Have you ever heard the quote,
‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’
by Franklin Roosevelt?
If you’ve ever experienced fear, which I’m sure you have, because we’re all experiencing that as a human response, you’ll know how it can hold you back, and can feel so uncomfortable.
Most of our fears are thoughts, that we are rerunning as a pattern within our own mind, and it’s that we associate a certain thing, usually around change, usually around uncertainty and we associate that with pain. I just wanted to talk a little bit about where fear comes from, to help us start to understand how we can overcome it.
Fear might show itself up for you in all sorts of different ways. Fear is coming from the part of our brain called the amygdala, the part of our brain that is designed to help our survival. The amygdala detects threat and it detects danger, and then it generates this fear so that we can stay safe. Years and years and years gone by when we were under physical threats, as a human race, the sabre-toothed tiger’s coming and man must decide what to do. Do I run away? The fight or flight. Do I take it on? What do I do? Our brain is still wired the same way the software hasn’t changed since then. The difficulty is the amygdala in our brain cannot tell the difference between a bad challenge that’s facing us, or a good challenge, a challenge that’s about our growth, a challenge that’s about opportunity and experience, that’s simply taking us outside of our comfort zone and taking us away from stuff that we know. Once we know that, then actually what we can do is start to understand that fear is a human response.
We’re going to experience fear, whenever we experience change, whenever we experience uncertainty, and certainly when we experience growth. When we try new things. When we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, the fear’s going to show up, we’re going to feel it emotionally and physically. Thoughts are going to go around our minds and those thoughts are usually about what if. What if this? What if that? What could go wrong? And I’ll talk some more about that. So understanding that that’s where it comes from and that we don’t have to get into a bit of a battle with ourselves to say, ‘I must be fearless. I cannot experience it’. Yes, we do experience fear. Fear is okay. But it’s not okay, when it starts to hold us back and keep us stuck where we are. I often like to think about it as once you understand something, you can then start to build your competence around that thing. So when you understand what fear is and where it comes from, then you can start to build your competence, taking some steps to help you move through it.
The more competent we become, the more confidence we build and the more confidence we build, the less fear we experience.
Think about anything that you’ve experienced fear in, it might have been taking on a new job or doing a presentation or being in a certain environment, which was new and different and stretchy and challenging for you and you might have had those feels physically showing up for you. You might have emotionally felt fear. But with each one of those, when you start to step through that fear, that’s where you build the confidence and that’s where you build your competence.
I like to think about fear in three areas and when I’m talking to my clients, through my leadership coaching, we often come through these and figure out where the fear is actually sitting. So as you’re reading this think about things where you’ve experienced fear and think which fear actually is it?
We can experience fear, which is all to do with loss and what I mean by that is if I take that step forward, if I take that new job or if I move to that house in the new area, if I take something new on if I start doing something different, what am I going to lose? My old familiar surroundings, settings? Even if the old and familiar isn’t serving us often we experience fear about actually, what if I lose this? What if I lose that? What if I lose my friends? What if I lose contact with people? What if I lose that safety and security that comes within our comfort zone that our amygdala brain wants us to stay in that safe, secure place. With this one, it’s actually really empowering to think if you’re experiencing that, and those are the things that are bubbling up to the surface for you, stick it under a microscope, have a good look at it, step back from it, figure out what’s going on, and really focus on the thing that you’re moving towards. The thing that’s new and different and maybe uncertain. Ask yourself, but what will I gain? What am I moving towards? And what will that give me. And that’s your way of helping your brain to focus on where you’re heading, as opposed to focusing on all the things you might lose, and keeping you stuck in an old way.
The second one is all about fear around the new, the uncertain, and the unknown, the stuff you’re gonna have to do. This is often the case, when we’re thinking about something people often talk to me about – presenting. They run through in their mind, well, what happens if the tech doesn’t work? What if I dry up? What if I get red flushes? And what if nobody listens to me? And what if nobody asks a question? Lots of questions about the new, the unknown, and the uncertain in terms of the process, you have to go through, to be able to grow and experience new things. All of those what ifs, again, is understanding ‘that’s my amygdala brain saying this thing is a little bit stretchy, therefore, there could be some danger attached to it’ so what I need to do is revert back to feeling safe. So what it does, your brain brings in all the fear, to allow you permission to stay safe, but not good when the outcome of that is you say, ‘I’m not going to do it. I’m so fearful that I’m going to hold myself back’. Understanding what’s going on there for you and thinking about embracing the new, embracing the uncertainty as an experience. That’s all you have to think of it as. If it’s a presentation, for example, just think about the experience.
