As I prepared to write this post, I realized that I’ve written a lot about fear.
Maybe it’s because most of the people I talk to mention fear as one of their biggest challenges. Whether it’s fear of failure, fear of making the wrong decision, fear of not making enough money, or fear of something else, being afraid is one of the main reasons people struggle to change careers.
Or maybe it’s because I personally face fear a lot. And by a lot, I mean all the time. And by all the time, I mean several times a day.
Or maybe it’s because fear is actually an important key to finding your calling, especially if you’re not sure where to look.
The one Evite you might prefer not to get
Stephen Pressfield has a great quote in his book The War of Art that you’ve probably heard me use before (it’s one of my favorites):
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
My own experience backs this up. Every time I’ve gotten clear about the next step towards my calling, I’ve been absolutely terrified, whether it was moving cross country, starting my own business, or sharing words I’d written with the world.
I used to be embarrassed that I felt so afraid, but then I began to notice something pretty amazing: I’m not scared all the time. I don’t feel afraid when I’m staying small, keeping quiet, or hiding inside my comfort zone. I’m only afraid when I try to do something important, grow and expand, or engage more deeply with what I care about most.
If you believe, as I do, that we’re here to learn and develop so that we can share our unique gifts with the world in increasingly powerful ways and have fun while doing it, then fear is a really good friend who points out the best way to do just that.
In other words, fear isn’t a weakness; it’s an invitation to your calling.
Showing the fear who’s boss
Fear, however, is a fickle friend. In addition to showing you what to do, it also gets in the way of actually doing it.
But that’s okay. Because you’re bigger than your fear, and it doesn’t have to rule your life. You can’t kick it out of the car, but you can pry its claw-like fingers off the wheel.
Here are 25 ways to feel the fear and do it anyway:
Sometimes fear is really just your body telling you it needs more oxygen. Breathing slowly and deeply into your belly lets your nervous system know it can relax because all is well.
2. Come back to your body.
Unless there’s an actual threat nearby, fear is a fire stoked by our thoughts. Focusing on your body (say, by feeling your feet on the ground or the breath in your chest) removes the kindling and brings you back to the present moment.
3. Show some compassion.
Self-compassion makes fear a whole lot less overwhelming. The three steps to self-compassion are:
- Acknowledge the pain with sympathy and kindness;
- Recognize that all humans are imperfect and that in any given moment thousands of other people are feeling the same way you do; and
- Observe your negative thoughts and feelings with curiosity rather than judgment.
4. Give it a name.
Naming the fear and exactly what it is you’re afraid of reduces its intensity and power over you.
5. Get to the root of the fear.
When you see the fear beneath the fear, you often find that what you’re most afraid of is extremely unlikely, not truly harmful, or (more frequently than you might think) downright impossible. Ask yourself what you’re scared of, then what’s bad about that, then what’s bad about that, and what’s bad about that. Keep going until you find the true essence of what you’re afraid of.
6. Don’t believe everything you think.
Fears are based on beliefs, and beliefs are
often usually flawed. Byron Katie has a powerful process that can help you discover the truth behind your fears. First you identify your beliefs (for example, if I ______, ______ will happen). Then you ask 4 questions:
- Is it true?
- [If yes] Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
7. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen?
Often your worst-case scenario is not actually dangerous or devastating. Regardless, if you can find a way to accept it, fear will have no way to stop you.
8. Determine probabilities.
If your worst-case scenario is truly terrifying, get clear on how likely it is to really happen. Of all the possible outcomes, what’s the probability that this is the one you’ll be stuck with? To make sure you’re being realistic, have an objective third-party check your numbers.
9. Calculate your track record.
While we’re talking numbers, go ahead and calculate how accurate your fears really are. Write down all your worries for one month and then go back and note which ones came true. If we take the time to do this, most of us find that we’re batting somewhere close to zero (apology for the mixed sports metaphors).
10. Become your own mentor.
In The Fear Book, Cheri Huber offers the idea of becoming a mentor to the scared part of you. It’s a brilliant and effective strategy. To use it, just ask yourself anytime you feel scared: what would a wise and loving mentor tell me right now?
11. Turn it over.
Whether it’s God, goddesses, the universe, love, your highest self, or your dog, turning your fears over to something more powerful than you are is incredibly freeing. You don’t even have to believe in anything to get started. Just write your fears down, put them in a box, and say, “I’m turning this over to you, [insert higher power of your choice].” Then let go and see what happens, knowing it’s no longer in your hands. Review the items you’ve put in your box periodically and see how they’ve turned out to find evidence that regardless of how you feel about God, you are supported and cared for.
12. Take tiny baby steps.
Fear feeds on big, overwhelming tasks. To reduce the fear factor, break your goals down into steps. Then break those steps down into smaller steps. Then break those small steps down into even tinier steps until you have a task you can do in 10 minutes. You can do anything for 10 minutes, right? Afterward, be sure to celebrate your win and plan when you’ll take your next tiny baby step.
