Acting Despite Fear
Fear shows up for me a lot, as I believe it does for many of us. It can show up in yoga practice (scared of being upside down, anyone?!), when you have to make big decisions, take action, speak up for yourself, or ask for help. The difference for me now is that I’ve simply got better at acting despite fear. Because at some point I recognized that fear was the biggest blocker between where I was and who I wanted to be, living the life I wanted. As Jack Canfield put it, ‘everything you want is on the other side of fear.’
Going from extreme shyness to quiet confidence in life has taken much practice, and to this day I am still practicing, and I still experience fear, all the time. But without a doubt the most meaningful experiences, achievements and adventures I’ve had in my life have only been possible due to, slowly and over many, many years, developing a stronger ability to overcome fear.
Even a successful entrepreneur, exuding in confidence, recently told me he had to overcome major fear to start his new venture, a statement that surprised me initially as he seemed like the last person to ever have fear. But we all have fears, it’s a natural part of life. Fear of rejection, fear of being alone, fear of not being good enough, fear of commitment, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of our own power, fear of being seen, fear of being honest with ourselves, fear of death – it’s endless.
The fact is, we can’t avoid suffering, but what we can change is how we deal with our fear of suffering. Either we get good at facing it or, if not, avoiding it, and so fear wins. Whatever you choose will have an impact, but it’s your choice.
So how do we overcome fear?
Although I’ve never read the book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” the title has always stuck with me. Sometimes it’s just plain courage that’s needed to face fear. But having reflected a bit more on how to act despite fear, I’ve realized that for me it’s a process, a cycle that never ends. The steps or methods below that have worked for me are all about taking responsibility for your own thoughts about fear, and challenging them, ultimately giving your mind a new story about fear.
Recognize that it’s fear
This might sound obvious but it actually takes practice. You see our minds will make a million excuses about why we don’t like something, why we don’t think we should do something, and distract us from that thing that we don’t want to face. We want to avoid the things we are scared of, naturally! So it takes a moment of awareness to stop and look at a situation and take responsibility for how we’re dealing with it, rather than blaming external factors or running away from it.
Ask yourself: Is this just my fear that’s in the way?
If yes, ok good. Now you know!
Understand how you deal with change
Many of us fear change. In my past life as a corporate Change Manager I witnessed first hand the three types of people that exist in relation to change:
Fast adopters: always the first to go with changes
Slow adopters: will get there but slow at first, need encouragement and reassurance
Resisters: will resist to the end, very uncomfortable with change
It’s important to be able to identify which type of person you are when it comes to change. If you always resist change and it genuinely feels hard for you, that’s ok. Knowing that is powerful information because you can start to bring some compassion and understanding to yourself and start separating out your fear from the actual change, seeing it for what it is.
Ask yourself: Do I always resist change?
If change is hard for you this is good to know so you can begin to work on letting go of your attachment to how things are, with compassion for yourself.
Start testing yourself
If you know that certain situations or decisions always make you feel shy or scared, start practicing stepping outside your comfort zone even a little bit to show to yourself you can do it. I’ve always put myself in challenging situations and purposely changed things up purely to prove to myself that I can do it. I worked in face-to-face sales roles and actively sought speaking opportunities in work to overcome fear of public speaking. I changed countries and careers and relationships. All of these were scary moves, every time, yet all of them were fulfilling in their own way, and most importantly – I didn’t die! The more I practiced change and getting out of that comfort zone the more evidence I had that I could overcome fear.
Ask yourself: What comfort zones can I start to challenge?
Start with small fears – say the thing, make the decision, take the jump.
Don’t fuel the fear
Sharing isn’t always caring. Be careful who you share your fears with, if at all. I often only tell people about my fears after the event, to avoid them being given more power. I choose to either keep them to myself or to only tell people who I know will provide nothing but support and motivation.
Ask yourself: Is there anyone I can share my fears with that will encourage me?
If not, try writing about them but don’t share with anyone with more fear than you!
Get comfortable in the not knowing
This is a biggie for getting around the paralysis of fear. Not knowing what’s going to happen can simply stop us in our tracks. But how can we ever know? We can’t. We have to muster the courage to act without ever knowing if what we are doing will be a success. What if it goes wrong? Well it might. And it’s certainly wise to doubt and question things before acting, but at some point you either have to take the risk and enjoy the ride, or let it go. It might also be the best thing you’ve ever done.
Ask yourself: Which will be worse – failing or not trying?
Start to love the unknown and try things for the sake of trying, not the outcome.
Remember the one thing you can be sure of
We’re all heading one way, and one way only. None of us know for certain when we will die but the we know for sure that we will. This may sound morbid but to overcome fear I like to imagine myself on my deathbed reviewing my life, the whole incredible adventure, and if I will have any regrets. This is the single biggest motivator for me as my goal in life is to look back and not have any regrets whatsoever. Which means if I think I will regret not doing something then I have to act on it now. Opportunities then become responsibilities to my future self.
Ask yourself: Will I regret not doing this when I’m dying?
If yes, you get to change the story now!
Tune into your body
To make decisions when I feel stuck due to fear, I use a method taught to me during a life coaching session with a wonderful friend and mentor a number of years ago. First I check in with my gut to see how it feels: even if fear is there, is there excitement? Then I check in with my heart: does it feel safe with this decision? If yes to both then I know my head will figure out the rest. I’ve used this so many times since that session and it has always proven to be a successful method for making decisions. We spend so much time in our heads, with worry and fear, it becomes hard to be clear with all the noise going on. Our bodies are intelligent and giving us signs all the time, we just have to learn to listen to them.
Ask yourself: What does my gut say? How does this feel in my heart?
If all signs lead to yes, then this is your answer.
Trust, breathe and just do it
You’ve made the decision, you know you’ll regret not doing it, so there is only one thing for it. Trust yourself and take the action. I remember my teacher standing in front of me during practice when I was about to drop back from standing into a back bend for the first time on my own, after years of preparing for this moment. He simply stood there repeating: trust yourself, trust yourself, trust yourself…over and over and over until I finally took deep breaths and did it. That point of surrender – that’s where courage comes in. Fear can practically stop the breath so take some deep breaths and to overcome and just do.
Ask yourself: Do I trust myself?
Breathe and just do it!
See fear as an opportunity to grow
Just the act of walking through fear, being courageous, is a huge opportunity to grow and show yourself what you’re made of. My whole life I had a major, uncontrollable (I believed) fear of all things medical, especially needles, and used to faint or vomit every single time I went to the doctor or dentist. But my story about this actually fueled the fear, until one day I decided to change it and tricked my mind into being excited about going to the doctor, and it worked! The more I practiced this the more control over my fear I gained. Now I can handle medical stuff to the point of being able to visit a cadaver lab as part of a yoga training. I would never have imagined I could do that even a few years ago.
Ask yourself: How can I grow from this challenge?
It’s always possible to change your story about fears.
Celebrate and repeat
Celebrate any time you act despite fear, not the outcome of your actions, this is secondary. That feeling, the knowing, the winning against fear is the driver to overcome more fear, the evidence that you can do it! Jumping out of a plane taught me this. It was one of the most terrifying things I ever did, and it took years to build up the courage, but I did it and all I remember thinking is,” wow, if I can do this I can do anything!!” Experience the joy from being brave. And once you get comfortable – time to face yet another fear!
Tell yourself: I am courageous. I can do anything!
Yes, you are. And yes, you can.
Courage is needed endlessly year in the world right now. So join me in acting despite fear, in not being held back due to some beliefs about yourself that no longer need to be true, dare to change your story, and aim to look back with no regrets because fear didn’t win – you did.
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