Posted on August 13, 2013 by Akshay Nanavati
Despite what you may have been led to believe all your life, fear is not your enemy. You probably want to know how to overcome fear but it is not something to be overcome or conquered.
For as long as you strive for growth in any of the key areas: physical, financial, mental, emotional or spiritual, fear will accompany you on your journey. It is your stepping-stone to success.
But if you run away from fear and resist its presence, destiny will grant you nothing more than mediocrity.
This is not just an observation of human behavior, it is a scientific fact.
In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry and Jean Graves found that all human beings have 3 brains:
- the reptilian brain,
- the mammalian brain, and
- the human brain.
Fear and the fight or flight response live in the reptilian brain. Emotion resides in the mammalian brain. And finally, the human brain gives us the power of reason, imagination and abstract thought.
Any external stimulus passes through all three brains starting with the reptilian brain. What that means is that all life experiences pass through the fear brain before they arrive in the human brain.
If you want something you have never gotten before, you need to do something you have never done before. So, any time you take a risk and try something new, that experience is first sent to your reptilian brain, which decides whether the risk is worthy of paralyzing the rest of your brain. A symptom known as Amygdala hijack.
Fear is then not only inevitable, but necessary for growth. Yet, some become paralyzed by it, while others use it to move their lives forward.
What is it that separates these two groups?
Here are 7 tried and tested methods to be in the latter group and use fear as the fuel for your inner fire.
How to overcome fear? Welcome it
The more you seek out fear, the better you become at facing it when it shows up. Courage is just like any other muscle in your body, it needs to be tested and stressed in order to grow stronger.
Every day or at the minimum every week, do something that scares you. It doesn’t have to be a leap outside your comfort zone, it could be something that just takes you one inch outside of it. The compound effect of those inches over time leads to a life of joy, accomplishment and fulfillment.
Start by writing a list of things that scare you. They could be as simple as talking to a stranger or as monumental as climbing Mount Everest. The level of risk in the activity is of lesser importance than the degree of courage required to engage in it.
As long as you choose to keep working out the courage muscle, when life hands you struggle and adversity, you will be better prepared to grow from it.
All emotions exist within us for a reason. There are no bad or good emotions. Any emotion can either serve us or hinder us.
Even emotions like guilt, fear and sadness can be driving forces for positive change. My guilt from losing a friend during the war in Iraq drives me to give meaning to my life and make an impact on the planet. Likewise if one were to only seek out pleasure, they would never experience the gift that is adversity and the growth that comes from it.
To use any emotion as a driving force for positive change, we must separate ourselves from the emotional brain to engage the human brain.
During his experiments, Dr. Lieberman, a researcher at UCLA, found that the act of labeling an emotion reduces the impact it has over us. It results in decreased activity in the emotional and reptilian brain and an increase in activity in the part of the brain associated with focus, conscious direction of thought and emotion management.
The next time you find yourself gripped by fear, don’t fight it. Although it may be challenging, just be with the emotion. Experience it fully. Then label it.
It could be fear, or it could show up in a different form, such as laziness, depression or anxiety. Once you label the emotion, acknowledge its presence. It is showing up because some part of you needs it to. Let it know that although you are grateful for it, you will choose to act outside of it.
Fully experiencing the emotion, labeling it and then acknowledging it will allow the emotion to dissipate so it no longer paralyzes you and you can keep moving forward in creating the lifestyle of your dreams.
Leap into itSometimes its best not to spend too much time thinking about or sitting with the fear. Sometimes you just have to leap and trust that the net will appear.
This strategy works particularly well for anything that requires one single action in service of reaching your desired goal. Something that once acted upon there is no turning back.
For example, during my 7th skydive, despite having jumped out of the plane 6 times, I was terrified. It had been months since my last dive and I had lost my comfort with it.
The door of the plane opened. My fear escalated. But I took the leap. As soon as I hit the ground, I rushed back into the plane for my 8th dive.
By pushing past that fear the one time and strengthening that overcoming fear muscle, I no longer felt that fear when I dove again. Sometimes you just have to shut your mind off and take a leap.
However, it may also be necessary to keep pushing forward despite the fear for more long-term endeavors like writing a book or growing a business, because the fear is present throughout the process. When that happens, the next strategy will help you act in the face of the fear.
