In my latest book PERSIST, I debunk the Top Ten Excuses that make people quit and how you can overcome them in your life. You can check out the first chapter below.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” —Marianne Williamson
Fear is an interesting thing. It has the ability to erode our thinking and take it to a downward spiral very quickly. I like to talk about fear as an obsession of thought, because that’s all it is; it is simply an obsession. Some may only associate the word obsession in conjunction with something that we long for very much. In a sense, fear is it’s opposite. It’s the obsession with and entrapment of our minds by the thoughts of what we incessantly don’t want.
Think back to a fearful time in your life. You may remember a time when you were worried about something as an adult or a child. What was going on at the time? What were you afraid of? Something that was going to happen in the future, I’d venture. How likely was it that your fear would be realized?
Now, before I move forward, let’s discuss some of the origins of fear and how it actually used to help us survive.
Back in the early ages of the cave dweller, humans had to fend for themselves against every creature in the wild. Attention to detail when it came to a potential predator was extremely useful. If they didn’t properly react to a feeling of fear when a tiger was in front of them, well, they were no more.
I’m not talking about this type of fear. Let’s just call that protective fear. That’s the fear you feel when you’re walking too close to a cliff or you are in the street and a car is coming right at you at one hundred miles per hour. Listening to and reacting to this type of protective fear when you are in physical danger is good. The fear that keeps us from living our dreams is a bit different.
The fear I’m talking about is the type that can hold us back from going after what we want in life—the fear that is the slick opponent to living your dreams; the type that has very powerful effects when left to run wild in our brains. How does this fear keep us from our dreams? The short answer is inaction, but let me go a bit deeper into the tactics fear uses against us.
Fear of Rejection
We all long for acceptance in life. We all want to belong and to be a part of a group. The groups people want to be a part of may vary, but everyone wants to belong. Fear of rejection has the ability to consume our brains with the story line that if we take a chance, we will face painful rejection. This is very common for single folks on the dating scene.
Here’s how a typical scenario plays out. A guy is very much interested in another person, but he isn’t sure if she is interested in him. He goes round and round in his head about what to say, if he should say it, or how to say it. Until the thought of rejection creeps in.
What if she laughs in my face? What it she thinks I’m desperate? What if she tells her friends about how she dissed me? No one wants to bruise his or her ego like that; no one wants to feel the pain of rejection.
Remember, rejection isn’t the only option. There is also the option that the other person may be interested in you as well. She may tell you she was just as fearful. She may even thank you for having the courage to come over. There’s always two sides to the “What could happen?” question. The ability for us to move forward despite fear depends on whether we’re disciplined enough to train our brains to truly consider both sides.
Fear of Failure
I’ve dedicated an entire chapter later on (chapter 8) to the topic of failure and how we use it as a reason for not living our dreams. Here I want to discuss how the fear of failure keeps us from taking action. Without action, we don’t give ourselves a chance to fail. That is the power of fear, its ability to keep us frozen and terrified.
Failure also hurts. It is painful, just as much as rejection. No one would sign up willingly to fail. After reading this book, I’d like everyone to fail and to fail often, because it is in failure that we grow the most, and it is where we truly push ourselves. I’ll go deeper into this in chapter 8.
Have you ever found yourself worried about failing before you try something new? Is the thought of failing more powerful than the thought of succeeding?
The best exercise I’ve read about and practiced when it comes to overcoming fear is one where you are asked to write out completely what your ultimate fear would look like. So, say in the case of applying for a job, your fear is that you will be rejected. What is the worst thing that could happen?
Well, let’s see:
1. You don’t get the job.
2. You get laughed at.
3. Your boss demotes you for even asking for a different job.
4. The employer blacklists you, and no one else will ever hire you.
5. You’re listed on a “got rejected” list.
6. You lose your job and don’t get hired ever again.
7. You then lose your house and become homeless.
8. You’re left to eat food out of the trash to survive.
Now, after you delineate what your worst fear looks like or what your worst day looks like, let’s consider the odds of all this happening. How likely is it that you’ll get rejected? Well, we can calculate that if you know the number of applicants and positions available. What about all the other things that crossed your mind? How likely are they?
After intense evaluation, you’ll find that your worst fears are, for the most part, very unlikely. Honestly, the worst thing that happens (most of the time) is that you don’t get the job and you go back to your current life.
