How to Tame the Kitten in Your Pocket

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear… And when it is gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear is gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” ~Frank Herbert

A guest post by Stephanie Wetzel of Trading Pounds. Fear is that tricky little emotion that can descend on us at the most inopportune of times. I believe it is one of the harshest emotions we face as humans. It blocks our potential, shifts our perspective, and can stop us in our tracks. When we fear, we feel it with our whole being. Why is it that one of the greatest gifts we have—the power to change our lives—carries with it one of the hardest emotions to overcome? I’ve spent most of the past year in a delicate dance with fear. As I have worked to change every aspect of my life, it has worked to stop me, to get me to go back to what’s “safe.” There are times when throwing in the towel seems like the smarter option. But I press on because I already know what is waiting back down that path. I’ve been there and I’m not going back. I’m ready to see what’s ahead. And so I push forward, carrying the fear with me like a little kitten in my pocket. Together, we are venturing further and further down the road. The only problem is that this little kitten roars like a lion— deafening me and slowing our progress forward.

Why We Fear

Science breaks our emotion of fear down into a simple unconscious response. It is a chemical reaction within our brain triggered by outside stimulus. Something scary is in our environment, perceived by sight, sound or smell. Our brain launches the chemical release, and we fight or flight it. This is a response that has been important to the survival of our species. It helps protect us from danger. But what about when the scary stimulus is a figment of the imagination, living only in the mind? When it is only one of many potential outcomes? There is no immediate outside threat. Yet the fear is as real as ever and produces the same fight-or-flight response. How do you overcome an unconscious response to a thought that lives in the brain?

Fight or Flight?

I’ve spent the last couple of days in a mad panic to run for the hills. I can honestly say that these have not been some of my finest hours. I’m pretty sure my father is tired of fielding phone calls from me at this point, though he would never say it. Every muscle in my body wants to flee; every thought in my brain is screaming “turn back.” But I say “no.” I choose to fight because I want to see what’s further down this road. But that resolve neither lessens the fear I feel, nor my body’s reaction to it.

Here’s how I am going to keep fighting back and overcome this fear:

Exposure: Most behavioral-conditioning therapies focus on exposing subjects to the very thing they fear . . . the thought being that the more times you are exposed to the stimulus and nothing bad happens, the more you release your fear. This can also be coined as “facing your fear,” and it essentially means you are replacing the fear memories (real or imagined) with new memories. Think of ways you can start exposing yourself to the thing you fear. Little by little, work your way forward. For example, if you want to start speaking in public, attend some conferences or comedy shows in your area. Study the person on stage, see what they do. Then join a speaking group . . . and so on until eventually, you’re the confident guy on stage.

Stop Trying to Understand: I have this need to understand “why” something is the way it is. This desire serves me well as a writer, but not so much when trying to understand my fear. The reality is that sometimes we are just afraid, and understanding why doesn’t help us. In fact, it can have the opposite effect and keep us stuck. Stop trying to figure out why you’re afraid, and simply focus on what helps you make progress forward. Learn

About the Thing You Fear: All that energy of trying to understand your fear can be better used trying to understand the very thing you are afraid of. Perhaps you’re trying to start a new business? Launch a social media campaign? Or scale a mountain? Whatever it is that you are trying to accomplish, re-purpose that fear into action and start learning about what you want to do. Knowledge is power, especially when you’re trying to accomplish great things in your life.

Start Small: I have big dreams for my life. And sometimes being such a big dreamer leaves me overwhelmed and in a state of panic. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in overcoming fear is that the smaller you can start the more momentum you can build to get where you want to be. Take your goal, break it down into steps, and then break those steps down further and further until you find the smallest action to take. Get out a calendar and write one task per day. Do that, even if you are still afraid because eventually the fear will go away.

Find the Unafraid: People tend to “go it alone” when it comes to accomplishing their goals. But when you’re fearful, this aloneness can only fuel the fire. Find supporters who have done it, who are not afraid, and connect with them. Learn what they feared in the process, and you’ll see that you aren’t alone. Rely on their advice, their experience, and their companionship to help overcome your own fear.

Talk about it: I am a champion talker, but when I’m afraid I have a tendency to hold it all in. I convince myself that feeling fear makes me a weak person, and I don’t want people to see that side of me. So I hide, and I let the fear multiply and grow. We all fear things. We all have weak moments. We are all human. Think of the person who makes you feel invincible. Now, pick up the phone and call them.

Stop Thinking About the Future: I am such an overachiever. I always want to have a clear picture of “where” I am headed. The problem with the future is that it is completely unknown. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in an hour, let alone years from now. Bring it back to this moment, focusing only on the next step that needs to be taken right now.

Know When to Ask for Help: Fear is a very real and complex emotion that has a physical effect on your body. It increases your blood pressure and slows down your digestive and immune systems as your brain is sending all sorts of signals and chemicals to prepare your body to fight or run. When the fear just won’t stop, you may need to seek professional assistance to deal with your situation. Just know there is never a good enough reason not to ask for help when you really need it. You are not the first, nor will you be the last person in this world, to experience fear. It is our common obstacle, and I’ve listed some things here I use to help push through it. What are some other tips you would share that have worked in the past?

