Whenever we are faced with a decision to take a leap in order to move closer to where we want to be, we can experience a whole range of emotions. From excitement and anticipation, to fear and apprehension – when we challenge ourselves to take a risk and do something that’s meaningful to us, we come face-to-face with uncertainty and the possibility of falling short of reaching our goal.
So how do we master feeling the fear and boldly doing that thing we’ve been wanting to do anyway? Here are some questions you could consider:
1. Are you making it bigger than it actually is?
When we are in the thick of it, mustering the courage to step outside our comfort zone to do something that feels scary yet oh-so-important to us, our minds can really magnify the significance of the task at hand and the potential consequences of it not going to plan. So if your mind is painting vivid and creative scenarios of how you can fail, pause and take a step back:
What’s the worst that could actually, realistically happen?
What would be so bad about that?
What could you do if that did happen?
Are you overestimating how bad this will be/feel?
What’s the best that could happen?
How can you back yourself, your actions, and your decisions in this situation?
2. Can you break it down and approach it gradually?
In therapy we refer to this concept as graded exposure, which to date remains one of the most effective tools for conquering fear and anxiety. The principle here is this: you break up the scary task into less scary steps, practice taking each step and staying with the fear until it naturally subsides (which it will), then move on to scarier steps and repeat the process until you’re able to do the thing you were afraid of doing with minimal or tolerable levels of apprehension. This gradual approach can not only help you build confidence but also help you ‘test out’ whether your worrisome predictions about potential negative consequences come true or not (and we all know that most of the time they do not).
One of the reasons graded exposure is so effective is because it teaches us not to be afraid of our own fear and emotions.
It helps us understand (and experience) that feeling apprehensive doesn’t mean that we’re doing something wrong or lack the necessary skills, and isn’t a sign that we shouldn’t try. It is simply our mind and body doing their best to alert us to keep us safe. So the more we befriend these feelings and allow them to be there without having to act on or get rid of them, the easier it gets to stay on our desired path.
3. What are the consequences of doing it versus not doing it?
You know the truism that we only regret things we don’t do? Often we can be very focused on the short term cons, like how uneasy we feel giving something a go, than the long term pros of getting to the other side of our fears. And once we are clear on the long-term purpose of our challenges, we can increase our tolerance for the discomfort that is an inherent part of growth.
4. Why is it important to you that you do this?
Connecting with the long-term vision and values underneath your pursuit is a powerful way to overcome the temporary spikes in self-doubt and apprehension, regardless of whether the action you’re considering taking is profound or simply a small but vital step towards where you want to be.
5. Regardless of the outcome, how will this action help you grow?
Detaching ourselves from the outcome, which we often cannot control, and focusing on the process of tackling fear and doing things that are meaningful and important to us, can be a powerful way not only to put the risks we are taking into perspective, but to also set ourselves up for success.
Because even if things don’t go to plan, nothing can take away the learning, insight, and growth we undergo when we feel the fear and go after our dreams anyway.
I wish you well in your pursuit, and I’d like to leave you with one of my favourite poems that had inspired this post…
“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling, What if you fly?”
– Erin Hanson