Lesson 2.4 - How to deal with your fears
So... FEAR! It’s just so darn uncomfortable, isn’t it?
But, as we talked about in the previous lesson, fear is temporary. And any discomfort will be temporary too.
Tolerating temporary discomfort
Temporary discomfort. It’s worth it.
I once scaled a 32-foot wall in rock climbing class. I once played Joseph (me, a girl played Joseph!) in our town’s nativity play when I was 10 years old. I once gave a speech at my graduation ceremony. I once raised my hand in response to a question by the speaker in a big company meeting and I was the only one to do so. I once walked across a balance beam that was suspended 30 feet in the air.
I was shaking in my boots, I was ridiculed, I might even have peed my pants a little. It was very, very, very scary and uncomfortable... and worth it.
When you push yourself beyond your perceived limitations, it is NOT comfortable.
It is the exact opposite of comfortable. It is nauseatingly awful.
That is… until it’s over. Then it’s amazing. Once it’s over? Every cell of your being will scream with joy. Your mind will throw a parade in your honor. Glitter-bombs exploding through your veins.
This, my friend, is the reality: in order to experience, accomplish and create amazing things, you must be willing to tolerate a certain amount of discomfort.
The quality of your life is directly proportionate to your capacity to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and take the next step anyway.
Are you willing to go there? Are you willing to feel temporarily uncomfortable so that you can accomplish something that is permanently amazing? Something that will always be part of your history? Something that can never be taken away from you?
If so, proceed. Climb that wall. Make the leap. Share your poetry at your local open-mic night. Or whatever it is you secretly yearn to do.
The price of permanent amazingness is temporary discomfort. Pay up. It’s worth it.
So, what can you do to pay up and increase your tolerance for discomfort? The answer is simple. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and practice feeling uncomfortable. Here’s what I want you to do each day for 7 days: put yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
Now, I don’t mean put yourself in an UNSAFE situation. Don’t go walking home from an evening class through that dark alley where someone creepy could be lurking around a corner. God no! I mean, find a small, everyday situation and do something uncomfortable.
Go to your yoga class in the most garish outfit the world has ever seen. Sing along to the radio in your grocery store, out loud. Do a solid 5-minute selfie-taking session in the coffee shop that you frequent, knowing that people will stare at you and most likely judge you. Pay for that coffee in that coffee shop using only small change, forcing you to hold up the line while counting out the right amount. Ask a stranger on the street if you can borrow their phone. Or if you could give them a hug. Go to karaoke night and actually get on stage this time.
These are just some examples. Pick 7 things that you think you can do and that fit into your life and plan them out on the worksheet. So, on day 1 you’ll do this and on day 2 you’ll do that. That way you can hold yourself accountable and you don’t have an excuse at the end of the day that you just didn’t find the right occasion.
Take a moment after each practice run of discomfort to reflect. Was it excruciatingly uncomfortable? I’m guessing the answer will be yes. But did you survive the discomfort? Was it over before you knew it? The answer to that will most likely be yes as well.
Engaging with your fear
Okay, so now that we’ve found a way to learn to tolerate the discomfort of fear, it’s time to deal with the fear itself.
Grab your worksheet, because we’re going to do some work in advance. In the first column on the worksheet, write down the fears you’ve identified in lesson 1 of this module. Then in the second column, for each of those fears, write down what is the absolute worst thing that could happen if your fears came true. To really get to the bottom of it, ask yourself this question multiple times: what's the worst thing that can happen next? In the third column, write down how likely the worst thing is to happen. Then in the fourth column, write down how that fear is holding you back.
You’ll see that the pros don’t outweigh the cons, so to speak. The pro of each fear, which is that it’s protecting you from something bad happening to you, is very minimal, because the worst thing that can happen is both irrational and unlikely to happen. Yet the con of each fear is very substantial as it’s holding you back in many ways. This exercise will help you disentangle yourself from your fears, because you’ll realize that those fears are illogical, silly, or irrational.
This isn’t an easy exercise, by any means. So, take your time with it. But once you have completed every column, you’ll now have something in hand that you can use over and over again. Keep it with you or take a photo of it that you can keep on your phone.
And then, every time you feel that fear coming up you can look at what you’ve written down and recognize the fear on the one hand, but on the other hand see it for what it really is and don’t give it any weight.
