Fear. I know it all too well. And I’m willing to bet that you do too because every single one of us is terrified of something.
And it SUCKS, right? Don’t you just hate feeling scared? In my opinion, there’s nothing more unpleasant than the feeling of fear. Because when you’re afraid of something, your mind decides to play this little game where it comes up with a million possible outcomes of all of the different ways you’re going to fail, or suck, or disappoint, or even die! You get caught up in the perpetual loop of all the worst possible outcomes, and before you know it, there’s no possible outcome in your mind otherthan the worst-case scenario.
The thought, “I want to quit my job to start a business,” turns into, “Oh my gosh, I’ll end up running out of money, I’ll be broke, I’ll end up homeless, my friends and family will disown me, I’ll have no one, I’ll be filled with regret for the rest of my life, I’ll get sick and die alone, no one will even remember that I was here, etc.”
Before you know it, a simple thought of quitting your job has turned into this loop that you’ve been stuck in with all of the possible, horrible outcomes that could end up happening to you.
In this blog post, I’m going to change your mind about fear for good. I’m going to convince you why fear is actually your best friend and why you should follow it as if it were a compass! Most importantly, I’m going to teach you how you can let go of fear’s hold on you so you can move forward and do the things that make you happy – without getting trapped in that fearful loop in your head.
Disclaimer: I just want to let you know that I’m not talking about rational fears. I’m not telling you to walk down an alley alone at night because the thought of doing so scares you. I’m not telling you to drive fast and furiously down the highway weaving through cars because it sounds scary. I don’t want anyone being reckless because of my blog posts.
Today, I’m talking about those icky, unpleasant fears that cause you anxiety as you’re going about your everyday life and hold you back from pursuing the things that make you happy. Things like starting a business or traveling the world.
You know what I’m talking about, right? These fears:
- “What will people think of me if I ___(insert your dream here)___?”
- “What if I fail?”
- “What if I disappoint my parents?”
- “What if I can’t get a job because I took a sabbatical and no one will ever want to hire me again?”
- “What if I lose all my money?”
- “What if this is a huge mistake?”
- “What if I die alone?”
- “What if I regret this decision?”
- “What if they think I’m a fraud?”
- “What if I don’t amount to anything?”
I’m talking about the fears that center around failure, rejection, and loneliness because those fears often require us to follow our hearts and go against what society or family tells us we’re “supposed to” do. I’m talking about the fears that we allow to control our day and the direction of our lives.
But first, Fear is Fabulous.
Now, because we ALLOW fear to control us and prevent us from moving forward, fear gets a bad rap. I hate it, you hate it, and it makes us feel terrible. BUT, fear is actually a fabulous thing for two reasons.
Reason Number One: It’s how our brain and biology keeps us safe from real danger.
When we are scared, everything that happens in our body occurs to keep us from getting hurt and keep us alive. The adrenal glands flood the body with adrenaline; the pupils dilate so we can take in more light and see more of our surroundings; our heart rate increases so that more blood gets to our muscles; we breathe faster to take in more oxygen; the blood flow decreases in our frontal lobe as adrenaline in the amygdala allows us to react purely on INSTINCT rather than through planning and logic.
It’s amazing when you break it down and think about how many things happen in the body in such a short moment to keep us from getting hurt when there’s a very real danger present. So really, fear is an incredible thing! We’re so lucky to have it! Fear serves a purpose and isn’t evil or bad in any way. If we didn’t have it, humans wouldn’t have made it this far in history. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this post to you and you wouldn’t be reading it. So stop and take a moment to feel thankful that we even have this ability to feel fear.
Now, the reason why we tend to hate fear so much is that fewer PHYSICAL threats are happening to humans today. As we’ve evolved so many of the “threats” we encounter became more personal. That fear is still there, working in the exact same way, but now it comes up in times when we’re really not in danger. Like when we’re about to have a difficult conversation, when we’re able to speak in public, when our boss starts sending us passive-aggressive emails, or when we’re thinking of an approaching deadline.
That alone could be an entirely different blog post topic, but the reason why we’re here today is that fear also shows up to put the brakes on when it comes to pursuing our dreams… which brings me to my second reason.
Reason Number Two: Fear is like a compass pointing us in the direction of what we most want to (and have to) do in this lifetime.
The second reason why fear is fabulous is that it works like a compass, only instead of pointing north, it points you in the direction of what you want the most. Think about it for a moment – What terrifies you the most? I’m not asking what your worst nightmare is, here. I’m asking, what would scare you the most TO DO right now?
Many people think of things like starting their own business, writing a book, moving abroad, taking time off to travel, starting a project or hobby. It’s funny how the thing that we’re absolutely terrified of doing is actually the one thing that we want to do the most.