All experiences have no inherent meaning. We assign meanings to experiences and those meanings become reality for us. If your business fails, does it mean you are a terrible entrepreneur? Only if you choose that meaning. You can also choose it to mean that this was a learning opportunity and a chance for growth.
Reframing is the art of choosing a different meaning to experiences. In every situation in life, you can choose to focus on the disempowering aspect of it or the empowering one.
Whenever you find yourself paralyzed by fear, ask yourself what else can I make this mean? More often than not, fear is a result of a meaning you are creating in your head, such as the plane will crash so I am scared of flying, people will think I am stupid so I am afraid of public speaking or my business will fail so I am afraid of starting one. These are just meanings we create about how things might go.
To reduce the impact of the fear, reframe the experience by choosing a new meaning. This will have you focus on the benefit that lies on the other side of the fear. And what you focus on shapes your emotional state.
In the above examples, you could focus on the family waiting for you when you land or the impact you will make to your audience or the freedom from making money when and where you want.
Practice reframing your fears into excitement and you will start to see new possibilities available to you everywhere.
Surround yourself with others who embrace it
Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Let’s say you want to run your first marathon. Imagine how much easier it would be train for it if every one of your neighbors, friends and family members were also training for one.
Your environment has a significant impact on your life, but you don’t have to be a victim to it. You can choose to be proactive about creating it the way you want it to look.
Go to networking events, athletic clubs, toastmasters, wherever there are others pushing past their fears in the manner you wish to do so, find them and spend more time with them. They will serve as your spotters as you continue to push your limits and strengthen your willpower muscle.
Break it down into pieces with preemptive strikes
We often scare ourselves by focusing on the very end point of our dreams. I work with many people who are too scared to quit the jobs they hate because they have no idea how to build a successful business. That is a very natural and healthy fear. To move through it, simply break down the desired goal into smaller pieces and create action steps only to the first piece.
Small action steps reduce the impact of the fear because they make it easier to take action without being overwhelmed by the large list of “how to’s” that inevitably present themselves in any new endeavor. It is far less scary to find just one client than it is to start a multimillion dollar business, isn’t it?
Once you break down the desired outcome into smaller steps, the next step is to set up preemptive strikes to act on those steps, especially in preparation for the moments when you know that fear will paralyze you.
Let’s say you are interested in running a marathon but fear, in the form of laziness, is holding you back from training for it.
A preemptive strike could be keeping all your running gear right inside the front door as soon as you step home from work or having your spouse unplug the TV and keep it that way until you finish your run. Whatever it may be, the point is to plan out a very clear action and set up conditions that make it as easy possible to take that action at a precise time during the day.
In one study with elderly patients recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery, researchers split the participants into two groups. One group was told to use preemptive strikes to plan out exactly when and where they would do things like take a bath or go for a walk.
They found that patients that used preemptive strikes were taking a bath by themselves in 3 weeks, while the other group took 7 weeks. The preemptive strike group was standing up in 3.5 weeks, while the other group took 7.7.
Creating preemptive strikes is a very effective way to ensure action when you know your emotional brain will sabotage you.
Seek the summits and walk toward them
Human beings naturally focus on the problems and the negative aspects of any situation. Psychologists call this condition “negativity bias.”
In his research, John Cacioppo found that his participants had stronger electrical activity in their brain when exposed to negative stimuli as opposed to positive ones.
Although we are evolutionary created with this bias, we still have the power to choose outside of it.
If you look back on your past, do you see more successes or problems/failures? Most people see the latter. To shift this, write a list of everything you have accomplished in your life. No matter how small, celebrate every one of your successes.
Additionally, look back into the past for moments when you pushed through fear and felt unstoppable. Find all the summits you have reached in your life and start focusing on them.
Bestselling authors Chip and Dan Heath call this finding the bright spots. To pursue these “bright spots is to ask the question what’s working, and how can we do more of it?” Instead of the usual question, “What’s broken and how do we fix it?”
Use the summits you have reached in the past to see what works and use that knowledge to reach the summits waiting for you in the future.
How did you overcome fear?
In the comments below, tell us how you have moved beyond fear to find success. What strategies have worked for you?