There may be some kids who come into this world with courage, confidence and guts. I wasn’t one of them. I come from fear. I was born sensitive and shy. Lots of things scared me. I worried about serious things like how awful it must be to fight in a war. And I worried about typical kid stuff, like what other people thought of me.
I still remember coming home crying because my 2nd-grade teacher accused me of lying. Me! The kid who wanted to please, do good, help out. Little did my teacher realize that even if I wanted to, I was too scared to lie.
In contrast, today I’m a confident, competent, courageous adult, comfortable in my own skin. I’ve had experiences that amaze me. Some are truly unusual, like tracking mountain gorillas in Uganda with my son Glenn, or being interviewed on national TV. Others are just brave for me — speaking my mind without worrying about what others think; disagreeing with an authority figure; stretching my intellect to learn what initially seemed insurmountable.
Now, most of the time, my fears don’t control my actions. If they did, I wouldn’t have done half the things I’ve done. Nor do they take up a whole lot of space in my brain; I’ve got better things to think about now.
I wouldn’t be honest, however, if I told you that my fears are a thing of the past. They aren’t. Indeed, sometimes I take advantage of opportunities which take me into unexplored territory. In those moments, I feel both scared and excited — the flip side of fear. And I remember to breathe and believe in myself, despite my apprehension.
So, I’ve learned a lot about conquering fear. If you, like me, would like to live your life with more courage, less fear, here’s a crash course on recognizing your fear style and changing the pattern.
1. Retreat to Safety
Knee-jerk retreat-to-safety fear responses keep you stuck where you are. An exciting new opportunity presents itself. Rather than give this option careful consideration, you immediately think, “I can’t do that.” You stick with what’s safe and comfortable, then wonder why nothing exciting ever happens for you.
What to do: Instead of thinking “I can’t do it,” think “I can calm myself down, reflect on the opportunity and decide what to do.” Though you may not want to dive into the deep end of the pool, you can wade into the shallow end, then gradually move to where you feel relatively comfortable.
2. “What if” Questions
A barrage of “What if?” questions inhibit you from taking action. “What if this goes wrong? What if I fail?” You don’t bother to answer these questions. They simply stir up your anxiety, deterring you from moving forward.
What to do: Answer your “what if” questions with realistic, rational answers. Answers help you become more decisive by clarifying what the real issue is and how you can deal with it.
3. Disastrous Danger
Imagining catastrophic outcomes. Your headache must be a brain tumor; your plane will be hijacked. Though these outcomes are implausible, you still focus on them.
What to do: Self-talk, such as telling yourself that the chances of such a disaster happening to you are like the chances of your winning a mega-jackpot lottery. So, exactly when was the last time you won several hundred million bucks?
You’re so afraid of making the wrong decision, you don’t make any. You’re not certain which roofer to call to fix your leak, so no call is made. What was a small leak eventually becomes major water damage.
What to do: Picture yourself standing at a fork in the road. You can choose the left fork…the right fork…or you can continue standing at the crossroads forever. Hopefully, this imagery will help you appreciate that not making a choice is essentially making a choice — the choice to stay right where you are.
5. Drink? Drugs? Food? Or All Three?
You’re anxious about what you need to do. Instead of thinking about how to alleviate your anxiety, you turn to your drug of choice to numb your mind.
What to do: Take a deep breath. Think of a positive image — something that makes you feel calm and comforted. Stay with the image for as long as you can. Once your mind moves away from your fears, return to the task at hand.
Hopefully, these ideas will help you begin to face your fears. If you’re still looking for more ideas, delve into my book, Master Your Fears: How to Triumph Over Your Worries and Get On With Your Life.