When I ask myself what I’m most terrified of, it’s pursuing my life-long dreams and everything that I’ve been wanting to do for as long as I could remember. Things like writing a book, starting a podcast, and starting my business. The things that I most want to do that would bring me the most joy, are simultaneously the things that scare the crap out of me and make me want to numb myself with a Netflix binge.
But this is again a GOOD thing. By noticing what scares you the most and causes you to get stuck in the fearful loop in your head, you’re able to clearly see what you want to do most and what you should be doing with your life. Once we learn to embrace that fear and use it as fuel, it allows us to move forward through uncertainty where we can truly grow.
Everything You Want is on the Other Side of Fear
Moral of the story – fear isn’t a bad thing; allowing ourselves to be controlled by it is. But luckily for us, we have complete control over that. We can acknowledge the fear and move forward regardless of if it makes us uncomfortable. As difficult as that may be, it helps to remember all of the times when you stepped forward into fear throughout your life and did what you wanted to do anyway.
Haven’t you had some of those times? The times when you’ve taken a risk when you lost everything, where you pursued what you wanted to do over what felt comfortable? Think of some of them right now. Maybe it was the time back in high school where you pushed yourself to join the drama club even though it scared you. Maybe it was a time at your work where you asked to lead a project even though you were scared and doubted your capability. And aren’t you so freaking thankful that you did those things? They were pivotal moments in your life when you came into your own and took what you wanted in life. Your life changed for the better because of it.
You can do it again.
I believe that one of the reasons why people have so much stress and anxiety is because we’re not doing the things we want to do the most. We get trapped by our fear and bottle up our dreams year after year because we’re afraid they’ll lead us to rejection and failure if we pursued them.
From my experience, stepping forward into fear to do what you love and pursue a dream is the best antidepressant in the world. Yes, there’s going to be uncertainty and there’s going to be confusion. But isn’t dealing with a little uncertainty worth it if you can be happy and have mental health?
If you allow fear to be a cage for you, rather than a compass, I promise you that your life is not going to be nearly as beautiful, enriching, and satisfying. And eventually, you’re going to look back filled with regret.
So let me ask you a question from Mastin Kipp, the man who’s “Fear Fallacy” lecture inspired this blog post today…
“What if the quality of your life is directly related to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with?”
I think this question sums everything up perfectly because the quality of our lives is directly related to how much uncertainty we have in it. It’s not about that ONE time that we choose to step out of our comfort zone, the real breakthrough happens when we learn to do this every day. When we learn to embrace uncertainty and risk and do the things that we want to anyways. It has to become a habit.
Think about this way: none of us really have CONTROL over anything. We can follow society’s and parents’ rules flawlessly, but what does that really do for us? Even if I did everything that I was “supposed to” do, I could still find out tomorrow that I have cancer and only have three months to live. The idea that we can control everything is make-believe. It doesn’t matter if you count your calories every day, wake up at 7 a.m. on the dot every morning, work out for exactly 40 minutes, spend your life slowly working up the corporate ladder, and always remember to send thank you notes after your birthday. Those things might make us FEEL in control, but in reality, we’re not.
So let’s embrace uncertainty anyways, and let go of this idea that if we stay inside our comfort zone life will be PERFECT. We’ll all be so much happier if we chose to embrace the uncertainty and step forward into fear because everything that we want is on the other side of it – a better relationship, a more fulfilling career, the vacation of our dreams, friends that are in alignment with us, and above all true HAPPINESS.
As I said on my “20 Facts About Me,” I’m a firm believer that the more you throw yourself outside of your comfort zone, the happier you will be.
Let go of fear’s hold on you
Now, you and I both know that me saying, “follow fear like a compass” or “throw yourself outside of your comfort zone,” is easier said than done. So, I’m going to share six tips with you that will help you to break the hold fear has over you.
Before we begin, you just have to get clear on what you’re most afraid of. Think about that thing that you really want to do, but you feel like if you do it people will be disappointed, or you’ll be unlovable, or you’ll be lost and confused. I know you have that one thing. Most of us have about five things. I’m sure you’ll have no difficulty in recalling what it is, but just in case this is something that you often fantasize about at work and stay up at night thinking about.
Now, get out a notebook and write them down. Write down a bullet-pointed list of those 1-5 different things you’re scared to do. Then use the next six exercises to help you step forward into fear.
1. Ask yourself, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen?
One exercise that often helps is to imagine the absolute worst-case scenario and let it play out. But this time, instead of letting it play out in your head, say it OUT LOUD. I love this trick because when you let a terrible fantasy play out to completion and you actually SPEAK it out loud you realize just how far- fetched it is and just how unrealistic that worst-case scenario actually is.
