
They’ll pretend to be all meek and mild, and you’ll write a journal entry about your fear and be like, “YEAH BUDDY, conquered that bad boy!”
Fear is a Creeper
Except that the fear hasn’t been conquered. Really, it’s just lurking.
Waiting for you to actually move forward, take a step, take a tiny action (or a big one) toward the thing that previously you were afraid to pursue.
You’ll take that step, maybe two.
And the fear will start revving up. You’ll hear a little purr, a little hum in your gut. You’ll feel your throat clench up, and you’ll start wondering about the temperature, and you’ll start looking for distractions.
You’ll accept invitations you really don’t want to accept and make excuses you thought you were done making.
You might do this for a while before you catch yourself. Because you’ve assumed that you’re past the fear…
But getting past the fear is more than journaling about it.
The Secret is Every Single Day
Getting past the fear is smushing it down EVERY SINGLE DAY.
You know any inspiring song?
I sing one to my fear while I write my 3000 words every single day. (Okay, I take Sundays off.)
You know what my fear looks like, specifically?
Here’s MY Fear
My fear is that I WILL succeed, and then, with that success, I will find myself pushed so far out of my abilities, my depth, my intelligence, my maturity, that I will flail and fall and ruin everything I’ve worked for and damage my family irreparably in the process.
Seriously. You can smirk if you want to, but I’m really afraid of that.
I’m afraid that if I succeed as a writer and a business owner I will get so busy, so overwhelmed with my success that I will fall apart. I’m afraid that I will neglect my friends. I’m afraid that I will ignore my girlfriend. I’m afraid that I will let the absolute most important part of my life (the core of it, really – my dear dear family) fall apart beyond saving.
Like Humpty Dumpty.
[I guess in this analogy, my family = Humpty Dumpty, and I = both the wall & the ground, causing HD to break, AND all the king’s horses & men, useless and inept in the face of this great egg-breaking.]
How to Make Fear Inconsequential
That’s the fear.
It might be silly, but it doesn’t sound silly when it’s whispering in my hear.
It does, however, get muffled enough to become inconsequential when I smush it with my BIG FAT BOOTS.
So here’s the secret (mine, anyway) to facing your fears:
Get your boots on, and use ‘em.
The Secret is Wearing Your Boots
Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.Michael Jordan
Boot #1: The Direct Response to Your Exact Fear
Be specific. Figure out exactly what you fear about any particular situation or person or relationship or possibility, or failure or success, or task or project or whatever. WHAT DO YOU FEAR? EXACTLY?
A great way to figure this out is get yourself close to that situation.
- Start doing what you would do if you were about to DO the thing you fear. Make the plans, go through the rituals, do the preparing, whatever it is. Then listen for the whispers.
- This time, when the whispers start (fear is such a whispery creature), don’t try to ignore them. Keep doing what you’re doing, but pay conscious attention to what your fear is saying. Listen. Do that for a bit, say, 5 or 10 minutes.
- Then stop and either write or talk it out. (Go with your learning/processing style. Mine is writing. My husband’s is talking. You’ll be more effective if you know & go with your inherent preference.)
Write, write, write or talk talk talk about everything in you that the fear is saying. Expand on it. Keep pushing. Keep flowing. Let it out.
Be as real and raw and genuine and specific as you can and I’ll tell you what: if you’re anything like me, and you’re dealing with a fear that is deep, you will quickly hit a point where you want to (or do) start sobbing like a baby.
Fear Takes You Back
Fear develops, usually, sometime in our childhood.
We can’t always pinpoint the cause. That’s okay; you don’t have to pinpoint the cause to deal with the effect.
And when you start really letting yourself go there, into that effect, into that fear, into that real and emotional part of yourself that is, essentially, trapped in childhood, you will need to let that childhood emotion and vulnerability and confusion and hurt come on out.
So, you know, with that in mind, it might be a good idea if you do this exercise in a place where you can be safe and alone and undisturbed. Also, tissues; maybe grab some first.
Fear Isn’t Silly
The important element here in dealing with your fear is not to downplay it, or tell yourself it’s silly, or stupid, or inconsequential, or not worth worrying about, or anything along those lines.
Because, most likely, that’s what the adults in your life told you when you were a child and this fear first started rooting itself in you.
How well did that work out for you?
A Better Response to Fear
Not very well, right? They probably meant well. You’ve probably said similar things to your offspring. I know I have.
But how about a a better approach, a better response?
When a little person tries, in that limited-vocabulary, lopsided way to express a real fear, a better response is to
- listen without judgment,
- help him to put a name on the fear
- help her to see where the fear comes from
- help him to form a direct and positive response to the fear.
