Let’s begin with a question: How many times have you let fear stop you from doing anything? Now, some of you might say, “Fear never stops me from doing anything,” which is total B.S. The word fear conjures up images, thoughts, and feelings in people that can stop them from going outside, in case the reaper is at the door. Of course, he’s not, but that’s what fear can do to your mind. It generates meaning through indecision, worry, and doubt giving you a choice to run back from where you came from. Jesus, that bed does look comfy!
We are built to challenge and embrace fear, yet always want to take the easy option, and run from it. Over the past 25 years, I have encountered many challenges and battled many fears which I hope can assist you in taking steps to reframe your own.
What is it that you fear in life?
There are many avenues to explore including; rejection, heights, creatures (snakes and spiders), protecting the Christmas secret from kids, betrayal, starting a business, losing your job, aging, gaining weight, driving test, body image, roller coasters, public speaking, the big interview, likes on social media (fake world), being a parent, death of a love one, gaining a college degree, ending your sports career, getting on a plane (B.A. Baracus, A-Team), being accepted, finding your tribe and living in poverty.
When you take a step back and examine all of those fears, they all have one common thread. What’s that? You. There is no one else who can do this for you. No, that’s your job. Get out from behind the couch and take action.
The Fear of Stupidity
Leaving school at aged 16 years with no formal qualifications, I wasn’t aware of how this might impact my life. When you’re 16, the world is a different place, and your motivations, foresight, and attitude to recognize the career you wish to pursue can be foggy. Sure, I had a basic standard of literacy and maths, but don’t ask me to fill in any job applications or total the weekly shopping bill. Upon realization that what I possessed in essential skills equated to no more than a voucher on the back of a cereal box I needed to take action.
There was a slight problem: It took me another 2 years after leaving school to understand this. How was I going to tackle the fear of going back to education, to learn what I should have learned in school years before? This is the equivalent of taking the stabilizers of the bike and putting them back on again after you fall that many times. However, there was a simple choice; hide the rest of your life and work dead-end jobs, or get into motion and take this on.
There are adult education centers in Belfast that provide various courses to gain qualifications. How would I navigate those initial questions from peers that may create shame? Easy. They were all in the same position as me. We had all left school with little to no qualifications and needed to start again.
Why would I be ashamed of trying to gain new skills and educate myself? This is the question you need to ask yourself. It will require you to get real and face hard truths. However, back to the choices, I wasn’t prepared to spend the rest of my life working in minimum wage jobs, come home, reach for a beer, and then rinse and repeat.
“He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Fear of College Admissions
There are millions of students applying to colleges every year. Not all will be accepted to their first choice, and need to make decisions about what they want to do next. These choices could be to attend another college, take a year out and go traveling or change course options. The thoughts and feelings associated with this can leave you in a worried and stressed state.
However, how would you feel if you got accepted onto the college course, started class, and got a letter to your home asking you to attend a meeting with the admissions panel? I knew why the admissions panel requested to meet me.
They had found an undisclosed criminal offense (unspent conviction) post the police check being returned. The weeks before applying to the college were spent seeking advice on what to do about the criminal records check. To say I was living in a state of fear, doubt, worry, and stress, wouldn’t cover 50% of the dread fighting to break free. So, how did I turn this around?
On the day of the meeting I knew there were only two possible outcomes; (1) leave the course (2) stay on the course. These choices were out of my hands, so how was I to influence them? The only option for me was to be open and transparent about the whole process of the application form. This is why overcoming real fear can be difficult for so many. You need to face your truths. I could, upon receiving the letter, thought the worst and just not showed up for the meeting.
It would save me the rejection and shame that would materialize once they communicate you need the leave the course. Problem solved. No, the problem is not solved. What are you going to do if this is the outcome? Fuck I didn’t think of that. Fortunately for me, I did. I wasn’t prepared to let all the hard work to get there in the first place (5 years) be undone as I was fearful of the outcome.
Jesus, I had lost my liberty and spent time in a young offenders center. How many students find themselves in this situation yearly? You are reading about one now, who owned the process, tackled fear, and came out the other end. No excuses, alibis, or hiding are needed.