It’s an exercise that my therapist had me do, and once I did it, I realized how ridiculous it was that me starting a blog and health coaching business would play out in my head until I would end up having to take a horrible job that I hated OR end up homeless. I literally felt as if me pursuing this dream was going to cause me to become homeless, and I believed it. UNTIL I shared all of this out loud. It suddenly occurred to me, the mind is SO DRAMATIC.
Because our mind tends to build things up. Every day, every week, and every year, we think about this thing until our minds turn it into a catastrophe. Eventually, we can’t even see just how distorted our perspective really is. We don’t even notice just how large we let this scenario become in our minds. Speaking the words brings it back into perspective.
2. Ask yourself, is that really going to happen?
Now ask yourself, “Ok, is that really going to happen?” No. Most of the things we spend our time worrying about NEVER happens.
I can confidently say that EVERY and ALL of the worst-case scenarios I’ve played out in my mind has never happened to me. Not once.
Which reminds me, I was in a book club meeting one day at the yoga studio when one of the women told me that she calls worrying “borrowing trouble.” How true is that? Every day we let our minds go absolutely crazy with horrible things that could happen and all we’re doing is just borrowing trouble or borrowing anxiety from a future that’s not even going to play out.
Again, make sure to speak these words aloud to ground yourself in reality and get yourself out of that fearful loop in your mind. Tell yourself “No, ___(fill in the blank with worst-case scenario)___ is not actually going to happen.
“No, I’m not actually going to end up homeless.”
“No, the plane is not actually going to go down.”
“No, all of my friends and family won’t disown me.”
“No, I’m not going to lose all my money.”
3. Ask yourself, what will most likely happen if it doesn’t work out?
Now that you’ve made it clear that the worst-case scenario isn’t actually going to happen to you, ask yourself this question: “If things don’t go according to plan or don’t work out, what will most likely happen?”
When I asked myself this question, I realized that the answer was really simple. I was terrified that in starting a business, I would end up homeless, but what would most likely happen is that I would need extra money so I would get a part-time job. That’s not that bad! It’s simple. Life wouldn’t go according to plan, so I would simply come up with an easy fix to help me get through that early stage of having to find clients!
When you ask yourself this question, you’ll find that the real answer isn’t this dramatic, catastrophic event that’s going to turn your life upside down. It’s manageable. It’s not ideal, but it’s going to be ok.
4. When you find yourself reverting to the worst-case scenario, ask yourself this…
I know it’s really hard to break the habit of thinking about the worst-case scenario, so when you find yourself slipping, go through the first three exercises again OR ask yourself this hypothetical question:
Let’s just pretend that the terrible catastrophe actually DOES happen. What would be worse, the bad thing happening or dying with regret?
What would be worse for you? What would you rather happen? Personally, I would rather have something bad happen to me than not even try to live my life how I want to live it. When I first did this exercise with my therapist, I said that the worst-case scenario for me would be getting stuck in a job I’m miserable with because I failed as a business owner. But I would still take that outcome over having not even tried.
5. Reflect on all of the times when you stepped forward into fear
For this exercise, I want you to do some more self-reflection. Get out that journal again or open up a document on your computer. Now, jot down all of the moments in your life when you were scared to do something, but you did it anyway because you knew it would help you grow and make you happy.
Examples could be moving away to college, going on a retreat, traveling abroad, taking on a project you felt under-qualified for, asking the person you’re currently dating to go on a date, reaching out to your role model, starting a new hobby like skydiving, beekeeping, dancing, or pottery, getting out of a bad relationship, etc.
When you’re done with the list, write a few sentences or bullet points about WHY you’re happy that you did each one of those things. Share about all of the personal growth that you made because you took the leap. Reflecting on similar instances will help you to put this new fear of yours into perspective.
Some of my own examples include taking a month-long trip through Europe with a group of strangers, asking for the account executive position on the Flagler College Smoke and Tobacco-Free campaign, and quitting my job to become a blogger and health coach. These things all scared the hell out of me at the time but have been some of the moments of my life that brought me the most personal growth and happiness.
Don’t rush this exercise. Reflect on it for as long as you need to take in just how beneficial those moments were for you. Remember, the quality of your life is directly related to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with.
6. Try Mel Robbins Five Second Rule
So now you’ve reflected on what you’re most afraid to do and learned how and why to not let fear put you in a cage, but rather act as a COMPASS. But still, it’s hard to remember these things in your daily life, right? You can read every popular self-help book and journal every night but still find yourself holding back when you wake up in the morning and go about your day. What do you do then?
The answer is Mel Robbins, and her five-second rule. First of all, if you haven’t heard of Mel Robbins, you have to look her up. She’s an international best-selling author, motivational speaker with one of the top Ted Talks of all time, co-founder and CEO of 143 Studios, and now has her own talk show. She sets an incredible example for everyone on how you can step into fear, turn your life around, and become a success. And she did it all with a simple life hack, which she calls “The Five-Second Rule.”
