Raise your hand (or just your eyebrows if you’re in public) if you’re scared about putting your work out there. If you’re scared of starting a new venture. If you’re scared of moving to a different city or country. Or even if you’re just scared of going for a new job / promotion.
Stats say that 3 million people in the UK have anxiety. I’m one of them. And I’d bet my ass that a lot of that is caused by fear of advancing. It’s not our fault – we were educated in a system that taught us to always aim for the next step. They provided a clear ladder for us to climb and we moved from one set of exams to the next, confident that we were following those who knew best.
Then we completed our education and suddenly the ladder’s emerged into a cloud. We can’t see our heads for our asses and we realise that all adults – yes, even those in charge of our education – didn’t have the foggiest either. Everyone is just blindly trying to figure it out as best they can. We haven’t been taught to set our own goals or navigate without them and our fear leaves us paralysed.
I’m right there with you. I was moving blindly up a ladder and it wasn’t working for me. But I was scared of risking what I’d worked so hard for, it was easier to just stay put. Finally I became so frustrated, I figured I’d get off and go explore amongst the clouds instead. To do that, I had to get over my fear and I’m still actively fighting it off most days.
I wanted to share 5 ways I’m doing this.
1. Be stupid
I recently wrote an article about the benefits of stupidity. Our evolved intelligence allows us to recognise dangers and obstacles well in advance. This kept us alive from predators in the stone age but now it just holds us back from taking any risks. Don’t you wonder how so many high-school drop-outs achieve great success in the arts or business worlds? One, they’ve not relied on the molly-coddling education system. But two, this might be the result of lower IQs. They might not have done well in school because they’re not as “intelligent”, but this means they perceive less risks. And this means they’re less afraid.
It feels counter-intuitive, but try to be less analytical. Keep to positive thoughts and tackle obstacles when – but more likely IF – they come up. Most of the things we fear are actually very unlikely to happen. And when it comes to fears about work and careers, they’re only as important as we make them.
2. Turn fear into excitement
Did you know that fear and excitement are generated in the same part of the brain? Next time you’re nervous about something, change your inner monologue from ‘I’m afraid’ to ‘I’m excited’. I follow it up with a specific thing I’m excited for. For example, change ‘I’m worried about the move to France’ to ‘I’m excited to move to France because it will be sunny and warm.’
It sounds a little wishy-washy, but it’s surprising how quickly it makes a difference. I felt so calm during the run up to our move because every time a frightened little voice raised its head, I just countered it with something I was looking forward to.
3. Research other people’s mistakes
This sounds contradictory to point 1, but let me explain. The media bombards us daily with success stories and celebrities. They rarely mention the failed attempts, miss-steps and problems a person encountered before they achieved their goal. And so we develop a warped idea of success. In reality, it doesn’t happen overnight and setbacks are normal. They’re to be expected. By actively researching your idols’ early mistakes, you normalise them, and perfection becomes the unrealistic goal it always was.
4. Remember your achievements
Our brains let us down in another way. Because of our risk-averse nature, we remember negative experiences more than positive ones. This helps us learn faster but it means we sometimes forget our own achievements. Yesterday, my boyfriend was feeling anxious about achieving a specific goal and said that, typically, he had always failed. I gave him some solid examples of times when he had set a goal and not only achieved it, but knocked it out of the park.
I realised that I do the same to myself and I think we must all do. We remember our failures and it makes us scared of striving for something. But I suspect that if we looked back at everything we did accomplish, we’d trust our own abilities much more.
5. Run towards your fears
If an idea frightens you, just force yourself to do it. This is something I’ve always done, out of a tough-love attitude towards myself. It comes from a deeper, more ingrained fear of mine: the fear of regret. I fear a missed opportunity from lack of courage more than I fear most obstacles. Suddenly, it becomes a kind of challenge. The more an idea scares me, the more I know it’s worth doing, and I think that mentality is best summed up by the quote:
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear” – Jack Canfield
In short, if you’re scared of something, it’s because your heart really wants it. So isn’t it worth a try?
Those are my 5 steps to being brave. I am by no means a fearless crusader, but I can definitely see a difference between myself a year ago and the decisions I’m making now. I feel less anxious, am more excited and I trust myself to figure it out. I hope they help you too and I’d love to hear any methods you have for facing your fears.
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