Fear is a pernicious thing that can sway your perspective without your realizing. As they say: you can make facts prove anything; I know I am guilty of gathering plenty of facts to support my fears! So, what to do when you are afraid? Here’s a more positive perspective shift we use when we’re sweatin’ it.
See your fear as a growing tip.
What do we mean by growing tip? There is an opportunity hidden in your fear — an opportunity for growth, for transformation. Whatever the facts are about the source of your fear — afraid to disappoint, to fail, to take on more responsibility, of conflict — there is something that would be freed up if you weren’t afraid anymore. You’d be doing, you’d be thinking, you’d be focused, on different things. Here’s where the “what if…” question is actually helpful: what if you weren’t afraid anymore? What would you accomplish? That is the opportunity.
Let’s explore two silver lining opportunities to the clouds of fear you might face.
#1: To build your courage
Mustering courage in the face of your fears is very challenging — and it doesn’t happen instantly. Courage can be grown deliberately, however. It’s the weight training for your soul. If you work out at the gym on a regular basis, you use particular exercises for particular muscles. You don’t expect results at the very beginning, but only over time and with regular practice.
So — which exercises? Here are three you can try.
1. The One Step rule
When you’re feeling stuck and you don’t know what to do, there is one thing you can rely on and that is the very next step. You might not know anything else beyond that, but you can always do what’s in front of you to do. We call that the One Step.
Identifying the One Step can focus your mind and your will when you’re pulled in different directions, or feeling confused or afraid. Just take that one step, which may be as simple as the phone call you need to make, or the email asking for help. Or even the dishes piled up in the sink. Once you take that next step, the step after that will become clear, though perhaps nothing further after that. If you’re as busy and focused as we think you are, there’s always something in front of you to do. Keep stepping forward, one foot at a time. It’s very important that you move your will when you’re facing fear.
The danger is that you don’t do anything — which stops all progress. You may not have the courage to take ten steps, but chances are you can muster up enough to take one. And then the next.
2. Presence versus avoidance.
Being present means not avoiding the thing you find hard — that you fear. So here’s what you can do: name your fears. Face them, articulate them, give them their true names. You don’t have to do anything about them right now — just face them. Speak them out loud to a friend, write about them, do whatever you have to to get them out of your inner fear closet and in front of you, revealed in the light of your awareness.
Because it’s like they say: The Truth shall set you free.
Do something every day that centers you. Centering gives you a dose of calmness in the storm. If you work at trying to create a calm moment in your soul every day, you build a little “reserve” of centeredness, like a battery cell. This is really true! Meditation is the best way we know to build this capacity, and if you’re interested, check out these exercises. The storehouse you build is the bedrock of more presence and creativity.
#2: Embracing your real potential: You are Jumping Mouse
Another growing tip hidden in fear is that often we are most afraid of the very thing that we want to become, that we have the potential to become. I came across the story “Jumping Mouse” by Hyemeyohsts Storm many years ago; it illustrates this so beautifully. Read the full version here.
This story presents the archetypical journey of the struggle to find the way forward in the face of risk and fear, and it’s always strongly resonated. Jumping Mouse is desperately afraid of a lot of things, especially the eagles and their shadows. He goes on a heroic journey, and discovers that he himself has become an eagle. He was most afraid of himself and of his destiny.
Here’s a biographical story along the same lines. Renee Fleming is a world famous American opera singer who nearly came unglued at the height of her career when she found herself struggling with increasingly debilitating depression. She finally went to see a specialist about it, and discovered that she was struggling with her phenomenal – and well earned – success. She lived in a state of constant terror that she would be publicly revealed as a fake. But of course she’s not a fake; she’s the real deal. And so are you.
So the question is: in what ways might you be sabotaging your own potential because of your fears?
Fear is a constant companion, no matter who you are or what you do — so you might as well make friends with it and get to know your fears really, really well. For goodness sake don’t let it continue to fester in your sub-conscious, eating you for lunch. Get it out into the light, articulate it, and start building that soul muscle of courage to get you through even the toughest of life challenges with grace and poise.
Louisa and Jeff