What will bring me happiness through this experience?
What am I looking forward to? And if you’re not looking forward to anything, then what would make you feel good through that experience?
Take that presentation examples. So many people really have severe fear around presenting publicly and if we stay stuck in the fear, then we are having the whole experience from that place. But if we start to focus our mind about what’s going to make me feel good, what will I’d like to get from that, then your brain can start to focus on the more positive elements of that proposed experience.
On to the third area that people fear. We’ve had loss, we’ve had the process the unknown, uncertain process and the third area is the outcome. Fear of failure. What if it doesn’t work? What if, when this thing I’m trying to achieve what happens if it doesn’t work out? What happens if I don’t make it? And the other part of the outcome is fear of success. What happens if the success actually happens? And it actually changes my life? Or it changes the people around me in the way they see me? That one links back into your fear of loss. What happens if I lose people because I’m successful? You ever experienced that, that feeling, that fear? What happens if people judge me because of what I’m achieving? What if, it’s all surrounded in the fear designed by your amygdala part of your brain to keep you safe and secure so what it does, it tricks you into believing I need to stay where I am now, and not break myself out of my comfort zone and get into that zone that’s about stretching myself, challenging myself, really growing as a person experiencing new opportunities. Our brain is tricking us. With this one, if your fear you can see that it’s about the outcome, the fear, the judgement, the fear of the failure, the fear of success then go to the place of your outcome achieved. From that place, identify what will fulfil you from the place of your outcome achieved, identify what will bring you happiness. From that identification, look back at you now and identify what steps you want to take. It only has to be small steps, you don’t have to take great giant leaps. But as long as we’re in action going towards the thing that’s going to fulfil us, we’re in a very different place from staying stuck. So you may have things in your life that you are fearful of. You may be asking a lot of what ifs, in personal life and professional life. You may be finding, you’re holding yourself back, you’re keeping yourself stuck. You’re not allowing yourself to grow and experiencing things outside of your comfort zone because we’re retreating to safety. I’m interested to know, if you’re experiencing that think about when has fear robbed you, of an experience? When has fear robbed you of an opportunity? Then we can look at fear as a thing. It’s not us, we’re not the fear, fear is a thing and we can address that thing. So that you get to experience those opportunities, you get to grow, you get to step out of your comfort zone and by the way, the more that we step out of our comfort zone, and grow the competence and grow the confidence, our comfort zone then grows. And we’re stretching ourselves, and we’re developing ourselves.
So think about, the fear is something that you know is going to happen, because our brain is wired to do it, you know, you’re going to feel fear, but use it. So when it happens, take the fear on, don’t let the fear take you on. Don’t let the fear rule you. Focus on what you want, get really, really clear about what you want. What’s going to fulfil you? What’s going to bring you happiness?
Don’t tell your brain to not feel fear or experience fear, because it will, because it’s a human response. Hold back because of the fear and the fear has won. But look at the fear, put it under the microscope, step back from it, have a look at what’s going on and look at what you want instead and then take those small steps one step after another. Then you’re building up your skill, you’re building up your competence. Then you get to have all those wonderful opportunities and experiences that would have otherwise never been part of your world.
I hope that this has been a good insight for you about why we experience fear, what kinds of fear there are, whether it’s to do with loss or to do with the new uncertain change, or whether it’s to do with the outcome, the failure, the success, the judgement of others, where does it come from for you in your life and then having a look at the fact that it will happen fear will it be experienced, your brain is wired to do so but if we understand that that’s only wired to do so to keep us safe, because that’s the way our brains have been formed, then we know what it is and then you’ve got the choice to focus through that fear on what it is you really want. Then you can take those small steps in a positive way. Because absolutely the things that you’ve achieved so far in your life, there will have been fear in the past. Right now at this point, write down what you’re fearful of write down where that’s coming from, and write down what you want and then go to that place of having that and then you can work back to identify small actions that will build your competence and your competence.