Conquering fear is a learned skill that requires courage to face your fears as a way to see your way through them. Many people experience fear as an unsettling habit that threatens to limit their ability to make decisions, deal with situations, or even move freely from one place to another.
A mind focused on fear itself, rather than the situation at hand, constantly battles troubling emotions like panic and worry, diverting your attention from the task at hand. Physical ailments such as confusion, muscular tension, or an upset stomach may soon follow, adding real misery to the things you imagine.
The path to mindfulness recognizes that you are what you think. It makes sense then, that a person who allows anxiety and fear to dominate their thinking will be more stressed, less productive, and frequently disturbed. It’s even possible to project your fears onto other people, even subconsciously. This is not the kind of life you want to lead.
Most of the time, what we fear never comes true. Fear is an inhibiting emotion seldom based in reality. Only you can give it the energy it needs to survive. Progress grinds to a halt and success becomes less likely, while we needlessly suffer through feelings that take time to resolve.
Geoffrey James, contributing editor to Inc.com and author of the award-winning blog, Sales Source, summarizes this point in a 2012 article. “Fear is the enemy of success,” says James. “If you’re ruled by fear, you’ll never take enough risks and never achieve success you deserve.”
A better strategy involves facing your fears to see the way through them. A few simple suggestions may help create your own personal toolkit to conquer your fears, to enjoy the deep breath that a fearless heart enjoys at the end of a challenge.
Use Courage as a Weapon
Real progress and change only happens when you’ve mustered the strength to conquer your fears and take action. In fact, that’s what courage is all about – doing something you’re afraid of.
Geoff Thompson knows all about this. He graduated from the mean streets of London as a street fighter to become a successful martial arts instructor, writer, and BAFTA award-winning playwright for his short film Brown Paper Bag (2003). Geoff spoke at Leamington Spa in 2016 for TEDx about how he listed a pyramid of things he feared, from the least to the most unnerving, then conquered them one by one.
This accomplishment allowed him to live the life he’d once dreamed of, no longer subject to the depression and anxiety that plagued his life and once caused him to consider suicide. His is a model for managing fear by using courage to change the way you think, deflating the energy that keeps fear alive.
Give Yourself a Break
Criticizing yourself for being afraid does nothing for your self-esteem. It buries your confidence and willpower under blankets of second-guessing that make it hard to make rational decisions. If your personality tends to see life as an absolute that sees everything as “all or nothing,” you’ll never allow yourself the time and space to achieve what you want.
Robert Leahy, clinical professor of psychology at Weill-Cornell Medical School, also cautions against using a self-critical voice to motivate yourself. Leahy writes that “self-criticism can demotivate and demoralize you, siphoning off the creativity and energy you need to get things done.” Treat yourself as gently as you might a close friend, and use self-support and rewards as better motivation tactics against the fear of failure.
Challenge Your Notions
It’s more common to imagine the worst outcome than assume the best one. For instance, you know the odds of a tornado or hurricane striking your area are minimal, but during a bad storm you may think to yourself, “It could still happen, right?” This irrational fear increases your awareness of and sensitivity to bad weather, keeping you on alert more often than necessary.
The University of Florida’s Counseling & Wellness Center advises students and patients to assess their fears in more constructive ways. Their preferred mindset involves deflating the strength of our fears by first realizing that “the world couldn’t possibly be as bad as your imagination can make it.” After a short, possibly humorous bout of “catastrophizing,” a person armed with more rational expectations could then visualize themselves engaging with and overcoming feared activity in their mind before doing it “for real.”
Consider the fact that Geoffrey James welcomes a little trepidation as a sign of impending change. “Today, I’m actually really excited whenever I discover something that I’m afraid to do, because I know that something wonderful is going to happen,” he says. Having the courage to take action is what makes this attitude possible, and leads to more time spent in satisfaction, less time in misery.
Focus on Your Fear, Until It Fades
It may seem counter-intuitive, but focusing on fearful emotions may actually help diffuse their strength on your consciousness. The more often you face your fears, the less powerful they become over time.
Think of the routine tasks you learned through repetition, like tying your shoes, learning to drive, making home-cooked meals, or learning how to play an instrument. Your first experiences with these learned behaviors surely included periods of nervousness, anxiety, and physical stress.
In a similar way, it’s only when you begin to “sit” with the uncomfortable emotions that fear generates that you begin to focus on the task or situation itself. If you’re anxious about being in a confined space, for example, repeating to yourself, “I am in a confined space,” enough times can help you relax about it. You may actually get bored with the idea and stop thinking about it altogether.
James, G. (2012, July 30). 4 mental tricks to conquer fear. Inc.com. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/how-to-conquer-fear-4-mental-tricks.html.
Leahy, R.L. (2014, September 10). Why you deserve a break, from yourself. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-files/201409/why-you-deserve-break-yourself.
University of Florida Counseling Center. (2017). How to handle fears. Retrieved from http://www.counseling.ufl.edu/cwc/how-to-handle-fears.aspx.