Feeling the Fear and Doing it Anyway
Most of us tend to assume that feeling fear is a bad thing. The kind of fear I talk about in my coaching practice—the kind that comes from our thoughts rather than our body’s instinctual fear-based reaction to something potentially life-threatening—is actually a great indicator that something’s important. The fear shows up when we’re afraid we’re not going to be able to experience something that’s truly important to our soul; quite frankly, if there’s not fear around a new experience, it’s likely not something that means enough for you to pursue.
If whatever you’re deciding on is something truly important, whatever fear comes up won’t erase your inner GPS’s wisdom—that sense of inner knowing is always there. And chances are, if something’s calling you strongly enough, you’ll do what you need to to make it happen.
So what happens if you choose to ignore that inner guidance? Well, you could very well spend the rest of your life wondering, “But what if…?” At some point, you’ll also likely start getting messages you’re going in the wrong direction—maybe physical issues start cropping up as your body’s way of getting your attention, maybe you start getting stuck in the sad/frustrated/angry end of the emotion spectrum, or maybe opportunities will just start showing up to guide you in the right direction anyway.
I can say from experience that as difficult as following your inner GPS may be, not following it is way worse.
* * *
So why does fear show up even when we know we’re on the right track? It’s just how our brains work. Specifically, it’s the reptilian brain, which is essentially responsible for keeping you alive. It’s great for life-threatening situations: “I have to go out hunting or there might not be enough food to get us through the winter.” “I shouldn’t poke the lion with the stick because it’ll get annoyed and eat me.” “I want to get a better view, but walking to the edge of the cliff on this exceedingly windy day is probably a bad idea.”
The problem is that the reptilian brain it hasn’t evolved with the times, so at the very hint of scarcity or abandonment or danger, it speaks up, even if those outcomes might not be remotely true. Positive Psychology calls this a negativity bias. For example, “If I start my own business, it’ll fail, and I’ll end up living in a van down by the river.” Your brain sees this as life threatening as well as pretty much inevitable, so it feels compelled you warn you. The problem is, your brain’s not psychic, and there’s just as good a chance that your new business will exceed all your expectations.
Martha Beck calls the reptilian brain our lizard brain and suggests picturing your lizard and giving it a name. (Mine’s a gecko named Philomena who loves wearing a Carmen Miranda-style fruit hat.) Now, it’s easy to get frustrated with your lizard when it busts in with unwanted thoughts that get in the way of you moving forward, but, really, it is trying to help. It just doesn’t realize its way of helping isn’t always helpful. That’s when you pat your lizard on the head, thank it for its concern, then give it a treat (Philomena likes peanut butter) and send it off to a corner to enjoy.
My other favorite trick is using Byron Katie’s inquiry process, The Work, on any thought or belief that makes me feel stressed or unhappy. The Work is comprised of simple yet powerful questions that can help your brain see other, more positive outcomes as distinct possibilities. For details on the process, click here. (It’s such an easy-to-use and thorough site, it makes more sense for you to get it direct from the source.) Sometimes just the first two questions, “Is it true?” and “Can you know for sure that it’s true?” are enough to help shake me out of lizard brain mode, although I always go through the remaining few steps to ensure a more powerful shift.
* * *
No matter what techniques you use to abate the fear, you still may feel scared, and that’s okay. Again, unless you’re about to try skydiving while using an umbrella as a parachute, your fear is likely just telling you you’re taking a big step and you’re nervous. Always check in to make sure that’s the case, of course, but once you’re sure it is, and once you’ve gotten the fear down to a manageable level, go ahead and take the leap.
Katie Baron: life coach, freelance writer, animal and nature lover, musician, relentless optimist