I am one of the most scared people I know. Not everyone will believe me when I say that. They probably didn’t know me as the quiet, shy little girl who was so scared of everyone and everything she was practically mute. Or maybe they only see me as someone who leads a life full of adventure, which must mean I have a lot of courage. I guess both versions of me are true. Going from extreme shyness to quiet confidence (I am definitely an introvert at times) has taken much practice, and to this day I am still practicing, and I still experience fear, all the time. But without a doubt the most meaningful experiences, achievements and adventures I’ve had in my life have only been possible due to, slowly and over many, many years, developing a stronger ability to overcome fear.
Fear shows up for me a lot. It shows up in my yoga practice, it shows up when I have to make big decisions, or take action, or speak up, or ask for help. The difference now is that I’ve simply got better at acting despite fear. Because at some point I recognised that fear was the biggest blocker between where I was and who I wanted to be, living the life I wanted. As Jack Canfield put it, ‘everything you want is on the other side of fear.’ So I highly recommend doing things in life that terrify you!
Even a successful entrepreneur recently mentioned to me that he had to overcome fear to start his new venture, which was surprising to hear from someone who exuded so much confidence. But we all have fears, it’s a natural part of life. Fear of rejection, fear of being alone, fear of not being good enough, fear of commitment, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of our own power, fear of being seen, fear of being honest with ourselves, fear of money, fear of death - it’s endless. And we can’t avoid suffering, but what we can change is how we manage our fear of suffering. Either we get good at facing it, or we avoid it, and so fear wins. Whatever you choose will have an impact, but it’s your choice.
So how do we overcome fear?
Although I’ve never read the book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” the title has always stuck with me. Sometimes it’s just plain courage that’s needed to face fear. But having reflected a bit more on how to act despite fear, I’ve realised that for me it’s a process, a cycle that never ends. The steps or methods below that have worked for me are all about taking responsibility for your own thoughts about fear, and challenging them, ultimately giving your mind a new story about fear.
1. Recognise that it’s fear
This might sound obvious but it actually takes practice. You see our minds will make a million excuses about why we don’t like something, why we don’t think we should do something, and distract us from that thing that we don’t want to face. We want to avoid the things we are scared of, naturally! So it takes a moment of awareness to stop and look at a situation and take responsibility for how we’re dealing with it, rather than blaming external factors or running away from it.
Ask yourself: Is this just my fear that’s in the way?
If yes, ok good. Now you know!
2. Understand how you deal with change
Many of us fear change. In my past life as a corporate Change Manager I witnessed first hand the three types of people that exist in relation to change:
1. Fast adopters: always the first to go with changes
2. Slow adopters: will get there but slow at first, need encouragement and reassurance
3. Resisters: will resist to the end, very uncomfortable with change
It’s important to be able to identify which type of person you are when it comes to change. If you always resist change and it genuinely feels hard for you, that’s ok. Knowing that is powerful information because you can start to bring some compassion and understanding to yourself and start separating out your fear from the actual change, seeing it for what it is.
Ask yourself: Do I always resist change?
If change is hard for you, separating your fear and practicing letting go of your attachment to how things are can be powerful.
3. Start testing yourself
If you know that certain situations or decisions always make you feel shy or scared, start practicing stepping outside your comfort zone even a little bit to show to yourself you can do it. I’ve always put myself in challenging situations and purposely changed things up purely to prove to myself that I can do it. I worked in face-to-face sales roles and actively sought speaking opportunities in work to overcome fear of public speaking. I changed countries and careers and relationships. All of these were scary moves, every time, yet all of them were fulfilling in their own way, and most importantly - I didn’t die! The more I practiced change and getting out of that comfort zone the more evidence I had that I could overcome fear.
Ask yourself: What comfort zones can I start to challenge?
Start with small fears - say the thing, make the decision, take the jump.
4. Don’t fuel the fear
Sharing isn’t always caring. Be careful who you share your fears with, if at all. I often only tell people about my fears after the event, to avoid them being given more power. In the last 5 years alone I’ve experienced fear of teaching yoga, of leaving my corporate job, of starting over, of being on my own in my late 30s in Asia when friends were settling and having kids, of following my heart, of moving to San Francisco, of commitment…yet not many people ever knew. I've learned to either keep my fears to myself or to only tell someone who I know will be nothing but support and motivation.
Ask yourself: Is there anyone helpful I can share my fears with?
