What If Fear Isn’t Something to “Overcome”?
We’ve all been there. The moment arises when we need to pick up the phone to make an important call/ stand up in front of our peers to deliver a presentation/ pitch an idea to key decision makers… and we freeze. Fear has come to pay us a visit!
The logical reaction is to try to do something to overcome the fear so that it goes away. After all, who wants to wallow in the discomfort that comes with fear?
Here’s the thing: if you try to push it down, ignore it or “overcome” it in some way, you’ll be spending an enormous amount of energy which could be put to more productive use. Plus, you’re unlikely to keep it down for very long.
So here’s what to do instead:
- Acknowledge it. “I feel scared”. “I’m afraid I’ll fail”. “I’m scared they’ll laugh at me”.
- Feel the fear. This isn’t some glib motivational statement; I really mean “feel the fear”. Notice where in your body the fear is showing up. It could be a knot in your tummy; a lump in your throat; racing heart; sweaty palms.
Often we don’t allow ourselves to truly feel what we’re feeling because it’s just so uncomfortable! When you let yourself feel the fear in this way you’re doing a number of things:
- You’re saving the energy you would otherwise waste trying to suppress the feeling.
- You’re teaching your nervous system that fear is nothing to run away from. In time you will start to notice that your tolerance for discomfort will increase.
- By naming the fear you’re using your thinking brain. Fear is governed by a more primitive part of the brain. When this part of the brain takes over, you aren’t able to “think straight”, be creative or make clear decisions. When you bring your thinking brain on board you automatically dampen the activity of the primitive brain. You’ll notice that the “charge” associated with the fear will subside. The fear may still be there, but it won’t have the debilitating “oh my goodness, I’m going to fail” quality about it.
- As more of your thinking brain comes online, you will be in a better position to respond intelligently to whatever situation induced the fear in the first place.
So, the next time you’re feeling “uncomfortably stretched” remember that the aim is not to ignore, suppress or overcome the discomfort. You’re more likely to move forward in spite of fear if you:
- Pause and turn your focus inwards.
- Allow yourself to feel the fear.
- Name what you’re thinking, feeling and experiencing in the body.
- As the “charge” subsides, act.