The Five Second Rule works like this – “if you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill it.” The moment you feel an instinct or a desire to act on a goal you have to commit and react immediately.
Whenever you feel yourself hesitating before doing something, whether it be applying for a job, booking your trip, going to the gym, waking up in the morning, count backward from five and them react immediately. Say to yourself, “5-4-3-2-1” and then GO.
Move toward action.
Why? Because as Mel Robbins describes it on her website, there is a window of time that exists between the moment you have an instinct to change and your mind killing it. That window is only about five seconds.
If you don’t take action on your instinct to change within those five seconds you will stay stagnant, you won’t change, and your life will not transform in the way that you want it to. Because of that little fearful loop we talked about in the beginning. If you allow yourself time to hesitate, your brain will start to play that game where it comes up with all the terrible things that are going to happen to you and all of the worst-case scenarios. Because the brain wants to PROTECT you, and if you want something new that is foreign to your brain, it perceives it as a risk and immediately tries to stop you.
Like I said before, this instinct is amazing, it has kept us alive for thousands of years and we’re lucky to have it. However, we don’t need that fear holding us back when we’re applying for jobs, going on a trip, or starting a business – it’s not life or death here.
But if you do that one simple trick by reacting immediately and not allowing that nightmare to begin playing out in your mind, you can prevent your mind from working against you and your personal goals. You can start the momentum before the mind starts to craft excuses.
This also helps because you’re NEVER going to feel like it. You’re never going to suddenly feel like doing all these things that are good for you or the things that terrify you. You have to make yourself do it, and make yourself do it QUICKLY. Otherwise, you won’t move forward. You’ll remain stuck in the cage of fear instead of allowing it to point you towards the next chapter of your life.
Before I head out and wrap up this post today, I wanted to leave you with a few takeaways to keep in mind.
1. Fear is normal, it’s OK to be afraid. It’s MORE than ok to be afraid. Don’t shame yourself for being scared of something. Being scared is the brain’s way of keeping you safe, and it’s a survival instinct that exists inside of ALL of us. It’s not unique to you and you’re not weak for having it.
2. However… don’t let fear CONTROL your life. Don’t let fear be the reason why you never __(fill in the blank)__. Because everything you want is one the other side of fear: better health, better relationships, a fulfilling career, happiness, life experience, memories you will cherish, personal growth, and more.
3. Fear is a compass showing you where to go. The thing you are most terrified of is the thing that you want more than anything in the world. UNLESS you’re in mortal danger. You still need common sense! I’m not saying that if you’re walking around alone at night and the thought of walking down a dark, secluded alley scares you that you should do it. But the thing you’re most scared to do is the exact path that you need to take in your life.
4. The quality of your life is directly related to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with. The more you remain in your comfort zone, the less happy you will be. The more you throw yourself outside of your comfort zone, the more you are slowly becoming the version of yourself you always dreamed you could be.
5. Do the written and verbal exercises I’ve outlined above to get rid of the hold that fear has over you. By realizing that your worst-case scenario is NOT going to happen you’ll be able to relinquish the hold it has over you. You’ll realize it was all in your mind. Do it every day if you have to. You must regularly remind yourself of how dramatic your mind can be while you’re trying to pursue your dreams.
6. Use the five-second rule. Use it to get up in the morning, to go to the gym, to start your website, to write a blog, to make a call, to put together a media kit, to write a book, to cook dinner. Use it all the time, but especially when it comes to the things you’re scared of. It’s a simple trick that will help you to bypass that fearful loop in your head altogether.
7. When all is said and done, when you learn to step forward into fear, you’ll wonder why you waited so long. You’ll find yourself thinking, “Huh, that wasn’t that bad,” or “that wasn’t that scary.” It will give you the confidence to pursue more of what you want in the future and become the highest version of yourself.
Thanks for coming to Lost Online!
As always, thanks for coming to Lost Online. I hope that this post helped you to break the hold that fear has on you and FINALLY decide to live your life on your own terms. Without being held back by a barrage of negative thoughts, fears, and worst-case scenarios.
Remember to let me know your thoughts on the way out! What takeaways did you get from this post? Did you agree that fear is a compass? Is fear a compass for you, or is it currently a cage? Did you try these exercises I suggested? Which ones helped you get rid of the hold fear has on you and step FORWARD into fear? Are there any other suggestions that you would give to others to stop fear from controlling their lives? Let me know in the comments!
If you like what you read here, remember to go down to the bottom of the page, click that “+” symbol, and type in your email where it says “follow blog via email.” You’ll have all future blog posts sent right to you! Thanks for coming to Lost Online!
Photos by Ray Reyes @rocketsciencephoto.