The Nature of Fear
I have a bad habit of letting fear paralyze me. The reasons for this are deeply rooted in my subjective experience during childhood and many of them have very little to do with either objective reality or the present. And, digging into the past to uncover the whys and wherefores of this habit is truly less important that figuring out how to change the habit.
I have many of the same basic fears as every other human – of dying, being abandoned, not being loved, losing loved ones, not having enough food, safety, shelter, etc.
My fears that are more personal to me come from the intersection of the more general fears and my personal experience.
So, having been praised for good grades and stellar academic work as I child, I connected a sense of love from my family with perfect performance at school. Eventually, this warped into a perceived need to be perfect in my achievements in order to be loved. From my current perspective, I know that this is not true. I have seen my family embrace imperfect people with deep love, but the conclusions I came to as a child about how the world works still hold sway in my subconscious processing.
Over the decades, I have shied away from many opportunities because I feared I would not be seen as competent at first. I have a perennial discomfort with things I do not know or understand. As a result, I have not stretched far enough out of my own comfort zone to grow into the person I always hoped I would be.
But, I keep growing. As I get older, I see the value in stretching beyond my comfort zone, and through practice, the experience of stretching is slowly becoming part of my comfort zone. And, as a result, I am developing courage and grit in new and beneficial ways.
Dealing with Fear
1. Notice how fear shows up in your life
For me, fear often shows up as procrastination. If there is something I think I want to do but don’t do, there is often a fear behind it.
Fear shows up as emotional numbness. If I stop enjoying things that usually bring me pleasure, I maybe blocking uncomfortable feelings. For me, fear and anger are the two most likely culprits.
2. Take action
Identify the fear.
If it is a rational fear, take what steps you can to mitigate the risks involved.
Do something that is part of the task triggering the fear. A small step is often enough to get over the emotional speedbump that is stopping you.
3. Rinse and repeat
Over time, the power that fear has over you will diminish.
How do I know? Because years of practice as an actor have taught me how to move forward in performance and public speaking despite fear. I know that these simple to explain, but not always so easy to do, steps applied in any one fear-making direction will eventually change my comfort zone.
And, I know from my own experience that my art, my work, and my personal life all benefit from this approach to not letting fear stand in my way.
I am always interesting in learning how to move past fear. What do you use to move forward when courage is required?