Other questions that you can always ask yourself, both in the moment when your struggling with something you’re afraid of and at the end of the day looking back on that moment, are:
What’s the worst thing that can happen? And what’s the worst thing that can happen next?
What is the best thing that could happen and how would it change my life?
Is it true? Do I really know it's true?
Let’s use that last point as an example. Let’s say you want to ask someone out on a date or you want to approach a dream client for a collaboration. You’re plagued by a fear of rejection and convinced that they’ll say no.
But is that true? Will they say no? You might think: “Yeah, because they don’t really know me.”
Then, ask: “Do I really know that’s true?” Your internal dialogue might go like: “Yeah, because who am I to them. And besides, they probably have better things to do.”
Ask: “Do I really, really know that’s true?” Keep asking yourself that question until you bust through the excuses. Because, the answer is no. You don’t know that they’ll say no, so you might as well ask.
That’s what acknowledging, paying attention to, and engaging with your fear will do. It will shrink fear from being this big monster in your head to a series a very concrete questions that you can counteract.
Would I rather live a mediocre life never creating anything and not ruffling any feathers or would I rather stand out for doing what my heart is calling me to do, which will perhaps upset a few people along the way?
If you’re afraid of what other people will say, ask yourself: “Would I rather live a mediocre life never creating anything and not ruffling any feathers or would I rather stand out for doing what my heart is calling me to do, which will perhaps upset a few people along the way?”
When you think about all of the people you admire most, I’m certain that none of them got to where they did by dulling their shine and trying to please everyone. You don’t have to either.
How can I show up?
If you find yourself struggling with the motivation or procrastination, ask yourself: “How can I show up?”
It’s not about having all of the answers or perfect execution, it’s about showing up for your life and your dreams. This question helps take the pressure off and shift the focus onto fully engaging with your own life.
Is this really important to me?
If you struggle with not enough - not having enough time, money, resources, expertise or simply feeling not good enough, ask yourself: “Is this really important to me?”
I get it, this sounds like I’m not considering the constraints of your particular situation but I’d like you to consider whether that’s really true. We make time for the things that are truly important to us. We find creative solutions to make the things we really want possible.
A special word about worrying
In finishing up this lesson, I thought it important to address the topic of worrying. There’s a difference between fear and worry and it’s important to recognize when your fear has spiraled into worry.
You worry to distract yourself from feeling the fear. To distract yourself from accepting that yes, you're taking a risk and yes, you might get hurt.
Worrying pretends to be necessary, but it's not proactive and it's not helpful. Worrying buddies up with your imagination to exploit your fears. Worrying is focusing your thoughts on all the negative outcomes at the opportunity cost of applying that same energy towards problem solving.
You can think of worrying as turning the volume all the way up on your fears, so loud it's deafening.
So, how can you tell the difference between fear and worry?
Fear is unavoidable, worry is avoidable.
Fear is deep, worry is shallow.
Fear is powerful and can be harnessed positively. Worry is weak and can't be harnessed productively.
Fear guides you towards personal growth and an expansion of the heart. Accepting fear is rewarded with greater possibilities. Worry guides you towards insularity and shrinks your ability to connect to others. Accepting worry is 'rewarded' with greater anxiety.
Fear is healthy. Worry makes you sick.
The takeaway here is that when you feel this rushed, stressed, tight, constricted, anxious feeling, you’re in a place of worry not fear, and the exercises we went through earlier won’t help.
Shutting down this worrying and ruminating loop in your head is the hardest thing in the world. I know it. I’ve experienced it. And I’ve had mixed success in shutting it down. Literally leaving the room helps, sometimes. Breathing exercises help, sometimes. Putting on some soothing music to drown out the voice of worry helps, sometimes.
But, I think the way to go here, is to see your worry for what it really is:
“I’m stuck in a loop of worrying right now. I fear my fear. I’m afraid to feel afraid. But fear is temporary and I will get through this.”
I’ve found this self-soothing mantra to be the most helpful in riding out the waves of worry. That’s all you can do in that moment: ride out the waves and don’t take drastic action out of this false belief that you’re dealing with your fears. Because you’re not.
Okay, that’s it for lesson 4. Finish the exercises on the worksheet first, before hopping over to lesson 5. See you there!