Writing this article series on fear has been a huge learning experience for me. Writing about fear has forced me to REALLY think about how fear has affected my own life, which in turn has helped me to make a number of personal breakthroughs. I'm telling you this because I'd love to hear your own personal insights and experiences with fear. If you're not comfortable with leaving a comment that's fine, however, I encourage you to write out a comment then decide whether or not post it after. The act of writing about fear will force you to think about it and expand your own understanding.
I like to compare fear to an overprotective parent. I suppose it helps me to personify fear in order to give it a human-like intention. I don't believe fear is there to stop me from doing what i want in life, instead i believe it's main purpose is to keep me alive and safe. In the past, I used to think of fear a lot like how a child thinks of the strict rules set by a parent – unnecessary and unfair. Yet from the parents perspective, they're not setting rules to inhibit a child's freedom unfairly, they do so to protect the child from potential harm.
So what am I babbling about?!
If fear is like an overprotective parent, then its intention is to keep me safe. If its intention is to keep me safe then in order to overcome fear, I must convince the overprotective parent that no harm will come to me if I proceed with a desired action. Alternatively, I can go against the wishes of the overprotective parent and do it anyway.
There are a few approaches I use to overcome fear including doing, showing and understanding.
The first approach is to simply ignore the overprotective parent and do it anyway. To me, this is like the rebellious teenager approach to overcoming fear. It requires a disregard of the potential consequences and a strong enough desire to proceed.
This method only really puts fear to one side; typically because the desire to do something exceeds the fear holding you back. Through my own experience, I've found that striking up the courage to proceed anyway has always been worthwhile. Even when things didn't turn out the way I expected, I always feel exhilarated after taking a risk and experiencing something new.
The “just do it” approach certainly looks good on Nike commercials, however, it doesn't really deal with the root of a fear (depending on the nature and complexity of the fear). In my experience, this approach only makes a specific action easier to do, it won't necessarily alleviate fear in related actions (depending on the individual and how they internally label and interpret experiences).
The Fear Of YouTube
For example, when I first started uploading videos on YouTube, it took a lot of courage for me to upload my first set of training videos. I didn't know what to expect or how people would react to them. Nevertheless, after a positive response – or at least in the lack of a negative response, the anxiety behind uploading the videos diminished. This is because I put my fear to one side and went ahead anyway and after a few positive experiences, this convinced the overprotective parent that the the action was indeed safe.
Yet even though I had been releasing training videos for some time, I had the same level of apprehension when I went to upload my first body transformation progress video. So despite the similarity in the actions (uploading videos to YouTube), the fear remained because of the differences in the types of videos. One type of video showed me training, the other type of video showed me shirtless. The apprehension in both circumstances was caused by the fear of criticism, however, they were from different branches of the same tree. I will probably experience a similar uncomfortable feeling when i go to upload the first video of my speaking on a topic. Nevertheless, if my other experiences are anything to go by, i know that the feeling will subside as-well.
So what am I babbling about?
The point i'm trying to make is that most long-term goals come with varied and multifaceted actions. Therefore, using the just do it approach exclusively to brute your way through every fear can be very mentally taxing. Also, there can be a hefty time lag while you build up the courage to take action – aka procrastination.
I don't believe this approach is very effective for overcoming every fear in a long-term goal, although it is often necessary to take those first few steps. Also, it's almost a requisite that the WHY behind wanting to do something is greater than the fear holding you back, otherwise you just wont have the will to put fear to one side.
The second approach is to show the overprotective parent that they have nothing to worry about, and that proceeding with a desired action is completely safe and within my best interests.
I like to compare this approach to showing the overprotective parent a presentation of the proposed action, that clearly shows a favourable and risk-free outcome. It doesn't matter whether the action actually comes with inherent risks, since everything we do or don't do in life can come with risks. This is about convincing the overprotective parent that the benefits of moving forward outweigh the negatives of standing still.
I usually start by imagining how the action will unfold and then finish by thinking about my desired outcome. Sometimes I find it difficult to accept – even in my imagination, that an outcome will go exactly the way I want. In these situations, I change the presentation a little bit by thinking about some of the worse-case scenarios. By imagining some of the worse-case scenarios, I can put things in perspective and realise that I have more to gain by going ahead anyway. If the overprotective parent needs a little more convincing, I can always prepare myself by putting contingency plans in place to overcome the worse-case scenarios. This approach is more about working with fear, as opposed to the “just do it” approach which requires you to ignore it.
