Three Principles for Overcoming Your Fear
You’re nervous. Sweating. You feel the adrenaline pumping through your system. Fight-or-flight kicks in. Now your heart is racing and you’re breathing is heavy and all your senses are heightened.
Can you remember a time when this happened to you? You’ve probably felt something like this in a moment of panic or fear. These fear responses are natural. But you don’t have to be overwhelmed by them. Don’t let your fear trick you.
There are three key principles for overcoming your fear: reframe fear, build a strategy, put it to work. But before you start taking steps to overcoming your fear, it’s helpful to understand fear and what it does to you.
Fear triggers a region in our brains called the amygdala to send a distress signal to another region called the hypothalamus, which activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. These glands respond by pumping the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream. As epinephrine circulates through the body, it brings on a number of physiological changes. The heart beats faster than normal, pushing blood to the muscles, heart, and other vital organs. Pulse rate and blood pressure go up. The person undergoing these changes also starts to breathe more rapidly. Small airways in the lungs open wide so the lungs can take in as much oxygen as possible with each breath. Extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness. Sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper. Meanwhile, epinephrine triggers the release of blood sugar (glucose) and fats from temporary storage sites in the body. These nutrients flood into the bloodstream, supplying energy to all parts of the body.
This is referred to as the fight-or-flight response.
All these changes happen so quickly that people aren’t aware of them. In fact, the wiring is so efficient that the amygdala and hypothalamus start this cascade even before the brain’s visual centers have had a chance to fully process what is happening. That’s why people can jump out of the path of an oncoming car even before they think about what they are doing.
This instinct has been helpful for evolution, but it also often interferes with our lives.
How do we change the way we look at fear? How do we make it work for us? We can change the way we perceive fear, and the way we respond to it, by reframing our fear.
- Reframe Fear
Before you can reframe your fear, you need to identify the reality or truth of your fear.
Start by asking yourself some questions:
- Is your fear based on what you’ve seen others go through?
- Is it based on your own experience?
- What are some of the factors at play that may be driving the fear?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you should have a better perspective on your fear, and can begin to reframe it.
What is “reframing fear”? It’s the ability to take what you perceive as a negative experience and shift your perception of it, to see a more positive alternative.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you have a fear of public speaking and you have to give a presentation in front of your peers. Just thinking about getting up there, in front of all those people, can trigger that fear response in the body. And that response can be hard to control.
But you can reframe it. Imagine a time when you were in a group setting, and those around you were responding positively to a story you were telling. Imagine how engaged they were, laughing or smiling along, asking lots of questions and wanting to hear more.
Reframing the situation like this will encourage a positive stress response — excitement instead of fear — that will help over-ride the negative emotions you initially felt.
Science Daily published an article about the influence of positive memories, in which they note that “savoring positive memories can generate positive emotions. Increasing positive emotion can have a range of benefits including reducing attention to and experience of threat.” In other words, just dwelling on something positive can help lessen the feeling of threat or fear. Even if you can’t directly associate a positive memory to the fear you are facing, you can always draw from another positive experience. The important thing is to think positive.
Another approach is to associate a great reward to overcoming the fear. Think of something worth fighting for. Imagine what it will look like on the other side of fear, and the confidence you will have when you achieve your goal. If you’re afraid of flying, think of a trip you’ve always wanted to take, and how great it will feel to step off that plane in your dream destination. If you’re afraid of approaching someone, focus on how great it will feel after the conversation. Focus on how great it will feel to lose that weight, rather than whatever is keeping you from reaching your goal.
- Build a Strategy
By analyzing every component of your fear, you can begin to break it down. This makes it easier to achieve small wins. You will build confidence in yourself and your ability to actually overcome your fears.
Building a strategy to overcome your fear is part of this process. Here are some examples of strategies you can use to visualize the win and get started already. What are you waiting for?
- Break down your fear as if you were training for a test, a marathon or a job interview. Get to know your fear completely. Understand it inside and out.
- Build a time line and set small goals holding yourself accountable along the way. Ask a friend or family member to assist in keeping you accountable. Join a social media group to share thought and ideas on the topic.
- Set an accountability standard and build in a consequence for not meeting your deadlines. $10 goes in the donation jar when you miss the deal line. You could also reward yourself along the way when achieving small wins.
- Put in the Work
Allocate time for training your brain and your body. Read books, watch videos, practice — do whatever it takes, and over prepare. Before you start take a deep breath, see yourself overcoming the fear, ground yourself and work the plan.
- Practice, but change it up.
Don’t get too comfortable with one action. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell says its necessary to do something for 10,000 hours in order to master it, and notes the correlation of the most successful people to the hours they put in practicing. There is something to be said for repetition. But slightly changing your process and always pushing new limits will make you even stronger and more efficient.
- Give yourself the time.
Commit to 1-2 hours per day, 5 days a week for 30 days working on your fear.
- Track your progress.
Write your accomplishments down and set reminders on your phone to encourage you to keep moving forward.
We are all capable of accomplishing great things and overcoming any fear but sometimes our thoughts can get in the way. The way our bodies respond to these thoughts can make it even worse. Use these three principles to overcome your fear: REFRAME YOUR FEAR, BUILD A STRATEGY, PUT IN THE WORK.
By drawing from your positive experiences and putting in the work you can make overcoming your fear a reality. Understand that it will be difficult but accept that its part of the process. Work through the ups and downs never quitting till the fears is not a factor.
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