I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, Frank Herbert’s Dune
This quote was my first introduction as a teenager to the topic of facing fear and for a while this became my mantra. Since then I've grown to have what most of us have, a love/hate relationship with fear and my ways of dealing with fear have grown and changed to.
Fear is a part of our daily life, there is no escaping that, so the way we choose to face our fears is vital to the to the quality of life we want to experience. We can hide from our fears, we can distract ourselves from our fears or we can find empowering ways to face them. Sadly most us choose to hide and distract ourselves from our fears and in doing so we unwittingly amplify them until they become a monster hiding in our closet just waiting to jump out and consume us!
But what is fear really? Fear is an emotional response induced by a perceived threat, which causes a change in our bodies physiology, as well as in our behavior. Fear can lead to the Fight, Flight, Freeze response, the body’s automatic, built-in system designed to protect us from threat or danger.. Fear may arise from a confrontation or from avoiding a threat, or it may come in the form of a discovery. Some fears are absolutely valid and our built in response is there to save our lives, but a lot of the fear we experience today has less to do with being chased by a hungry dinosaur and more to do with what we perceive as fear in our minds, not what is actually a life threatening situation.
"He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most of what we actually fear comes down to the fear of the unknown, any kind of unknown and fear of fear itself. We are naturally fearful of new experiences, of things we don't know very well, understand or that are new to us, even those parts of ourselves that we have ignored for so long.
Sadly, this fear and the resulting avoidance can put a stop to our dreams and the things we want to achieve or do and the resulting dilemma we face as an adult then becomes; How do we reach our full potential and become our best selves knowing that to do so means facing our fears - when going from what we currently know, through what we don't know, means facing the very things we have been avoiding?
"One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't do." Henry Ford
Not all fear is bad fear, some of our fears can save our lives or prevent us from harm. Walking through a bad part of town late at night we experience a heightened sense of awareness of surroundings, we quicken our step and stay away from dark alley ways. This is fear working for us. However most of us have become so over sensitized to fear that it has slowly invaded many parts of our lives and we now face things like asking the boss for a pay rise with the same amount of fear as getting on stage in front of 100,000 people to sing the national anthem or finally deciding to follow our dreams and inner desires, even asking for help.
The only difference between you and the people that face their fears is that they are willing to constantly work and move through their fears to get to where they want to be. They make a conscious choice every day to face and challenge their fears regardless of whether these choices bring more fear! Not facing your fears will amplify them and it will wage a war in your mind, body and spirit against your dreams, passions and true path in life.
It's not what you fear, it's how you face your fears
The first step in facing fear is defining clearly what the fear actually is and then deciding how you will face it. Is it life threatening? Yes? ACT! If it's not life threatening then you have choices and strategies that you can use to help you face your fear/s, move through them and come out the other side having achieved, grown, learnt and moved forward. Fear likes to limit us, make us play small and keep us from experiencing our lives to their fullest, I say it's time to take a deep breath (gulp!), and lean in to our fears and with the following 5 strategies look our fears in the eye and say "not today my friend, today I will face my fears...".
Define Your Fear - Define clearly what your fear really is. Is it fear of fear itself, fear of something new, fear of the unknown or one of a myriad of daily fears we allow to take control, and if it is not of the life threatening type...
Get Some Distance - No I don't mean run away and hide under a bed. I mean mentally put some distance between how and where you are feeling it. That can be as simple as referring to it in the 3rd person. In ACT - Acceptance & Commitment Therapy you are taught a number of techniques to do just this; Using your internal language to get distance is as easy as saying "I'm noticing I'm starting to have some feelings of fear". Doing this moves fear one step away and you become more of an observer and less of an participant. One of the simplest and most effective techniques I really like is ABC - Acknowledge, Befriend, Choose. Firstly, Acknowledge the fear, "ah, I notice I'm starting to have some feelings of fear" (creating distance), then Befriend the fear, " hey fear how are you today? Look I know you want to stop me dead in my tracks, but I've got things to do, dreams to pursue, so you can follow me around if you like but just know I won't be giving you any attention!" Then finally Choose a valued path, Choose to continue moving forward through the resistance, on your chosen, valued path, towards your valued outcome. It may sound a bit weird to have this internal conversation but I can assure you that with practice it does work (and works for anxiety too!), and is far better than being a slave to fear! For more on ACT Therapy I'd highly recommend "The Confidence Gap" by Dr Russ Harris. Now it's time to ...
Lean into your fear - Lean into your fear because what's on the other side of it is usually what you're looking for or need. Leaning in means begin doing the things that frighten you, one small step at a time. Consistent action builds courage and confidence. Tell yourself, “This fear will pass” and ask yourself "What's the smallest step I can take right now to begin facing my fear/s?" Your world and confidence expands as your willingness and courage to face your fears grows and expands. Avoid overwhelm by stewing over multiple fears all at once. We are great at doing this, so instead intentionally pick one thing that you can act on now, in this very moment and lean in and begin moving forward.
Find The Joy - Find the joy in facing your fears and begin smiling in those situations which formally filled you with dread and anxiety. Fear and happiness cannot exist together. Whilst there is great joy after you have faced your fears there can also be great joy in the anticipation of facing your fears because you will know that you are about to conquer a personal mountain, break through a barrier, and to move forward in your life. Learning to live your life with a mindset focused on Joy takes the sting out of fear, and the fear of fear itself! The more time we spend focusing on joy the less time we have to focus on fear and that's a win - win for everyone!
Accept and Acknowledge that Fear is Part of Life - When we accept that our fears are a natural part of life we can live a more joyful and fulfilled life and we can stop being a slave to fear. Accepting and acknowledging does not mean giving into or resigning our fate to fear, rather it means we can relinquish the grip fear has over us and do those things that we have previously feared to do. Being scared is a part of life, there's no denying that but you can learn to accept it and walk through it knowing that every time you do this you are diminishing the hold fear has on you. Fear only becomes powerful when we give it our power and the simple act of accepting and acknowledging gives that power back to us, gives us the courage to lean in, find the joy and move on!" The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." Nelson Mandela
Turn you fear into a compass because what scares you the most is where you should be going. The resistance is telling you this is your path...
We spent so much time living with our fears and not moving forward, not chasing our dream, not asking that person out on a date, not asking for a pay rise, not changing that job, not ending that relationship, not starting a relationship, not starting that course, not doing the things that we know deep down will bring us joy. And that's the sad truth about fear because unless it is a life-threatening imminent danger then most of what we fear we have imposed upon ourselves and all it is doing is stopping us from living. Make the choice today to begin facing your fears because in doing so it will open up your life to more joy, more happiness and more fulfillment and in the end more of a life that you desire.
Don't let fear limit you and make you play small instead look it in the eye and say "not today my friend, today I will face my fears...".