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?