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  1. I hear you Stephanie, loud and clear … “I have big dreams for my life. And sometimes being such a big dreamer leaves me overwhelmed and in a state of panic. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in overcoming fear is that the smaller you can start the more momentum you can build to get where you want to be.” I have to relearn this lesson every few months. My dreams overwhelm me and my ideas are too much and too many sometimes. But, as my life coach, Barrie, tells me, it’s good to have so many ideas to choose from, but the downside it that you can’t choose them all at once. So yes, slow steps for me too. Thanks for this lovely reminder that much of this overwhelm is fear based and I just have to let go, make choices and trust that succeed or fail, I’m okay.

    • Stephanie Wetzel says:

      Katie ~

      What a great way to look at the flood of idea’s in one’s head! I never thought about it that way, but you are right…the more you have, the more to choose from. That’s one brilliant life coach you have there. 🙂 We all have our moments, but what a lovely reminder to just go slow. Thank you for commenting! So glad you enjoyed the post.

      All the best ~ Steph

  2. Steph, for all I could say about the helpfulness + honesty of this post (shoutout to a fellow overachiever), what I’m going to say is…
    dang. That is one cute kitten. I WANT one in my pocket. 😉

    • Stephanie Wetzel says:

      Caroline ~ I could not have said it better myself. That is ONE. CUTE. KITTEN! 🙂 Me + you + 2 kittens. We need to make it happen sometime.

      Best ~ Steph

  3. Hi Stephanie,

    There’s some great advice in here. Your suggestion of ‘learning about the thing you fear’ really struck a chord with me. The things I most want or need in my life are often the what I’m most scared of. Maybe because the stakes seem so high.

    Leaning into and investigating the fear in these situations (when I’ve had the courage to do that) has always helped to lessen the anxiety and bring me closer to my goal.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Stephanie Wetzel says:

      Dave ~ Sometimes knowledge can be our greatest strength in the face of fear. I am glad to hear that you’ve found success applying this to your own goals in life. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Best ~ Steph

  4. Wow, I can’t tell you how many times fear has held me back and kept me from realizing opportunities. But I have learned, and am learning, to face those fears.

    Your recommendation to start small was a key for me. I call it baby steps, but it’s the same. Facing little fears is much easier than facing a big fear all at once. Baby steps have helped me overcome many fears.

    You’re recommendation to ask for help is a great one. I don’t think that you even need to seek direct help. Sometimes looking to someone who has faced your fear and succeeded in the past, then modeling them, can be just as effective.

    Thanks for sharing this post.

    • Stephanie Wetzel says:

      Jason ~ If I had a nickle for every time fear stopped me, I would be a wealthy woman! But applying these ideas to my own life is what has allowed me to finally push out and start doing the things I love to do (like writing!) I can tell from your comments here that you’ve got big things in store for your future! Thanks for taking the time to add your thoughts!

      Keep on pushing forward ~ Steph

  5. Stephanie that was a refreshingly honest and sincere post, in the blogosphere where admitting any vulnerability is a no  no. It really resonated for me, and right now I’m dealing with a lot of fear in my life- so thank you for an inspiring article.

    • Stephanie Wetzel says:

      Stephen ~

      I am glad that you found so much inspiration from this post. I wish you the best of luck with everything you are working on, and thank you for commenting!

      Best ~ Steph

  6. Shona Smith - The Blithe Effect says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I absolutely get it when you say you cant turn back, because you know whats waiting down that path. This year I have also faced some fears but it was only possible when the tiredness and pain of going down the same old path was stronger than the fear of trying the new road.
    And it’s true, the new road is scary, but exhilarating too!
    Thanks for a great read.

    • Stephanie Wetzel says:

      Shona – So glad you enjoyed the post! And you are right, sometimes we need to accept that the idea of things staying the same is far scarier than what lies ahead in order to make significant shifts in our lives. And that’s OK! I am so glad to hear that you’re enjoying an exhilarating new experience! Best of luck to you on this journey ~ Steph

  7. Courage isn’t the absence of fear it is the courage to continue even though you are afraid.

    This is what many forget in my experience, fear is okay, as long as it doesn’t cause you to give up.

    • Stephanie Wetzel says:

      Daniel ~ thank you for commenting. Your right, we need to embrace that fear especially when we believe in what we are doing! Best ~ Steph

  8. The kitten picture pulled me in but the content is so well written on a subject we all share—fear. I find what I’m most afraid off is the fear thought itself which keeps me running away from it instead of facing it. If I just step back, look at the fear thought objectively, fear then releases its grip on me plus I learn something about myself. It is amazing to me that we sometimes carry the past as baggage which colors the present. Life can be so beautiful if we only checked our baggage at the door. Thanks for the post.

    • Stephanie Wetzel says:

      Dr. Cris ~ so true regarding how we carry the past with us and allow it to influence our actions today. I have spent time working through letting go of things from the past and it has greatly impacted (in positive ways) my present actions. Here’s to moving through fear. Thanks for your comments! Best ~ Steph

  9. “Stop Thinking About the Future” – you are so smart! this is exactly my problem – i’m doing this all the time! thanks for remind me that the future is unknown, somehow i always beleive i can plan it, and then i become disappointed again. you are right – i need to think about the present and do the best i can to make it work!

    • Stephanie Wetzel says:

      Sap ~ Thanks for the comment. So glad that you enjoyed the post! And rest assured that this is one thing easier said than done. I still find myself in this “future thinking” mode, but when you can recognize, you can more easily bring yourself back into the present. Best of luck to you ~ Steph