Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Fear Perspective

I recently began reading a fantastic book entitled "Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway" (by Susan Jeffers). It was recommended to me by a friend, and I can't thank her enough. Before I started the book, I knew I had some fears, but they were mostly tangible or predictable - bees (I'm allergic), heights to an extent, closed in spaces and the like. I also suspected I had some other fears lurking in my subconscious that I wasn't quite aware of or ready to admit but, as the nature of the subconscious goes, I couldn't quite identify them.

Almost immediately upon starting the book, a huge realization hit me - I have a ton of fears! Practically with each page - and I'm not exaggerating, I've dog-eared and underlined the parts I feel most important and there are a ton of them - I learned a bit more about myself and my misinterpreted fears. One of the biggest eye openers was my growing ability to see that fear was the stimulus behind so many actions or inactions in my life. From things as simple as my inability to look some people in the eye (out of being self-conscious, not out of being untruthful) to rather important decisions about my business, fear was inhibiting me probably daily. Furthermore, I could pinpoint a few reoccurring themes. I created a list of those that were becoming most obvious and prevalent.

The list includes:

  • Fear of rejection 
  • Fear of failure - by my standards or those of others
  • Fear of not knowing how to handle a situation (such as the outcome of a decision if it doesn't work out as I'd hoped).*
  • Fear of fear/anxiety itself - yes, that's right, I realized that sometimes I actually stop myself from doing things because I am afraid "what if I put myself in this situation and then I'm afraid or anxious." This is tied to the fear of not handling a situation. 
  • Fear of embarrassment - I assume is tied to the fear of failure and rejection. This sounds silly, but it's a big one for me. 
I'm sure there are others here. I haven't included those more tangible ones mentioned in the first paragraph. In my opinion, if I can conquer the fears of failure and rejection, overcoming my fear of bees should hopefully be a piece of cake. 

Once I was able to start recognizing these fears, I was able to begin pinpointing some actions that I was, or was not, making as a result of them. In the last week, I've begun examining my decisions much more. When I turn down the opportunity to do something, when I put off a business decision, when I want to start a conversation with someone and find myself shying away I ask myself - what am I afraid of? Almost always, the answer lies somewhere in the fears above. I then have to consciously ask myself if 1.) it's a legitimate fear and 2.) what's the worst that will happen? Since doing this, I've noticed a remarkable difference - not only am I pursuing things that I normally would not, I'm also feeling a tremendous relief when I do. I feel stronger and more able, not only to take action, but to handle the results of those actions. 

I "starred" (*) bullet point three above because Jeffers points out that this fear is, more or less, the driving force behind all other fears (please note, I'm paraphrasing here - there is a lot more detail in the book on this topic). If you know you can handle a situation, regardless of the outcome, then other fears dissipate. So what if I embarrass myself - will it really be a big deal to others and if it is, do I really want to hang around those people? If I make this business decision and it doesn't go the way I planned, I will handle it - if nothing else, I'll learn from the experience and be able to make better decisions in the future. Additionally, sometimes getting the "wrong" outcome can be the best thing that happens. A decision might not take you down the path you planned, but sometimes it opens you up to a new opportunity that you wouldn't have thought about otherwise. (Note:  I'm not a particularly religious person, and I'm in not stating that "everything happens out for a reason" or "there's a higher plan". I have no issue with these suggestions, I'm just not putting them forth here. I'm simply suggesting that you sometimes don't see all of the options when you hold back because of fear, and that even when things don't go as planned, you have the opportunity to create another path for yourself.)

In the book, Jeffers challenges the reader to do one thing every day that they are afraid of. Most days, this will be something small - someone must live an extraordinary life to be able to conquer monumental fears every day. Some days, this might simply be something that makes you a bit nervous or anxious, rather than something you can identify as an obvious fear. Take my "looking people in the eyes" example - I don't necessarily know why I'm afraid of it, it just is difficult for me and makes me uncomfortable. For many people, this seems like nothing at all. For me, who is otherwise in no way a shy person, this can be very difficult at times. So I'm making a concerted effort to look people in the eyes and initiate a "hi", and I'm focusing on those people that, for whatever reason, I normally have a hard time doing this with. The more I work at this, the more it will become second nature.

I'll round out this very long blog by extending that challenge. I've already done so in my Mood Disorders Support System group on Facebook and I'll do so further in this blog. Join me in tackling one fear a day, every day. If you have a specific fear you want to overcome, feel free to share it - often other readers have experienced something similar, and they may be a great source of suggestions and advice from personal experience.  If it's a larger fear, break it up into smaller actions or decisions and work on one of those each day. Just as you wouldn't start your running regime by signing up for a half marathon, I don't suggest working on your fears by taking on a monster of a fear first - start small and build up your courage. 

Finally, my personal disclaimer - I'm not telling anyone to do anything overtly dangerous or life threatening. If your fear is base jumping, I'm not telling you to run out and do that. I'm focused more on those day to day fears that hold you back, that you may not even realize before you start this exercise. We are also sharing these challenges in the Facebook group on a regular basis, so feel free to join - it's a wonderfully supportive group and the more, the merrier!

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