Saturday, May 9, 2020

How to Overcome Fear by Increasing Your Fear Fitness

With all the personal development books, blogs, speakers, videos, teleseminars and coaches available these days, we all have access to an abundance of information, and personal development can seem like an overwhelming task. I’ve been immersed in this literature and culture for 14 years, searching for the personal development ideas and change tools that really make a difference, and these days I believe that there are only really two skills that you need to master to progress your life: 

1. Getting clear on what you really want and 

2. transforming the fears that are holding you back from making what you want a reality. 

In fact, I find that it often boils right down to just transforming your fears, because much of the time the only reason that you’re unclear about what you want is because you’re afraid to want what you want, so your fear obscures your vision of what you want. If you know how to handle your fear, you can have, do and be everything you want. 

Fear Is Universal
Don’t get caught in thinking that being afraid means you’re a wimp. We all have a part of our brains that’s colloquially referred to by neuropsychologists as the reptile brain, because it’s similar in structure to the brain of a reptile. Our reptile brain’s agenda is to make sure that we survive, so it’s concerned with watching out for potential lack and attack, and it sets off the alarm and the stress response whenever there’s any indication of potential lack or attack. This is a really useful survival response when you’re being chased by a lion or someone’s trying to mug you on the street, but the problem is that it can prevent us from thriving by being overly paranoid and holding us back from anything that’s the slightest bit scary, including new and unfamiliar experiences and uncertain future situations, which we’re all faced with when we make changes in our lives. 

We can’t ever entirely switch off this part of ourselves that produces fear (and that’s a good thing, because we need it, for keeping us safe!), but what we can do is become “fear fit.” Normally, when we’re afraid, we try to avoid the situation that’s seems scary to us, because we’re afraid of feeling afraid. Becoming “fear fit” is about practicing having scary experiences, so that you’re no longer afraid of feeling afraid. When you practice having scary experiences, you’ll be come more comfortable and skilled at handling scary situations, which will increase your “comfort zone” and the number of different experiences you feel comfortable to handle. Every time you do something scary, you build more evidence that you can handle scary situations – evidence that you can rely on to boost both your confidence and your competence in future new scary situations. So here’s how to increase your fear fitness: 

Exercises for Increasing Your Fear Fitness

1. Take up opportunities to try new and different things, visit new and different places, and meet new and different people. Whenever you expose yourself to unfamiliar experiences, you’ll get more familiar with the feeling of “safe fear” that your reptile brain produces in response to new and different experiences, so that you’ll grow to understand that the feeling means you’re learning and growing, and it’s perfectly safe to proceed. 

2. Set yourself a few unrealistic goals. I know that the whole “S-M-A-R-T” goal-setting process says we should set realistic goals, but I also know that “realistic” is a subjective thing, and most goals are achievable if you’re willing to adjust the deadline and give yourself more time to get there. So set yourself some unrealistic goals so that you can become comfortable with the feeling of fear that comes with being unsure that you can achieve your goals. 

3. Keep a log of significant fears that you’ve faced. Write down the date, the scary thing you faced, and the positive outcomes. Part of becoming fear fit is about teaching your brain to associate positive feelings with scary situations, rather than negative feelings. If you highlight and record all the positive results of facing your fears, your brain will quickly learn to associate facing your fears with pleasurable feelings. Even if it didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, if you’re writing down the results, you must have survived the experience, so you can at least say that “I didn’t die.” When you’re feeling afraid of something new, you’ll be able to look back on your fear log and be reminded of your resourcefulness and the fears you’ve successfully faced in the past – achievements that we often forget when we’re feeling afraid and unresourceful. 

4. Hang out with other people who are willing to face their fears. We all look to the people we hang out with as our reference for what’s “normal.” If it’s normal in the communities you hang out in for people to avoid doing anything scary, your reptile brain will tell you that it’s abnormal, and therefore dangerous, for you to do otherwise. And whenever you do something scary, you’ll have the added fear that your tribe will think you’re crazy, not support you, or even reject you for it. Hang out with other people who face new fears on a regular basis, and you’ll teach your reptile brain that this is a perfectly normal and safe thing to do. 

5. Celebrate whenever you face a fear. This is another way to associate positive feelings with the idea of facing your fears. Have a special dinner with someone important to you, buy yourself a special gift, hold fear parties, phone your coach, or whatever else takes your fancy. 

Practicing these exercises to increase your fear fitness is a lot like going to the gym. If you’ve trained regularly at the gym, over time you’ll build your ability to deal with major athletic challenges like running a half marathon or whatever other challenge you might like to take on. In much the same way, these fear fitness exercises can prepare you with the mental fortitude, stamina and skills for dealing with scary situations in the future, giving you the ability to confidently deal with whatever may come your way and use that to create more of the life you want. 

Cath Duncan 
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