And that’s precisely what you need to do for yourself right now.
Get Some Control
1. Listen without Judgement…
Listen to the fear without judgement. Get it out where you can see it. Don’t ridicule or dismiss the fear. It IS real. It IS hindering you. It IS important. Listen; don’t judge.
2. Put a Name on the Fear…
Now. You have it before you. Put an exact name on it. This is a way of exerting conscious control over the fear.
When it’s all vague and big and nebulous, you can’t understand it well enough to deal with it. Now you’ve got it out where you can see it; now you can understand it.
And now, while you have this understanding, name it.
Give it a short one – two sentence description. Be precise. Find the words that best capture the emotions you feel, the images you sense, the results and effects you foresee in this fear.
Your Instincts vs Your Fear
3. See Where the Fear Comes From…
Listen, this stuff is powerful.
When I stop and think about my fear that I named above, I get an immediate physical reaction: my throat clenches up, I clench my jaw shut, my heart starts pounding, and I feel a distinct tightening in my chest.
You know what that is?
That’s adrenaline. It’s the nervous system kicking in, the instincts, the neurons, the survival-oriented brain screaming at me, “DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!”
And there are only two options for us when we get that signal:
Fight or Flight.
Quit Flighting, Start Fighting
In the past, you’ve chosen flight. So have I.
- Flight by distracting ourselves, procrastinating, hiding.
- Flight by picking up the phone instead of sitting at the keyboard.
- Flight by taking that lousy job instead of launching a business.
- Flight by ending a relationship instead of dealing with the conflict.
- Flight in a million different ways is something we have learned how to do, instinctively, because we want to survive.
Today, you’re arming yourself for the other option. From now on, when fear rises up in you and your brain starts signaling with the physiological equivalent of a flashing red light and obnoxiously loud sirens, you’re going to choose the other option.
Boots on. Stomping it down.
Create Your Response
4. Form a Direct and Positive Response…
You named your fear, right?
Now name the antidote. Name the answer. Name the solution. Name the OTHER possibility (the one that fear won’t acknowledge). Name the positive.
This response might be long or short, but something that’s short enough for you to remember quickly is really best.
Here’s my named fear and direct response.
Fear: My fear is that I WILL succeed, and then, with that success, I will find myself pushed so far out of my abilities, my depth, my intelligence, my maturity, that I will flail and fall and ruin everything I’ve worked for and damage my family irreparably in the process.
Response: I can learn what I need to learn as I need to learn it.
My response is short and simple, but for me, it exactly, precisely answers the fear.
So that’s Boot #1 for me.
I put it on by sticking that response where I can see it when I need to see it: it’s on a note pinned to my bulletin board, right over my desk. I see that note 25 times a day or more. I read it to myself. I think it. And when I feel the fear, I say that, out loud, as often as I need to.
Now we need to get the other boot on.
Give it the Cosmic Bird
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.Nelson Mandela
Boot #2: A Tangible Action That is the Cosmic Equivalent of Flipping Off Your Fear
I don’t know a better, classier way to put that. Sorry. Feel free to describe it better in the comments.
I think you probably get this, but I’ll go on because I’m wordy.
My fear is tied up with my success as a writer and business owner.
What’s the key to my success? Um, well, writing. You can’t be a writer without writing. You can’t own a business built on the stuff you’ve written if you don’t, well, WRITE STUFF.
So my flip-off-the-fear action is writing.
Writing daily. Writing more than just a few paragraphs or sentences. Writing enough on a daily basis that I can actually finish stuff, publish, produce, get it out there.
That’s what I do. I started with a little. I’m adding more. It’s good to start with something you know you can do regularly. Build up.
How Do You Flip Off Your Fear?
You, then: what’s your action? It needs to be so specifically directed at the fear that it IS difficult to do at first. (It will get easier.)
- If your fear is tied to riding in car, then how about you ride around the block once a day?
- If your fear is tied to being alone, how about choosing to spend 15 minutes a day in solitude?
- If your fear is tied to failing in your art, how about deliberately creating a crappy work of art every week?
- If your fear is tied to always looking good, how about going out without make-up once a week?
You get the idea.
This is boot #2.
Both Boots On
And this is key: You need both boots on in order to keep walking.
If you just come up with the positive, direct, specific response, but fail to take tangible action, you won’t move forward. You’ll just hop around on one foot. You might feel better, but you won’t get anywhere.
If you just take tangible action, but you don’t name and specifically respond to the fear, you’ll keep stumbling over yourself. You might do something, but you’ll be handicapped and you’ll end up going in circles.
Put on both boots, baby, and then start walking.