Three Steps to Overcome Your Fears and Reach Your Full Potential
Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash
What are you afraid of?
Public speaking, heights, enclosed spaces, snakes, spiders, mice, flying, death, pain, being lonely, confrontation, separation, humiliation, losing one’s job, poverty, failure, success are just few of the many things that people are afraid of. Nobody likes to admit their fears, but we all have them.
Fear is usually caused by a belief that something is going to cause us pain and it’s dangerous.
Some fears seem to be rational and justified by our prior life experiences or trauma, others seem to be completely irrational and strange.
Fear is one of the most primitive human emotions, which triggers our survival mechanism.
The fight-or-flight response, also known as the acute stress response, refers to a physiological reaction that occurs as the result of a physical danger or a psychological threat.
The response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run away to safety. Some of the physical signs include increased heartbeat, rapid breathing, sweating, dry mouth and trembling.
This response happens automatically, and it’s common among people. From an evolutionary perspective, fear protected humans from predators and other threats.
Fear still serves the survival purpose today, preventing us from going to dark areas late at night, walking into traffic or jumping from a rooftop.
However, quite often fear is created by our mind and it’s not an actual physical danger or threat.
Sometimes we anticipate bad things that might happen -- things we have seen on TV, heard about or read about. Anticipating a fearful stimulus can provoke the same response as actually experiencing it.
When we deal with uncertainty, our mind can create negative expectations, which could also lead to anticipatory anxiety. People could feel fearful for an extended period of time about an imagined future situation that is perceived as a threat.
When we convince ourselves that something bad is going to happen, we live with the feelings of anxiety, fear and chronic stress, which can cause illness.
Fear can impact your judgements and influence your ability to make decisions about important areas of your life: relationships, career, goals and dreams.
As a result of fear, people may find themselves avoiding challenges that could benefit them in the long run.
Experiencing fear every now and then is a normal part of life. But living in constant fear can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It may also limit your full potential and prevent you from reaching your dreams.
What can you do about your fears?
Say hello to your fear
The first step is to recognize and create awareness of your fear. Fear is an emotional response caused by your thoughts and beliefs. As you pay more attention to your emotions and to the stories you tell yourself, gradually you will be able to identify the underlying reasons for your fear.
Developing an understanding of what you're afraid of goes a long way toward releasing that fear.
“We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.”
Observing your thoughts and emotions will also help identify specific triggers that make you feel fearful. Writing down or talking about your fears can help you release those negative thoughts.
One of the ways to deal with your fear is by looking at it from a different perspective.
By asking yourself “How true is it?” and by considering different angles instead of just focusing on negative thoughts, you often realize that you might be making a big deal of nothing.
Accept the unknown
Many people are afraid of the unknown. This fear is driven by the feeling that we do not have control over our lives, which is very unsettling.
The fear of the unknown is often based on the fear of failure. This is especially true when we are about to embark on a new unfamiliar journey.
“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”
As you pursue your dreams, you need to find the courage to step outside your comfort zone and deal with uncertainty.
It does not mean that you just ignore your fear. You do need to understand your fear of the unknown, but do not allow it to stop you from taking actions.
Our mind does not like to deal with uncertainty, and it creates predictions how we would like an event to unfold or a person to act. We want to be able to control our lives and the outcomes of each situation.
However, you can never be in complete control of what happens to you. You can only control how you choose to respond to each situation.
Although uncertainty can be scary, it can also be exhilarating. The unknown can be just as exciting as it is fearful. Just let life happen and experience it the way it is.
What’s the worst that could happen?
If there is something you are afraid to do because it seems scary or difficult, just take small steps towards your goals. Slowly building familiarity with a scary subject makes it more manageable.
The only way to move beyond the fear that’s holding you back is by exposing yourself directly to what you fear and doing things that scare you.
Reflecting on the worst possible outcome often makes you realize that your fear is often imaginary and taking small actions is not as scary as you imagined.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
My resolve to overcome my fear of cycling motivated me to sign up for my first triathlon in 2015.
I used to enjoy riding a bike as a kid till I got into an accident. Although I did not get any serious injuries in that accident, I was too scared to get on a bike for over 20 years.
I realized that my fear of cycling was completely irrational, but I couldn’t do anything about it.
As I was writing my New Year’s resolutions on January 1st, 2015, I decided to register for New York City triathlon, which would require me to relearn how to ride a bike.
In the spring I bought my first road bike and in July 2015 I completed my first Olympic-distance race.
Cycling has added a completely new dimension to my life. I learned a lot about the sport, including practical skills and gear. I joined a triathlon club and met interesting people. I moved to long distance triathlons and became an expert in endurance training.
I’m still a cautious cyclist, especially after a couple of crashes I had over the past several years. I admit that cycling is my least favorite part of triathlons, but I do enjoy the sport. I still feel anxious about riding fast and riding in traffic, but it does not stop me from pursing my dream to complete 12 Ironman races and participate in the Ironman World Championship.