How to Stop Living with Fear and Use it to Your Advantage
Everyone has fears. It’s an evolutionary mechanism that’s ingrained into our DNA. We simply wouldn’t be human without them.
And while fear has its benefits – like stopping us from getting bitten by poisonous snakes or jumping off incredibly high cliffs – many fears don’t serve us any real purpose.
As we don’t live at risk of being attacked by lions or accidentally eating poisonous berries picked from a bush, our minds have latched on to non-life-threatening fears instead.
But just because we are afraid, it doesn’t mean we can’t overcome it.
As we said, fear in itself isn’t necessarily a harmful thing. But it can become destructive if left unchecked.
And the most significant way it can manifest itself is through “fear paralysis.” Fear paralysis is when your fears stop you from doing something you want to do.
For example, if you’re scared of heights, you might be afraid to jump into a swimming pool, even though you really enjoy swimming and want to try it. Or maybe you’re scared of the gym because you don’t think you’re fit enough, and people will make fun of you for being a beginner.
Neither example puts you in serious danger, but we still avoid it because it feels safer that way. But the only thing avoidance does is reinforce the fear. It’s a vicious cycle.
And so we go through life avoiding the things we really want to try out of fear. But we’re going to change that today.
The benefits of facing your fears
Facing your fears is one of the most powerful gifts you can give yourself. When you learn to face your fears:
- You become more resilient
- You become more open to change
- You can live life more freely
- You learn more about yourself and your true capabilities
- You avoid regrets
- You improve your mental health
- You reduce stress-induced illnesses
Facing your fears opens so many new doors for you. And there are so many advocates on why you should face your fears. Just ask Will Smith, or check out the popular YouTube channel Yes Theory.
Nine ways to stop living with fear
1. There’s no such thing as a stupid fear
The first step to facing your fears is to stop beating yourself up for having them. Some people are just more prone to overthinking or worrying, leaving them with a long list of fears they feel unable to conquer.
And because they feel silly having what they consider “stupid” fears, they’d rather bury them deep inside than admit to them.
If this is you, take this as permission to own all your fears. Because I promise you, you’ll find someone with a fear of anything if you look hard enough.
So whether your list is five items or 50000 items long, embrace it and allow yourself to acknowledge your feelings. Only by acknowledging them can you hope to move forward.
2. Adrenaline is adrenaline
It’s important to remember what fear really is on a physiological level. Fear is simply a large and sudden dose of adrenaline pacing around our body. This surge in adrenaline evokes the infamous “fight or flight” response.
But do you know what else releases large levels of adrenaline? Rollercoasters. Racing. Intense video games. And many other fun activities that get you pumped.
And there is no difference between the hormone released in both situations; the only difference is the thoughts accompanying each release.
So if you can reframe your mind to enjoy adrenaline (in most cases) as opposed to fear it, it will greatly help you overcome your fears.
3. It all starts with a plan
Spontaneity certainly has its place in facing fears, but if you have landed on this article, that’s probably not your style.
Which means that having a plan will be your best friend on this journey.
Start by writing a list of all your fears in your journal. And to be clear, I don’t mean all the fears you have in the world, but the ones stopping you from living your life or trying new things that you want to try.
It doesn’t matter how big or small they are; write them down. It can be as simple as wearing shorts in public or as complex as skydiving – only you know what fears you want to conquer. And to be clear, don’t avoid writing them down just because they seem too scary. Remember, we are fully embracing our fears.
Once your list is complete (or you can’t think of anything else at the moment – you can always add more later), it’s time to categorise them into three groups: low risk, medium risk, and high risk.
Low risk is the fears that can be confronted easily (aka within your means) and scare you the least in the grand scheme of things. High risk is the ones that take time, preparation, and, let’s face it, some big cojones to pull off. And everything else goes into the medium pile.
Once you have your categories, you’re ready to start. Start with your low-risk category and start facing and ticking your fears off, one at a time.
4. Small steps make big moves
You don’t have to obliterate your fears the first time you confront them.
Let’s take our gym example from earlier. You may start by simply signing up to the gym. Then the next day, you might pack your gym bag. The following day, you merely walk in and then walk back out. The day after, you go into the changing rooms, get changed, and then leave the gym.
You are allowed to build up to the scary stuff; you don’t have to dive in headfirst if you don’t want to.
Don’t forget, small steps still move you forward, and they add up to big results.
So, if you need to break all your fears down into bite-size chunks – do it. This is your journey, and only you know what’s best for you.
5. The five-second rule
This is a brilliant strategy for the overthinkers who suffer from fear paralysis.
The five-second rule is a strategy created by Mel Robbins to help people get things done. She theorised that it takes our brain five seconds before we start going into overthinking mode – so we only have a five-second window to get started.
What this means in practice is that as soon as you make a decision to do something, count to five and then do it.
Ready to dive into the pool? 1,2,3,4,5 JUMP.
Looking to change your hairstyle drastically? 1,2,3,4,5 CHOP.
Want to get over your fear of going to the cinema alone? 1,2,3,4,5 ENTER.
Overthinking takes us into the “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios that feed our fears. So eliminate them using the five-second rule.
6. Do it with a friend
You don’t have to face your fears alone. If you need to bring a friend along for moral support, do it!
It doesn’t invalidate your efforts in any way, shape, or form because, ultimately, you will still be carrying out the activity that scares you.
7. Journal your progress
Your brain needs evidence to believe something. So the more you can gather, the better.
Every time you face a fear, document what you did, how you did it, and how you felt before, during, and after. If possible, try to document the before and after in real-time, as this will give you the best data.
Doing this will give you something motivational to fall back on for future fear-busting ventures.
8. Make it a habit
Facing your fear once probably won’t break it. Twice probably won’t, either. In fact, there is no set amount of times you have to face a fear until you are comfortable doing so.
Which means you need to make it a habit to face your fears and build your “fear conquering muscle.”
While it may take many attempts to see significant change, you will notice you’re able to recover from the fear quicker each time until, eventually, the fear doesn’t build up as much to begin with. Again, journaling will help you keep tabs on this progress.
9. Embody an alter-ego to help you face your fears
When all else fails, create an alter-ego!
Many people do it to help them through things they find hard to do. Even celebs! Beyoncé has Sasha Fierce, David Bowie had Ziggy Stardust, Eminem has Slim Shady, and Lady Gaga has Jo Calderone.
So create your own fearless alter-ego and embody them as you face your fears. For example, Sarah might be afraid of dancing in public, but Glitter Wednesday isn’t! (Feel free to steal the alter ego name if you want!)
Don’t let fear control you any longer
If fear is holding you back, it’s time to face it head-on.
Using our nine powerful tips, you’ll be knocking fears off your list in no time!
Which fears are you most excited to conquer?
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