Overcoming fear doesn’t happen instantly or automatically. It is the result of deliberate intention, and conscious action towards doing things that scare you. As a result of overcoming your fears, you grow as a person, and expand the possibilities that surround your life.
Do you recall the last time you wanted to do something so intensely but fear got in your way? We all have those moments when we are enthralled with an idea only to have fear prevent us from moving forward. What can we do to overcome fear from paralyzing us from moving forward with our dreams and desires?
The interesting thing about the human condition is that the minute we experience pain, we never want to experience it again. So as a result, we do things that we feel will ensure that we do not get hurt. In fact, we will go to further extents to avoid pain than we are to gain pleasure. One of the many interesting things about life is that nothing of value was ever gained by playing it safe. Take, for example, the founding of America. Fifty-six men risked their lives by signing the Declaration of Independence. Their act of signing that document constituted treason and it was a serious offense according to the laws of the British Empire. However, they knew that they needed to sign that document in order to achieve independence.
“Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.”
~ His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
The Pike Syndrome
The pike is a fierce, carnivorous fish. In an interesting experiment, scientists took a pike and placed it into a large tank with many smaller fish. The pike was separated from these smaller preys by a layer of glass, forming a barrier preventing the pike from reaching its prey.
The pike continuously smashed itself against the glass barrier while trying to reach its prey, but was unsuccessful in its attempts in penetrating this invisible barrier. Gradually, it became discouraged and discontinued this behavior. The pike eventually sank to the bottom of the tank and just laid there. When the pike finally stopped hitting the glass barrier, the scientists removed the barrier, allowing the pike to feast.
To their surprise, the pike continued ignoring the smaller fishes, even when they were swimming right next to the pike. Eventually, the pike starved to death, even when its food was swimming right in front of it. This behavior was eventually known as the “Pike Syndrome.”
Lessons from the “Pike Syndrome”
In our lives, people are limited by a whole host of barriers such as age, abilities or even self-confidence. It does not matter if the barrier is physically there or not, but if our minds perceive a limitation, then a barrier is very much in place. If you perceive yourself to be inferior for instance, this could eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In addition, this experiment tells us that it is often difficult to identify the change, even when the barrier is removed. The pike was unable to change its mindset when the barrier was removed and starved to death. Similarly, people suffer from the same problem as well. We often assume that the barrier is still in place when in fact, it has already disappeared.
Try to identify cases of Pike Syndrome in your life. Remove the constraints that limit your life by critically examining the situation and remove any false assumptions that have been previously holding you back.
“Failure” – A Matter of Perspective
It’s almost impossible to go through life without experiencing some kind of failure. The wonderful thing about failure is that it’s entirely up to us to decide how to look at it. We can choose to see failure as “the end of the world,” or as proof of just how inadequate we are. Or, we can look at failure as the incredible learning experience that it often is. Every time we fail at something, we can choose to look for the lesson we’re meant to learn. These lessons are very important; they’re how we grow, and how we keep from making that same mistake again. Failures stop us only if we let them.
It’s easy to find successful people who have experienced failure. For example:
- Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985. Yet he returned in 1997, and was instrumental in helping the company develop products such as the iMac, iPod, and iPhone.
- Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest and most successful businessmen, was rejected by Harvard University.
- Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin empire, is a high school dropout.
Most of us will stumble and fall in life. Doors will get slammed in our faces, and we might make some bad decisions. But imagine if Michael Jordan had given up on his dream to play basketball when he was cut from that team. Imagine if Richard Branson had listened to the people who told him he’d never do anything worthwhile without a high school diploma.
Think of the opportunities you’ll miss if you let your failures stop you. Failure can also teach us things about ourselves that we would never have learned otherwise. For instance, failure can help you discover how strong a person you are. Failing at something can help you discover your truest friends, or help you find unexpected motivation to succeed. Often, valuable insights come only after a failure. Accepting and learning from those insights is key to succeeding in life.
Thought Awareness is the process by which you observe your thoughts and become aware of what is going through your head. One way to become more aware of your thoughts is to observe your stream of consciousness as you think about a stressful situation. Do not suppress any thoughts: instead, just let them run their course while you watch them, and write them down as they occur.
By logging your negative thoughts for a reasonable period of time, you can quickly see patterns in your negative thinking. When you analyze your diary at the end of the period, you should be able to see the most common and most damaging thoughts. Tackle these as a priority.
Thought awareness is the first step in the process of managing negative thoughts, as you can only manage thoughts that you’re aware of.
The next step in dealing with negative thinking is to challenge the negative thoughts that you identified using the Thought Awareness technique. Look at every thought you wrote down and rationally challenge it. Ask yourself whether the thought is reasonable, and does it stand up to fair scrutiny?
As an example, by analyzing your negative thoughts you might identify that you have frequently thought the following:
- Feelings of inadequacy.
- Worries that your performance will not be good enough.
- An anxiety that things outside your control will undermine your efforts.
- Worries about other people’s reactions to you.
Starting with these, you might challenge these negative thoughts in the ways shown:
- Feelings of inadequacy: Have you trained and educated yourself as well as you reasonably should? Do you have the experience and resources you need to do it? Have you planned, prepared and rehearsed appropriately? If you’ve done all of this, then you’ve done everything that you should sensibly do. If you’re still worried, are you setting yourself unattainably high standards for doing the job?
- Worries about performance: Do you have the training that a reasonable person would think is needed to do a good job? Have you planned appropriately? Do you have the information and resources that you need? Have you cleared the time you need, and cued up your support team appropriately? Have you prepared thoroughly? If you haven’t, then you need to do these things quickly. If you have, then you are well positioned to give the best performance that you can.
- Problems with issues outside your control: Have you thought through and managed all likely risks and contingencies appropriately? If so, you will be well prepared to handle potential problems.
- Worry about other people’s reactions: If you have put in good preparation, and you do the best you can, then that is all that you need to know. If you perform as well as you reasonably can, and you stay focused on the needs of your audience, then fair people are likely to respond well. If people are not fair, then this is something outside your control.
Here are some examples of positive affirmations:
- I can do this!
- My opinion is respected and valued.
- I am successful.
- I like completing tasks and projects on time.
- I’m grateful for the job I have.
- I enjoy the work I’m doing.
- I am excellent at what I do.
- I am generous.
- I am happy.
Don’t make the mistake of generalizing a single incident. OK, you made a mistake, but that doesn’t mean that you’re bad at your job.
Similarly, make sure you take the long view about incidents that you’re finding stressful. Just because you’re finding new responsibilities stressful now, doesn’t mean that they will always be stressful in the future.
Fear and risk does exist in all aspects of life. However, we become a slave to our fears only when we allow ourselves to be intimidated by it. Fear only becomes real when we believe that it is real.
The only antidote to fear is action. If you take action, you will conquer the fear.