If not, try writing about them, but don’t share your fears with anyone who has more fear than you!
5. Get comfortable in the not knowing
This is a biggie for getting around the paralysis of fear. Not knowing what’s going to happen can simply stop us in our tracks. But how can we ever know? We can’t. We have to muster the courage to act without ever knowing if what we are doing will be a success. What if it goes wrong? Well it might, and it’s certainly wise to doubt and question things before acting, but at some point you either have to take the risk and enjoy the ride, or let it go. It might also be the best thing you’ve ever done.
Ask yourself: Which will be worse – failing or not trying?
Start to love the unknown and try things for the sake of trying, not the outcome.
6. Remember the one thing you can be sure of
We’re all heading one way, and one way only. None of us know for certain when we will die but the we know for sure that we will. This may sound morbid but to overcome fear I like to imagine myself on my deathbed reviewing my life, the whole incredible adventure, but also if I will have any regrets. This is the single biggest motivator for me as my goal in life is to look back and not have any regrets whatsoever. Which means if I think I will regret not doing something then I have to act on it now. Opportunities then become responsibilities to my future self.
Ask yourself: Will I regret not doing this when I’m dying?
If yes, you get to change the story now!
7. Feel the fear and make the decision
To make decisions when I feel stuck due to fear, I use a method taught to me during a life coaching session with a wonderful friend and mentor a number of years ago. First, after sitting with my breath, looking at any fear and separating it out, I check in with my gut to see how it feels: is there excitement? Then I check in with my heart: does it feel safe with this decision? If yes to both then I know my head will figure out the rest. I’ve used this so many times since that session and it has always proven to be a successful method for making decisions. We spend so much time in our heads, with worry and fear, it becomes hard to get clear with all the noise going on. But our bodies are intelligent and giving us signs all the time, we just have to learn to listen to them.
Ask yourself: What does my gut say? How does this feel in my heart?
If all signs lead to yes, then this is your answer.
8. Trust yourself and just do it
You’ve made the decision, you know you’ll regret not doing it, so there is only one thing for it. Trust yourself and take the action. I remember my yoga teacher in Thailand standing in front of me when I was about to drop back from standing into a back bend for the first time, after years of getting help and being scared to do it on my own. He simply stood there repeating: trust yourself, trust yourself, trust yourself…over and over and over until I finally did it. That point of surrender – that’s where courage comes in. Nothing else.
Ask yourself: Do I trust myself?
Trust and do!
9. Change your story and grow
Just the act of walking through fear, being courageous, is a huge opportunity to grow and show yourself what you’re made of. My whole life I had a major, uncontrollable (I believed) fear of all things medical and used to faint or vomit every single time I went to the doctor or dentist. But my story about this actually fuelled the fear, until one day I decided to change it and tricked my mind into being excited about going to the doctor, and I was OK! The more I practiced this the more I gained control over my fear to the point of knowing I can handle medical stuff now. I even survived two trips to a cadaver lab as part of a yoga training last year. Was I squeamish? Oh yes! But I survived.
Ask yourself: How can I grow from this challenge?
It’s always possible to change your story about fears.
10. Celebrate and repeat
Celebrate any time you act despite fear. Not the outcome of your actions, this is secondary. That feeling, the knowing, the winning against fear is the driver to overcome more fear, the evidence that you can do it! Jumping out of a plane taught me this. It was one of the most terrifying thing I ever did, and it took years to build up the courage, but I did it and all I remember thinking is,” Wow, if I can do this I can do anything!!” Experience the joy from being brave. And once you get comfortable – time to face yet another fear!
Tell yourself: I am courageous. I can do anything!
Yes, you are. And yes, you can.
Courage is needed endlessly year in this world right now. I recently did one of the bravest things I’ve ever done, for me, a story too personal to share publicly except the most valuable thing I got from the experience: a big fat reminder of how liberating it is to overcome fears! So join me in acting despite fear, in not being held back due to some beliefs about yourself that no longer need to be true. Dare to change your story, and aim to look back with no regrets because fear didn’t win - you did.
As a holistic health coach I work with people to overcome their fears of changing their lifestyle and breaking through habits that are holding them back: from diet and exercise, to meditation and yoga, and even career and relationships - our happiness is fed by so much more than the food we eat. If you are ready to be your most vibrant self, schedule a free consultation with me today.
We all need support sometimes - don't be afraid to ask!