I’ve written a full article on visualisation in my goal-setting series, so I’ll not delve into much here. This approach really has helped me to overcome fear in situations that i just can't seem to quickly build up the courage and do it anyway. It's basically just simulating an experience in the mind before making it a reality, which once accepted unconsciously, will make an action a lot easier to proceed with. Keeping thoughts and feelings positive during the visualisation process is essential, since the aim here is to convince the overprotective parent that an action or experience is safe to proceed with.
Fear isn't always a rational reaction to an apparent and specific set of consequences. Oftentimes, I've found fear to be a very vague gut feeling that stops me from taking action – without a conscious appreciation of the risks. This is typically the fear of the unknown at work.
The Fear Of The Unknown
The fear of the unknown doesn't come with a detailed list of what could go wrong, but instead a feeling of resistance or discomfort to continuing or starting. For example, jumping into a lion's den would come with an obvious and specific fear for me – the fear of being eaten alive by lions! In most non-fatal situations, however, the gut feeling is usually an exaggerated sense of the likely consequences. I assume this is because fear operates on a better safe than sorry policy, and it uses my own imagination against me In order to avoid a potentially harmful experience.
When I first came to upload videos on YouTube or publish articles on this website, the fear I experienced did not come with a specific set of consequences; It was more of a vague feeling that I could be vulnerable to harm by being open and honest about myself – and my life – to others. I couldn’t really quantify what it was I was afraid would happen. Which is why the fear of the unknown can be challenging to overcome, since you don't really know what you're going to face. It's kind of like approaching a dark cave, you don't know what's in it because you can't see anything – so you're unlikely to run into it quickly. It's more likely that you'd approach the cave slowly and cautiously, watching your every step – assuming you have the desire to go near it at all.
Whenever I realise I'm putting off an action because of the fear of the unknown, the symptoms of which include
- A vague feeling as to why I shouldn't proceed.
- A lack of specific consequences to proceeding.
- A resistance to starting or continuing with an action / series of actions.
I begin uprooting the causal fear by following the trail of harm. This doesn't take long and can be achieved just by asking WHY to each answer. This removes the vague shroud surrounding the fear of the unknown, and gives a more specific fear for me to overcome.
So for example,
- I feared making my body transformation public. WHY?
- Because I was afraid of how people would react to my videos. WHY?
- Because I didn't want to be criticised or ridiculed. WHY?
- Because I feared that some offhand comment might catch me with my guard down, and potentially bring up the negative past feelings I used to have about myself. WHY?
- Because I remember how painful it was to go through years of depression and ridicule over my appearance. I remember how insecure I was and how low I got. I didn't want a repeat of those harmful experiences.
I can probably delve a lot deeper than this, but in the interests of keeping the article a decent length I'll stop here.
So this fear boiled down to a need to protect myself from a repeat of the negative feelings I used to have about myself. So despite the fact that I'm a different person now, with different values and an entirely different outlook towards life; The fear is linked to a set of painful past experiences, and the overprotective parent does not want me repeat them.
When I know why I fear a particular action or experience, I can start to persuade the overprotective parent with a reasonable argument as to why the action is now safe to proceed with. So if I start by looking at the worse case outcomes, which in this case is ridicule or criticism. I can then begin forming a rational argument as to why I would be unaffected or unharmed by them – or at the very least, how I would be prepared to face the consequences In order to make my desire a reality.
I suppose one of the biggest things that helped me in this argument was a shift in mind-set regarding my physical body. The reason the ridicule and criticism hurt so much in my past was because of the emotional importance I placed on my physical appearance. I was conditioned to believe in the significance of an attractive exterior, that it was somehow linked to happiness, a more meaningful life and that beauty was just superior in a number of ways.
After a shift in mind-set, I've now come to think of the body as nothing more than a vehicle – it's a means of moving who I truly am around. I've stopped placing so much emotional value on the physical body and associating it with who I am as a person. Because it’s not who I am – it’s just a body. I care about my health, hygiene, fitness and I still take some pride in my personal appearance; nevertheless, I also care about the functionality and condition of my car, but that doesn't mean I need an emotional connection to the car's appearance – it's just a vehicle.
By reducing the emotional value and association of my physical body with who I am as a person, I was able to overcome my fear. Given that the issues that helped develop the fear in the first instance were removed with a shift in emotional weight, values and perspective. The fear isn't completely gone as i still have a few lingering hang-ups, but my fears aren't strong enough to hold me back anymore – whereas they used to be strong enough to cripple me from taking any action at all.