There’s a piece of advice floating around about how to overcome fear that I think is nonsense. It’s useless and unhelpful, and I believe it’s the worst advice you can get.
Do you want to know what it is?
“Don’t be afraid. Just do it.”
Let me explain.
Whether you’re trying to work up the courage to raise your hand in a class full of people, speak up in a meeting, say no to somebody you’re scared of, or anything else that makes you afraid…
Saying “Don’t be afraid” is completely useless.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO FEEL FEAR?
Before we dig deeper into this topic, I want to be clear that I love the phrase “just do it” in general.
Sometimes, it makes sense to stop thinking and doubting yourself and start doing — like when you’ve already decided on something that aligns with your values.
You go ahead with it and see what happens.
You get feedback and results.
In those cases, “just do it” is fine advice.
But when people use this advice directed toward fear, those people must have no idea what it’s like to be scared of something.
Let’s look at some examples…
You might remember in a previous blog post where I shared about rock climbing for the first time.
I was terrified.
I’m afraid of heights, and I couldn’t let go of the wall when it was time to let go. And no matter how much my daughter cheered me on and told me to “let go,” I couldn’t.
I love hiking and always have. But anytime I get close to the edge of a cliff, or there aren’t any guard rails between the trail and a drop-off, I feel paralyzed.
I’m always afraid that someone will come up behind me and push me, that I’ll lose balance and fall, and all these wild thoughts start creeping in.
And whenever someone says, “Olena, just don’t be afraid. Come closer. It’s okay. Don’t worry.” It doesn’t help.
What does help to overcome fear is to take a step back, take a few breaths in and out, and try to reconsider the situation.
Hear me out…
When people tell you something isn’t scary or that it’s easy, know that if you’re afraid of it, it’s not easy.
Overcoming fear is never easy.
Sometimes, we deal with our own fear by telling ourselves not to worry, that everything’s okay, or that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
That doesn’t help.
Keep reading to learn how to do something that scares you.
But first, let’s answer a question.
Is fear actually important?
Should we ignore fear or try to pretend it doesn’t exist?
Maybe we tell ourselves that fear is bad, or only cowards feel fear.
Well, that’s B.S., right?
All of us have fear. And even more important to remember…
Fear is your ally — a natural mechanism designed to protect you.
Being afraid of something tells you that something isn’t right or that it’s potentially dangerous.
And it’s important to recognize this because then you can decide what to do with that fear.
Maybe you’re ready, and maybe you’re not.
Perhaps now isn’t the right time to stand at the edge of a cliff.
But if you decide to do it, then there are some things you can do to overcome fear.
- Step back. Or take two or three or four steps back. Take as many steps back as you need to feel calm and clear again.
- Ask yourself, “Why am I trying to overcome this fear? What’s on the other side? Is it really important?”
You can involve your core values here to help it make sense for you.
And if you decide that overcoming your fear is important, it’s time to bring in your personal strengths.
Which strengths can you bring forward in this situation to help you overcome fear?
For example, coming back to rock climbing. When I was sitting on the wall and trying to convince myself to release my fingers and fall (with a harness), I brought forward critical thinking.
I was thinking about how secure the equipment was and that people around me had tested it, and were safe.
I also brought forward perseverance.
I know that I’m brave when things require me to be brave. I can persevere through uncomfortable circumstances.
Remembering those things and pulling my strengths forward helped me let go and take that leap.
You can only make a choice like that when your mind is calm, and you can think straight.
OVERCOMING FEAR REQUIRES BABY STEPS
You don’t want to take giant steps. In fact, it’s impossible to take giant steps when it comes to fear.
The way to approach your fears is one step at a time.
Be patient with yourself.
Gradually, you’ll gain confidence and expand.
What’s really important, what I call the Principle of Ripple Effect in Life Design, is building momentum in order to overcome your fears.
Sometimes, you can gain that confidence in areas unrelated to your fear.
You might find that you’re going to the gym and getting better at lifting weights.
Or, you’re hitting some big milestone like running a 5k race.
That confidence you gain running could translate into confidence in public speaking or hiking or a fear of heights because the thing is…
It doesn’t matter where it comes from.
The strength is within you — that backbone of everything you do.
If you don’t feel confident enough to do a thing, focus on something else where you already feel good at it.
Try to get even better with it to build your confidence.
And when you return to the thing you’re afraid of, it’ll potentially feel a little smaller because you’re feeling good.
HOW TO DO SOMETHING THAT SCARES YOU
Remember, fear is your friend. Being afraid is okay and normal.
You can’t deal with fear very well while being in a state of fear or fight, flight, or freeze.
- You have to step back and calm down so you can think straight.
- Ask yourself, “Is it really important for me to overcome this fear? Do I really want to do it? Do I want to see what’s on the other side? Why does it matter to me?”
Once you realize that it’s worth fighting for, you can either fix it right away, or it might take several dozen baby steps to get there.
Either is okay.
Sometimes, you might find that the best thing to do is just leave that specific goal aside.
Turn towards other goals where you feel more confident and build some positive momentum because you come back to it.
Telling someone they shouldn’t be afraid or telling yourself that if they can do it, you should be able to do it is just dismissing your feelings.
Instead, you get to be your own best coach and teammate and friend. You’re the one who will make a difference in your life by being your biggest cheerleader.
And, as always, if you have any questions, my DMs are always open. I’m always happy to help.
Until next time,