3 Ways to Overcome Fear and Get What You Want From Life

photo credit: leap of faith via photopin (license)

photo credit: leap of faith via photopin (license)

Most people react somewhat negatively (initially at least) to the notion that it is fear that is stopping them from achieving what they want in life. ‘I’m not afraid … it’s just that I can’t … until …’ — and out rolls the list of other things that need to happen first.

We don’t like to admit that we are afraid. We see it as a weakness. Instead, we subconsciously create valid reasons why we can’t do something, or at least why we can’t do it right now.

Rather than face our fears and act despite them, we take the path of least resistance and allow them to stop us from taking action. Or worse, we retreat. The fact is, it’s impossible to live life fully if you continue to let fear stop you taking action. Let’s begin by clarifying what fear is.

Understanding fear

Everyone experiences fear – fear is ‘normal’. It’s funny how we often assume that we are the only ones who feel or experience life in the way we do. It’s as though we think we are programmed to react to situations in a way that is different from everyone else.

When it comes to fear, we are not unique. As young children, we are programmed to be careful, to be risk averse and to put safety first. How often, when you were a child, did your parents tell you to ‘be careful’ or to ‘take care’, as opposed to ‘go and do something scary today’ or ‘go and take a risk’?

Research tells us that the average child is exposed 160,000 times to messages of ‘no, you can’t’ by the age of 18. This is significantly more than the 10,000 times a child hears ‘yes, you can’ during the same period.

The messages we grow up with are disproportionately negative. ‘Be careful’ suggests that the world is a scary and dangerous place. ‘No, you can’t’ reinforces that there are limits to what one can or should do. Together, such messages have a significant impact on how most people go on to lead their lives as adults.

People are comfortable with what is familiar to them. They feel ‘safe’. They are familiar with their environment; they have established ways of behaving, of doing the things they usually do, and of interacting with others — whom they know well.  They feel ‘okay’ in the world. And mostly, in control. This is often referred to as a person’s comfort zone.

Comfort zones definitely have their benefits in that they allow us to feel safe by keeping us in familiar territory. However, they are not so advantageous when it comes to wanting to achieve more in life. In fact, they work against us.

As soon as you start taking action toward a new goal, putting yourself in a new situation and trying something you are unfamiliar with, you automatically step outside your comfort zone. And consequently you feel uncomfortable; sometimes, very uncomfortable.

It is at this point that too many people react to this often unexpected emotion and stop. Some interpret their fear as a sign to retreat or choose to wait until they feel more comfortable. They wait for the fear to subside, yet it never will, and years pass in the meantime (hence we have a Waiting Epidemic).

If you want to change things in your life, for the better, you need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It is impossible to stretch yourself to have and be more, without stepping outside your comfort zone.

Choose to act despite fear

The trick here is to choose to feel excited when you feel uncomfortable or anxious. Experiencing fear means you are outside your comfort zone and on your way to creating or doing something new.

It means you are moving closer to achieving your goal — or goals. Even the world’s most successful people experience fear, doubt, and worry. Everyone does. The difference is that these people have already learnt what you are learning now — that being uncomfortable, feeling fear, is normal.

‘True courage is not the absence of fear; it’s in the mastery of fear.’ — Mark Twain

Successful people consistently try new things. I am sure you can think of examples from your own life when you have been in a new situation, perhaps starting a new job, or attending a function or event where you knew few people, when your anxiety levels were initially high.

Case sample

Learning to drive is a good example. When most people begin learning to drive a car, they are anxious. They feel nervous. The ‘what if I don’t pass my driver’s test?’ voice starts in their head. ‘I keep stalling the car. What if I never get this right

There are people who have chosen to spend their lives unable to drive, rather than risk feeling uncomfortable, and putting themselves ‘out there’. And yet the majority of people — and probably you included — have been sufficiently motivated by the desire for independence that, despite feeling the fear, they have successfully learned how to drive.

Staying with this example, what happened to your fear and anxiety as you became a more experienced driver? The fear disappeared. You stretched yourself; you felt uncomfortable but didn’t let this stop you. You learned to drive, and as you acquired this new skill, it became part of what is familiar to you, part of your (new) ‘comfort zone’ and the fear dissipated accordingly.

And so it is with fear. Fear will accompany any new task (that’s a given), but ONLY UNTIL you become confident and master that task, then the fear will disappear.

‘Do the things you fear and the fear will disappear.’ — David Joseph Schwartz

Best of all, it will disappear leaving you with your goal achieved AND feeling 10 feet tall and bullet-proof! Acting, despite fear, makes you feel great. It’s like a reward for having the courage to put yourself out there.

Case samples

  • Matthew, once a sought after cardiac specialist, is now pursuing his passion for food, successfully running his own fine-dining restaurant.
  • Pam, a grandmother, left her loveless marriage after 32 years and has just completed a degree in counseling.
  • Emma, a stay-at-home mother of three, now has her own clothing design label and recently secured a huge contract with one of Australia’s leading retail chains.
  • Joshua and his wife Mandy left their respective teaching jobs and are currently in South East Asia, somewhere they have always wanted to explore (did I mention they’re in their fifties?).

The common theme to these stories is that they all involve people consciously choosing to step outside their comfort zones to finally live the lives they’d been waiting (for quite some time in some cases) to live.

Do you think they felt scared, unsure or had any doubts? You bet! Did they act on their dreams and goals despite that fear? Yes.

Putting yourself out there into previously uncharted ground (for you) isn’t easy, but it is absolutely worth it. I know Matthew, Pam, Emma, Joshua and Mandy certainly agree.

WhatAreYouWaitingFor_150dpiShelley Brunskill-Matson is the author of “What Are You Waiting For? "How to Discover What You Really Want, and Actually Make It Happen."

Click Here to download the eBook version