The thing is, we miss out on ever trying because the fear of failure gets in our way, which means we won’t take the risk of having something great happen. Instead we take the guarantee that our life will stay the same. Huh? Exactly! Doesn’t make much sense when we put it that way, does it? But we do it all the time.
Fear of Embarrassment
Embarrassment can be one of the toughest things to deal with, especially when it’s public. Taking a risk or going for our dreams can expose us to potential embarrassment. Our peers may see us fail as we attempt to achieve new things. They may ridicule us if we share our dreams with them. They may tell others that we’re crazy for believing or trying something.
The opinion of our peers, family, and friends is valuable, but it can become restrictive when we place too much emphasis on what others think of us. I know you may be thinking, Well, my friends matter to me, and my family has my back. They are important, and they are in your corner, but they may not always see your vision for themselves. They may have a hard time seeing what you see in those moments. You can’t worry about their belief. In those moments, it’s time to lean on your inner beliefs.
So, I’m saying risk embarrassment and go after your dreams. What about the pain that could come if you fail? Think of it like this: the reward must be worth the risk. In other words, make sure you are dreaming big enough to make the risk of embarrassment worth it.
Actions come with risk. The only way to avoid risk is to do nothing, and doing nothing isn’t the recipe that will get you your dreams. We must be willing to stick our necks out and risk embarrassment before we can manifest our vision for ourselves.
One of the best exercises I have learned on the subject involves creating a fear curriculum. This involves writing down the things that you fear and putting a list of tasks in place that will help you overcome that fear. This is particularly effective when it comes to fear of embarrassment. If you are worried about what people think, line up activities that will require you to ignore others.
One great example is to sing out loud in public. Many people are afraid of singing in public, so the next time you are in a coffee shop or store, just start singing. Many people may look at you funny, but complete the verse and go about your day. Don’t give an explanation for why you were singing; just sing a verse and quit. You can also do the same thing with dancing. Just break out in your best dance move while you’re in line next. Work it out, and then just stop and go on about your business.
Absorb the uncomfortable feeling of the stares, but keep going. This will build your threshold for embarrassment. You’re not harming anyone by dancing; the wilder the dance moves, the better. At best, you’ll get a few laughs and feel good about it afterward.
Moving Past Fear and Taking Action
Our actions day to day are based in our highest beliefs. Just think about it: we move in expectation (belief) in everything we do. One of the examples I use when I illustrate this point during talks is sitting in a chair. When we believe in our minds that a chair can and will hold us, what do we do when we get ready to sit down?
We drop into that chair like a weight on a fishing line in water. We don’t hesitate. We don’t put one leg in the chair or check its sturdiness with our hands first. We just plop down into it and let fate be what it may.
This is what expectation looks like, and it runs all of our actions. Now, is it possible that the legs of the chair could break? Is it possible that the back could fall off? Is it possible the chair could slide out from under you? Yes, these things are possible, but we don’t really consider them as true alternatives. Instead, we act based in our belief that the chair will hold us. So, we sit down and don’t think twice about it.
Throughout our day, we have to make hundreds, if not thousands, of little choices based in belief. Do I step into the street when the crosswalk sign says walk? Do I enter the intersection when the light turns green? Do I eat this food I just purchased at the store? It won’t harm me, will it? Our expectations run our actions.
High Belief: My job will pay me.
Action: I go to work every day I’m scheduled to be there.
Low Belief: I can’t make a living pursuing my passions.
Action: I procrastinate and put other things first.
Now, when it comes to living our dreams, we may not look at things in an expectation context. We consider the odds of an alternative quite often. There is much debate about why this is, but that’s not my goal with this book. I want to increase that fire in you that says I can create what I want with my life, and that is exactly what I will do.
To overcome fear, we must address our expectations. What do we most believe about a potential course of action in our lives? Do we believe the likelihood of what we want to happen is high, or do we think it is more likely that what we don’t want will happen? This is a fundamental question, and we all must be honest with ourselves. Exactly what do we believe?
Changing Our Thinking
Once you have given yourself an honest answer, you must then decide if you need to change the story you are telling yourself. One characteristic of fear is that it loves to replay bad screenplays in our minds. It happens naturally if we aren’t intentional about our thoughts. The next time you are fearful of something, count how many times you play out the scene in your mind. To counter the auto-play of worry, we must create and visualize, just as often, what we want to happen.
