We all feel fear at various moments in our lives. But we differ dramatically in how we “do” fear. Here are a few stories that illustrate what I mean:
Jake’s style: “Safety First”
When Jake feels fear, he has a knee-jerk reaction to retreat into safety. His favorite refrains are, “It’s too difficult” and “I can’t.” As you might imagine, his approach to fear has impeded his ability to move forward in his career and in relationships, despite his wanting to do so.
Marie’s style: “What if?”
When Marie feels fear, she pumps up her anxiety by asking an avalanche of “what if” questions and never answering them. Her favorite refrains are, “What if he doesn’t like it?” and “What if I make a fool of myself?” If she imagined helpful answers to these questions, they might well reduce her fears. Remaining unanswered, however, all they do is generate additional anxiety.
Kevin’s style: “Disastrous Danger”
When Kevin feels fear, his mind immediately creates images of horrible happenings and catastrophic consequences. His favorite refrains are, “Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh!!!” and “How horrific!” His fears fly in the face of common sense. Every airplane he boards will crash (even though he’s never been in a crash); every pain he has is a deadly disease (even when he passes his physical with flying colors).
Annie’s style: “Wishy-Washy”
When Annie feels fear, she becomes increasingly indecisive. She simply doesn’t know what to do. When forced to make a decision, she second-guesses the decision she makes. Her favorite refrains are, “I can’t decide” and “What should I do?” Her fear of making the “wrong” decision paralyzes her. Hence, she increasingly looks to others to make decisions for her and then regrets how dependent she is on others.
Perhaps you’re relating to one of these styles. Or, perhaps you’re relating to all of these styles! If so, you know that a fearful lifestyle can squeeze all the joy and juiciness out of life, leaving you with just the dull, daily grind of the day.
There’s a better style to help you cope with your fears. It’s possible, but not easy. Let’s look at Ivy’s fear style.
Ivy’s style: “Calm, Do and Complete”
When Ivy feels fear, the first thing she does is try to calm herself down. Though fear occasionally visits her brain, she does not allow it to take up residence there. Indeed, she’s been known to yell at her fear, telling it to “get out of here, I’ve got stuff to do.”
Her second step is to think about what, if anything, needs to be done to deal with the situation.
Her third step is to actually complete what needs to be done, in a timely manner. No, “Oh, I was going to do it, or “I meant to do it,” for Ivy.
Her favorite refrains are, “It will be all right” and “I can handle this.” She’s well aware that fear can bluff its way into her mind, undermining her confidence. When this happens, she tells herself that that’s her fear talking, not her reality.
Ivy’s style is working for her. But, it hasn’t turned her into one of those people who are born confident and competent, knowing just what to do and when to do it. Her fear still visits her. Just not nearly as often and not nearly as intense.
Changing her focus is one of the most important things Ivy has done to help her deal with her fears. Rather than focusing on how frightened she is, she directs her mind to focus on how to calm herself down so she can deal with whatever she must deal with.
Now, what about you? Can you change the way you “do” fear? I hope I didn’t hear you say “no.” You can. Yes, you can. But will you? That’s another question entirely.