Everyone’s scared of something. Forget all the irrational fears of spiders, snakes, and clowns, though. There’s probably not much I can do to alleviate those issues. My dad’s been scared of snakes ever since he was a kid, and no amount of encounters with non-threatening, harmless garters will alleviate this fear. What I’m going for is the fears that hold you back from truly experiencing life.
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Failure. Abandonment. Inadequacy. Success. Being frightened of these entities is much more detrimental to your life than being scared of clowns. Whereas being coulrophobic is really only going to keep you from going to the circus when it’s in town (if that even still happens). These overwhelming fears, on the other hand, can hold you back from attaining your true potential in life. Dealing with these fears is actually much more plausible than facing your fear of spiders. And once you overcome them, you’ll find yourself free to experience life to its fullest potential.
1. Acknowledge Your Fear
The first step in eradicating a fear from your mind is admitting that it exists. Of course, this isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, since most of us tend to put on a hard exoskeleton when out in the real world. Unfortunately, this outer shell is often a façade used to mask the true pain and fright you’re experiencing under the mask. It’s okay to be fearful of the unknown; in fact, it’s natural. But you need to acknowledge that it exists if you want to overcome it.
It might help to make a visual representation of your fear somehow. Write it down, or draw a picture of it. Hang the paper up somewhere that you’ll see it regularly. By doing this, you’ll literally face you fear on your own terms before you have to actually do so in the real world. Once you see it for what it is -just a word, or a picture on a piece of paper- you can be confident that you will, one day, overcome it.
2. Recognize When Fear Hits you
Now that you’ve acknowledged your fear, you need to recognize when it starts to take hold of you. This is perhaps the most difficult step to take. Unlike a fear of snakes -that takes hold of you whenever you see a snake (duh)- these deep-rooted fears may strike at any given moment. For example, a fear of failure can take hold when doing something major like applying for a new job. But it could also strike during fairly inconsequential moments, like trying a new recipe or traveling somewhere new.
It’s important to pinpoint the situations that create this fear and anxiety within you, so that you can identify where your troubles begin. You might have had some bad experiences during job interviews, and you have now allowed these occurrences to dictate how you approach subsequent interviews in the future. Maybe you had a bad breakup with someone you truly loved, and now tend to keep your guard up when meeting someone new. Only after you recognize where the foundation of your fear lies will you be able to work toward improving your perspective and overcoming your fear.
3. Think of Likely Outcomes
The keyword here is “likely.” If you think of all possible outcomes when facing a certain fear, you’re just going to cripple yourself even further. There are definitely worst-case scenarios that could leave you in dire straits, but chances are these outcomes are not even close to being in the realm of possibility.
In fact, the possible positive outcomes more often than not outweigh the possible negative ones. If you have a fear of intimacy, it’s important to realize that the worst thing that could happen is that you end up breaking up with a person. The best thing that could happen is you end up marrying them and living happily ever after (well, best case scenario if that’s what you’re into). You might think you’re inadequate or not good enough at your job; all this means is that you have room to grow. While fears will often force you to look at the possible negative effects an action may have on your life, it’s important that you do your best to approach every situation you face with as much optimism as possible.
4. Prepare to Face Your Fear
Facing your fears is definitely hard to do. It requires practice, persistence, and perseverance. By practicing facing your fear, you’ll actually desensitize yourself to what causes the adverse reactions in the first place. If you fear public speaking (usually stemming from a fear of failure), and you know you’ll have to give a presentation for class or work in a few days, practice as much as possible. Practice in the mirror, or in front of friends and family. Solicit feedback from your audience. You’ll most likely find that you aren’t as awful as your fear makes you think you are, which will be a huge boost to your confidence.
As you prepare, be wary of moments when your fear starts to take hold. Take note of these moments, knowing you’ll have to work on those specific moments in the future. You may start to notice that the feeling of fear becomes less overwhelming, or that it starts to hit you at different points than it previously had. Overcoming fear is a work in progress and the fact is that the fear might never go away. But the more you practice and face your fear, the more adept you’ll be at dealing with it when it comes.
5. Just Go for It
Your fear is more than likely a manifestation of over-thinking: your mind turning over “what if?” questions repeatedly throughout your daily life. Like I said before, even the worst-case scenarios probably won’t be all that bad, but fear hijacks your brain and makes it seem as if one misstep will lead to insurmountable tragedy. The best thing you can do is shut your brain off and go for it. Pulling off a Band-Aid never hurts as much as you think it’s going to.
Of course, I don’t mean you should just dive into any situation without being properly prepared. But if you took the last piece of advice to heart, you’ll be as ready as you need to be to take the next step. Not only will you be prepared, but you’ll also be confident in your abilities to accomplish what lies ahead, and in your ability to weather any fearful thoughts that come to mind as well.
6. Reflect on Your Performance
After you’ve faced your fear, or made steps toward facing it, reflect on the experience as a whole. Think about what you did well, as well as what you could do better next time. Celebrate the small steps you’ve taken. Do something nice for yourself after putting your mind and body through the pressure of alleviating your fears. Progress is progress, no matter how minimal it may be, and you deserve a reward for pushing yourself past adversity.
Just as you began your journey toward self-improvement by writing down and acknowledging your fears, keep a log of how you feel after facing them. Itemize your feelings. As you make progress, you’ll start to see that your list of positive feelings is getting larger and larger, while your list of negative emotions is getting smaller. Writing all of this down will make your abstract feelings become tangible, and it will allow you to visualize your progression toward success.
Deep-rooted fears can worm their way into the minds of the most optimistic, talented individuals, leaving them static and completely unsure of themselves. If you feel like you’re holding yourself back from accomplishing what you really want in life, it’s incredibly important that you consciously take steps to overcome the fears that are keeping you from being the best you can be. As Lorenzo from A Bronx Tale says, “the saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”