How to live without fear: make the new year less scary

Sometimes it’s good to be afraid. Fear is an instinct that rears up when we perceive danger. There are some instances when being afraid can keep us alive. “Hey, go wrestle that alligator.” “No thank you, that scares me.”  When we perceive danger, Adrenalin is released, our heart rate increase, or senses are on edge, and we prepare to fight or flee. The brain’s ability to think or reason is slowed because the brain is busy preparing the body to run or wrestle.

There are other times when fear can be over something imaginary, or something that we label as scary when it’s more a statement of uncertainty. Fear of failure, fear of change, or fear of new experiences can be debilitating though for no valid reason. Everyone experiences these types of fear. How is it that some people seem to thrive and even be motivated by what would cause most of us to be apprehensive? You will be happy to hear that you have the power over such fears. Yes. Yes you do.

Fear is very common in gymnastics. New skills, new levels, travelling to meets, failing in front of the judge, failing in front of mom and dad, letting the team down, letting the coach down, or worst of all, letting yourself down. The majority of these fears are imaginary. Granted there is risk in new skill development, but I’m going to assume that the coach has done the developmental progressions and drills needed to perform a skill. No one just tells a gymnast to just “go for it” without preparing them. So, maybe a little justified fear, a little made-up.

overcome fearStep one to reduce fear: Try to analyze the cause of the fear. If it’s something like preforming a new skill, you can reason with the gymnast that they have done the drill work, they are strong enough, they are smart enough, and they are prepared. But remember that the brain clouds reason and judgment when fear is present, so the best plan for the coach, in these instances, is to reassure the gymnast that they are prepared. Step them back to basics, and work through the progressions again to demonstrate that the athlete is ready. Warning: you may have to start over more than once.

There are plans to help overcome fears like speaking in public, or spiders, or whatever. In a nutshell the plan is to expose yourself to something that scares you every day. Do it for a week, or a month, and see how you become bolder and more self-assured. In fact a study at the University of Cambridge  explains how these self-induced fears can be overcome by exposure. We show ourselves that the things that scare us really hold no power: there is nothing lurking in the dark, the spider will not eat you, the horror movie is not real, and the stranger across the street is not going to kill you.

Should you resolve to “get over” your fears, I would suggest creating a fear journal. Writing notes about what you experience for the 7 days, or 30 days if you feel like really mastering it. You will have a record to review once you complete the plan, and it will serve as a shot of courage every time you review it.  I also suggest that you change your language (change your words-change your brain). Instead of thinking of them as fears, think of them as obstacles. Instead of using negative language like “I will not let it scare me.” Re-frame the sentiment with a phrase like “I’m OK with this.” Or “this is fine for me.” Once you restructure what you tell yourself, you gain control over subconscious triggers.

Next, List the things that scare you. They can be a range of things from what makes you uncomfortable to what terrifies you; jot them all down. Then, build out your calendar. If you are on the 7- or 30-day plan, fill in something from your list for every day of the plan. Start with the minor league stuff and build up to the stronger obstacles. Now start the hard part: every day face one fear down. Afraid of bees?  Visit a beekeeper, suit up and walk among the hives. Afraid people will laugh at you? Put on something silly and let them. Afraid of public speaking? Make an impromptu address to a large group. Afraid of your boss/teacher/coach? Take them to lunch or plan to have a personal conversation with them, they’re just people. Expose yourself to more and more as your time period goes on. Write in your journal before you tackle the scare, then again when you survive. Within a few days you will see that most of what was scaring you is powerless, and you are now B-R-A-V-E.

Yes, this exercise takes some effort and strength. Dan Millman says “Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.” It seems to me, to be a decision: live with fears slowing you down, or be strong enough to let go of those fear-anchors and live a happier life. In the book Power vs Force, author David Hawkins warns us “If you entrench yourself in illusions of fear you cannot rise to higher levels of consciousness like acceptance, courage, love, peace, joy, and enlightenment.

I think doing the work is worth it. Do you?

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