This takes practice and focus, but it can be developed in anyone. Instead of allowing the negative scene to play in your mind, you must change the script and make the movie in your head go the way you want. It may not be believable at first, but that is not the goal of this exercise. The exercise is intended to get you to become more aware of and intentional about your thoughts.
By executing this exercise we begin to visualize our dreams daily and counter the disbelief and fear that is rooted in our minds. This eventually, with time in practice, starts to influence our deepest beliefs. It helps us to increase the time we spend thinking about ways we can create our dreams, rather than ruminating about our fears.
Once we build our belief, we can build an action plan based around that belief. If we don’t build our dreams, no one will. No one will tap you on the shoulder and say, “You know what? It’s time for you to live your dreams. You now have permission.”
You may say, Yeah, right, man. All I have to do is intentionally think about what I want, and everything will happen for me? Everything will not happen magically, but this thought process starts momentum that began with thought and eventually ends in action. These actions that are fueled by your belief lead to results that are aligned with your vision. It all starts with the thoughts we hold. If we can’t get ourselves to believe that our action will bring us results, it will be very difficult to convince our bodies to move to create it.
Where does fear camp out in your brain? What has fear kept you from doing? What have you worried about in the last week? Have you played out a negative scene in your head this week? Did you counter it?
These are the questions you will eventually ingrain in your spirit, to help you stay on top of your thinking. No thought gets to stay in your mind if it doesn’t serve you or your dream.
In taking more action, we will also face more challenges. If we are to get to a place where we can overcome fear, we must learn to embrace challenges. The thing about challenges is that there is a huge unknown waiting for you. Will you be able to complete the challenge? How long will it take you? Some of these questions keep us from taking action. The fear of the unknown can leave you with many options to consider. Playing them all out in your head can be exhausting.
As stated earlier, there is always a possibility of something great coming from the unknown. It is this small switch in focus that can allow us to embrace challenges. More than likely, you’ve met someone in your life who really likes trying new things. It is also likely you’ve met people who are deeply afraid of change.
Fear of the unknown and not embracing challenges, although it may seem logical at the time, can lead you to live a life devoid of your dreams. Your life will test you in all of your weakest areas, and you will be required to pass these tests in order to fulfill your purpose. This will require you to be willing to embrace challenges and change.
If you are ready to overcome fear, you must:
1. Correct fear-based thinking
2. Act based off of your highest belief and not your greatest fear
3. Embrace the difficulties that come with challenges and change
The final step in overcoming fear is taking action. Since fear’s greatest victory is keeping us frozen in inaction, we must dedicate ourselves to taking action. There are many ways we can incorporate a “taking action” attitude for our lives, and I’ll share a few of them with you here.
Taking action will lead to results. It doesn’t matter what the initial results are; the point is to take action and create a result. Action occurs in a trial-and-error fashion, and I want to reiterate that this is not only about desired results. It’s really about getting ourselves to take action when we have a challenge in front of us. Acting in the face of a challenge helps us to get over our fear of an undesirable result. When we take action, we focus on creating something new. That’s the idea, getting used to creating things with your actions.
One thing I learned from my virtual mentor, Tony Robbins, is that taking massive action is one of the best ways to bring about change in your life. Now it’s time for us to take massive action, and we can start with making a list of any- and everything that could help us live our dreams.
Many people have a problem with this exercise because they overthink it. When you make this list, do not focus on what is likely to work. The only criterion is that it could possibly help us. That is it. Every thought that comes to mind, write it down. Our minds may tell us, No, that won’t work, but write it down anyway. We’ll work on the execution later.
Overcome Fear with Action
Getting ourselves to take action can be tough, but with this, we will build courage, and it will take courage to live your dream. As we act, we embrace challenge and welcome growth into our lives. I have a major bias toward action, because inaction is one of the most common reasons people don’t live their dreams.
Again, as you start to envision what these actions will look like, remember to go back to the main components of fear. Are any of these fear tactics resurfacing? As you think about taking action, do you think about the opinions of others? This can slow you down. Dismiss this thought. Your vision is worth taking risks, and it is worth sticking your neck out.
People will judge you, no matter what you do, so focus your actions on your dreams. Let people judge you for chasing your dreams, not for living someone else’s.
Beat: I’m Scared
Start: Developing courage and taking action
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Also published on Medium.