Breaking through the Masks of Fear

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Have you ever felt that you wanted to do or achieve something, that you let a nagging voice (“your inner critic”) tells you otherwise. I meet so many people who want to do, be, achieve things, but fear gets in the way. When we find that we are unable to create and sculpt the lives we want – then It’s likely that fear is at the bottom of it.

1. WHAT IS FEAR?

The dictionary definition of fear is an “unpleasant emotion caused by exposure to danger, expectation of pain”. The ability to feel fear is hardwired in our brains. It made sense when we first evolved to feel fear – if you’re facing a wild (and hungry!) animal in the jungle.

But most of us aren’t in those situations anymore – but our primeval instincts are still there. Unfortunately, they’re often inappropriately applied to situations in our lives.

2. TRAVELLING THROUGH FEAR

Several years ago, I finally managed to achieve a life long ambition of going on a round the world trip. For years I’d put this off, thinking that I wasn’t capable. In the meantime my life was becoming increasingly directionless. I had no idea of what I really wanted.

On the surface it looked different, but I knew how I felt – bad! It came to a point where I knew that I couldn’t go on living the way I was and realised that if I didn’t go then, I probably never would and would regret it for the rest of my life. So eventually I took a sabbatical from work, rented out my flat and went. Going away on my own turned out to be a fundamental breakthrough in my life.

I saw countries that I never thought I’d see, did things that I didn’t think I could do. It wasn’t particularly hard – I just adjusted.

I instinctively knew that things would never be the same for me again. When I got back, I realised that having achieved one major ambition, I asked myself what else I’d been holding myself back on because of my fear.

Because my coping skills had improved tenfold and my self-esteem and confidence skyrocketed! Going away sparked off a chain of events, which were incredibly beneficial for me.

3. MANY MASKS OF FEAR

Fear is insidious, because it has so many disguises? What’s your choice of fear? Is it fear of rejection? Fear of humiliation? Fear of someone’s anger? Fear of disapproval? Fear of being lonely? But the biggest fear of all is of… ourselves!

Or more specifically, our own coping mechanisms and abilities. Much of our inappropriate fear comes from feeling that we are not “good enough”. One reason that we often lack self-esteem and confidence is that we haven’t developed our fear busting muscles.

Until we put ourselves in situations that develop and strengthen our muscles, then they will remain weak and flabby with the accompanying fear that continues to hold us back.

So many people have found themselves in situations where they had to cope and found in themselves a strength that they didn’t know they had! Ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

We don’t have to wait until a “crisis” befalls us in order to get a crash course in building our coping skills. We can engineer situations where we continually develop and strengthen our coping abilities.

4. DEVELOP YOUR FEAR BUSTING MUSCLES!

How can you develop your fear busting muscles. Here are two techniques:

1. Take more risks.

I don’t mean put yourself in potentially dangerous situations – that’s just foolhardy.

But identify what you consider to be a (small) risk and commit to taking it. Gradually increase your level of risk-taking as you develop the self-esteem and confidence to do so.

2. Ask yourself questions.

This is one of my favourite techniques. It is incredibly simple, yet very effective. Whenever you get your knee jerk thoughts. “I can’t do this” “I couldn’t go there” and It’s something you really want to do, then ask yourself “How can I…?” “How could I…?” For example: “How can I develop and strengthen my ability to speak up in meetings?”. Using the words “I can’t” is mental laziness!

Asking yourself questions starts to exercise your brain. I said that this was a simple technique. It is a very simple concept – but may not feel so simple in execution! It’s just a matter of developing good habits. So this is brain surgery – you are reworking and developing your brain, so that it serves you better, rather than holding you back.

5. THE FEAR NEVER GOES AWAY

Oh dear and you thought that you were beginning to get it sorted!. Fear means that you are continually growing and developing. You can learn how to make fear work for you. Especially after you’ve identified your choice(s)of fear and developed techniques for dealing with it.

Once you’ve broken through a particular fear – please remember to acknowledge it in some way. I’ve met so many people who have done and achieved so much – yet still have low self-esteem because they haven’t acknowledged how far they’ve come!

Don’t let this be you – learn how to acknowledge, appreciate and affirm your improved self-worth, every time you’ve conquered a fear to achieve something that you really wanted to do.

©2003 by Julie Plenty
This article was originally written: April, 2003

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