The Fear of Fatherhood
Do you remember the time and place your partner told you she was expecting? I can recall this vividly as we were expecting twins. We didn’t even have one child as yet. Now, we got the buy one get one free bundle. (Just kidding. You should never confuse shopping promotions with having children!) You will save yourself a world of pain when you take them to the supermarket. How was I going to manage this? I will be the father of twin girls.
Let’s get the house reconverted into a non-hazard zone, complete with soft corners everywhere! The joy I experienced in seeing them for the first time in the delivery room you could package and sell on Amazon. They were little bundles of happiness not much larger than the palm of my hand. Now, the real responsibility of being a father begins!
You are now a protector, guide, and influence on how these precious lives take shape until at least 18 years. Due to their size, we were going through 16 bottles daily, with feeds every 3–4 hours. Did someone say sleep deprivation? I was walking through the days in a trance induced state. You were watching every move, listening for every sound, and moving in stealth. (Ethan Hunt would be proud.)
Between the nappy changes, feeds, lack of sleep, and general state of high alertness, this is what learning on the job feels like. Where was the how-to manual on raising twins? And if there was one, why didn’t I have a copy! It would be hard to describe the fear you feel when you hear the slightest sound on the child monitors when you’re in another room.
There are thousands of new fathers around the world weekly asking all types of questions of themselves. These questions you need to find the answers for yourself. The most important fundamental of being a father is showing up. You cannot hide from this responsibility. No fear.
“What we fear doing most is usually what we need to do most” ~ Tim Ferris
The Fear of Starting a Business
The stage is set. You have identified the customer problem you wish to solve and all pre-launch marketing has been planned to space mission detail. But wait. All the enthusiasm, passion, excitement, and motivation is replaced with a nagging feeling of self-doubt. The doubt is based on thoughts you have about putting yourself out there and being judged. You start asking yourself the following:
Ø What if they don’t like the product?
Ø What if no one shows up?
Ø What if they judge me?
Ø What if it gets bad reviews?
Ø What if the media don’t show up?
These are questions every entrepreneur will face. However, what if means you have taken steps to do something. It’s the exact opposite of standing still. The fear of criticism and rejection can leave you in an anxious, worried state. When you put yourself out there you are going to be judged. That’s a fact. We live in a world of opinions where everyone has a voice, wants to be heard, to matter.
Social media has presented a platform for those who want to judge, a global communication tool to do so. Will you let naysayers, trolls, or hidden profiles stop you from pursuing why you started in the business initially? Remember these are the same people who have something to say about everyone, as long as it gets them clicks.
They will never show the courage to put themselves in a situation where you can judge them. So, leave them exactly where they are now. Nowhere. You have committed to taking action, let that be the force that guides you.
The Fear of Poverty
There is nothing man fears more than living in poverty. For those who have lived in this situation, it can be one of the worst experiences of your life. The feelings and emotions of low self-worth, judgment, resentment, anger, self-doubt, and anxiety are some of the most damaging you will encounter. These are feelings I battled when out of work and living on state benefits — Welfare U.K. If you don’t take control of this situation early, you are on the road to ruin both mentally and physically.
Why? All those everyday situations you take for granted such as going outside, talking with friends, exercising, socializing, nights out, leisure, and having activities to fill your time are replaced.
How? You are living below what you thought was possible so all those areas of life focused on enjoyment will have to be cut back significantly.
What do you mean? You can go outside, exercise, and talk to people at no cost. True, but you don’t want to. Why? Those feelings can put you in a position of isolation and shame, which can render you powerless, at least in your thoughts, that’s what it means. Feelings of shame will see you create all sorts of excuses of not talking, getting involved, or creating negative shit for yourself.
To get yourself out of this negativity you can follow this one declaration every morning:
“I will take action in the present”
Rinse and repeat. There is no point in saying it if you are not going to act on it. Then it’s just a stupid statement you say every morning and do fuck all to get yourself out of the slump. Get into movement every day, learn new skills, and create new habits of benefit.