13. Make a back-up plan.
If things don’t go as you hope, what will you do? Create a plan for how you’ll take care of yourself during any setbacks and how you’ll continue to move towards what you want, even when things go awry.
14. Share with peers.
There’s something about sharing your fears with others who are going through something similar that inevitably breeds courage. Just be sure you’re sharing with people who are actively embracing and facing their fears, not running away from them.
15. Get feedback.
In his book Uncertainty, Jonathan Fields urges people facing anxiety in the creative process to get feedback from mentors, peers, and potential end-users early on as a way of building confidence and comfort. Asking people you trust to give you feedback on your efforts can be terrifying, but paradoxically, it’s also a powerful antidote to fear.
16. Practice discomfort.
When we fail to take action, we’re not usually avoiding a theoretical bad outcome so much as the immediate discomfort of fear or anxiety. Like someone with bad breath, most of us find fear so unpleasant that we’ll do just about anything to avoid it. To stop avoiding fear, you need to develop your ability to sit with discomfort. To do that, just engage in something that brings up anxiety on purpose every day, then practice sitting with it for slightly longer periods of time. When you’re able to tolerate discomfort, a whole new world of possibilities opens up.
17. Slow down.
Kindness is wonderful medicine for fear. If your fear is overwhelming, slow down and maybe even take a break. Do something comforting and familiar, something that makes you feel good about yourself, and then go back and try again.
18. Feel the edges of the fear.
Get curious about how your fear feels in your body. Notice where you feel it, what it feels like, and how it changes over time. After observing it for a little while, start to feel for its edges and begin to notice the places in your body where you don’t feel the fear (your little toe perhaps?). You’ll start to see that fear is actually just a bunch of sensations in your body, that it too has boundaries, and that it’s really nothing to be afraid of.
19. Address the fear’s concerns.
Your fear isn’t the enemy; it just doesn’t want you to become harmed, homeless, or humiliated. You probably don’t either, so let your fear know how you’re going to take care of what’s important to you even while you take a risk; remind it that things like what other people think of you don’t really affect your well-being; and watch as your newly consoled fear steps aside so you can open the gates of change.
20. Imagine a positive outcome.
If you want to loosen fear’s grip, you need to stop playing the worst-case scenario over and over in your head. Since you don’t know what will happen, and good outcomes are at least as likely as bad ones, you might as well choose to obsess about your best-case scenario in vibrant, gory detail.
21. Talk to someone who’s succeeded.
Fear likes facts. When I tell my fear everything will be okay, it demands proof. Finding someone who’s done what I want to do and flourished is pretty strong evidence that success is possible, and learning from their perspective makes it all the more likely. My fear is smart, but it can’t argue with that.
22. Talk to someone who’s failed.
When you do this, your fear is going to want you to use it as an opportunity find all the reasons you’re going to fail too. Resist this urge. Instead, ask this person all kinds of questions about how they recovered from their failure, what they learned, what skills they gained, and what new possibilities it opened up. When we’re afraid of failure, we forget that it actually carries many gifts, and your job is to discover from this person exactly what those are.
23. Find a purpose greater than the fear.
Fear usually stems from our egos’ concerns, like not having enough money or status, or looking bad to others. These aren’t the things that truly make us happy, though. To focus on what matters, define a better purpose for any given venture, one that you can fulfill regardless of where you end up. What might you get out of embarking on this adventure that’s more important than wealth or popularity? What might it allow you to give to others? What would make this effort worthwhile regardless of the outcome?
Fear isn’t the problem; believing everything it tells you is. Meditation is a great way to practice noticing your thoughts without buying into their conclusions all the time. It gives you the awareness you need to question your thoughts and the ability to let them go when they aren’t serving you. It also gives you a way to experience fear without being paralyzed by it. An ongoing meditation practice is one of the main reasons I’m able to do things that scare the pee out of me, over and over again.
Am I repeating myself? Yes. Is it for a good reason? I think so. In addition to giving us the ability to let go of unhelpful thoughts, meditation also connects us to our serenity, wisdom, and courage. We all have these qualities at our core, but we become unable to access them when fear is yammering in our ears all the time. Getting quiet, even if only for milliseconds at a time, helps us reconnect to the part of ourselves that is always compassionate and unafraid.
26. Bonus Idea: Meditate.
I’m not being lazy here, I swear. It’s really that important.
Over to You
What helps you feel your fear and do things anyway? I’d love to know, and so would everyone else. Please share in the comments below.
Hungry for More?
I recently re-released Passion Quest: 5 Steps to Find Your Calling in a Fear-Based World. It’s an affordable, structured, practical, and easy way to break through your fear, get clear about what kind of work you want to do in the world, and start actually doing it. Click here to find out more.