Photo credit: Melanie Wasser
We all experience fear now and then. There are real dangers deserving of a fear response and there are fantasized negative outcomes that produce fear responses as well. I want to address those fantasized negative outcomes that keep us stuck from pursuing our goals.
The fear we experience in these two situations is almost exactly the same. I often do an exercise in workshops where participants imagine being at the top of a tall skyscraper. I ask them to imagine being on a terrace and walking to the edge where there are no railings. At the end of the exercise most participants can describe fearful, queezy feelings. But where were they really? They were in a conference room usually. Our bodies cannot tell the difference between real dangers and events we imagine.
There are 2 principles that I think are helpful when dealing with FEAR:
What we resist, persists. So I often say just breathe and feel it. Where are you feeling it in your body? Don’t resist the feeling. But acknowledge it is just a feeling. Then you can look at the thought process behind that feeling.
We are often scaring ourselves. Just like in the skyscraper exercise, we are imagining an outcome that has not occurred and most likely will not occur. We have control over this. We have control over the thought process.
After we have fully felt the fear, I find it helpful to translate all situations we are afraid “of” into situations where we are afraid “to.” For example, “I am afraid of spiders” could be translated into “I am afraid to touch spiders.” Then we could acknowledge how we are scaring ourselves. For example, I could say, “I would like to touch spiders, but I am scaring myself by imagining they will bite me and I will die.”
Now maybe I don’t really want to touch spiders. Then it is pretty simple, don’t touch spiders. Job done.
But if the first part of the sentence is something we really want, Like getting a raise, then the sentence that is important to focus on is: “I would like to ask my boss for a raise, but I scare myself by imagining (s)he will think me ungrateful and express anger at me.”
This is the kind of situation where the imagined outcome keeps us stuck. We really want something, like that raise, but we scare ourself into inaction.
Once we become aware of this thought process, however, we can choose to imagine a more positive outcome and we can take small steps toward our goal that allow us to “challenge” that negative perceived outcome. What if we, for example, envisioned a positive dialog with our boss about a raise, and what if that small step we took was to role play the conversation with someone else.
FEAR is not good or bad, necessarily. But when it is keeping us stuck from taking action to achieve our goals is when we really need to face our fears.
Just remember this acronym for FEAR: Fantasized Events Appearing Real. What are you fantasizing about that you can change now? How might that help you pursue your goals? What is one small step you could take?