“We are more often frightened and hurt, and we suffer from imagination than from reality” ~ Seneca
The Fear of Losing Your Home
The phone rings, the dread sets in again. You know who it is as they have bombarded you 5 times a day with calls for the past 6 months. Did you ever face this situation? If so, how did you escape from it? When you know you are going to lose your home you can experience trauma. Not on a par with losing a loved one, but not far off it. Why?
Do you recall the excitement, joy, and happiness you felt when you got the keys from the estate agents? How about those memories you created with your partner and children, which are ingrained within the walls?
These can be hard to let go of when the mortgage lenders or the banks are on your case every day. Surely they will assist you? No, they refuse to consider your financial reality. I lost count of how many repayment plans I proposed to them over this six-month period, all of which they turned down point-blank. After living through this hell for six months, it was time to take control of the pressure. One of the most difficult decisions I’ve made in my life to date.
For those of you who have lost your home, you will understand how difficult reaching this decision is. However, your mental health is suffering greatly, so you know it’s the only choice you can make. Where will we go? How will this affect the partner and kids? What about the shame you will feel when telling friends and family? These are all questions you need to weigh up and conquer pretty quickly in your mind. Now, some people will say it’s only bricks and mortar, and your health is your wealth.
These statements are in fact both true, while also drawing anger in your head. The anger arises from frustration that everything you built is about to be ripped away from you. Back to the trauma again. Many people will handle this differently. You need to get comfortable in managing all those feelings that run parallel to losing your home. Make sure you talk to your partner, family, and friends about the impact it has on you. Believe me: it will have an impact.
The Fear of the Unknown
We spend large parts of our lives thinking about what might happen in the future. The fear of the unknown is sometimes greater than the actual fear itself. It is difficult to plan for something that might not happen. Yet, we will sit in our thoughts conjuring up all sorts of alarming experiences. Why do we always do this? Is it based on past events and experiences that form part of our relationship with fear?
At least you know what this feels like. No, I don’t want to go there, it’s too difficult. Stop right there. The feelings you experienced about past events should not steer your decisions to step out into the unknown. You should actively seek this type of challenge. How did you manage the fear previously? There should be real learning in that process for you. I’ve lost count of how many times I faced the unknown.
Now if you want to tackle fear Tim Ferris has devised a brilliant exercise that you can use when faced with a challenge. You can view it online through Ted Talks. You just have to go watch it and practice the steps. Before I had watched Tim I had devised a process for dealing with fear. Unfortunately, there is no catchy term for it, but it worked for me.
How? After nearly 25 years of guarding this like some secret recipe of Colonel Sanders, I can reveal the secret:
Get up off the couch and take action!
That’s It. Action defeats fear. How do you feel about fear now? Fear is controlled by you, and so is your reaction to it. When you learn how to embrace, manipulate, and channel fear, you will see it for what it is. A cheap parlor trick to give you excuses to not take action.
“You need first accept that while there are things that have happened in your life that you had no say in, you are 100% responsible for what you do with your life in the aftermath of those events always, every time no excuses” ~ Gary John Bishop
Get Out From Behind That Couch
Why does fear play such a dominant role in society? There are genuine fears we all experience: the safety of ourselves or loved ones, death, ill health, or incapacitated. We run from fear, as our thoughts trick us into believing that past events determine our present. Learn from past events, then use them as leverage with your thoughts on fear.
Our culture can foster and enable fear through politics, social media, injustice, racism, equality, religion, or the need to belong to a tribe. Oh, I almost forgot to add the global health pandemic to those fear generating areas.
“You have power over your mind-not outside events,” as Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius once said.
Our control arises from how we internalized these events and give meaning to them, or not. When presented with a situation you have not experienced before, do you let fear grip you before rationalizing your thoughts? Can you take a step back and look at what you fear from a different viewpoint? There are numerous steps, advice, tips, or exercises available online. If you want a simple no-nonsense approach you can take the learning from what you’ve just read. Alternatively, get out from behind the couch and get into action.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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