Why we should shine a light on our fears

Ever heard the expression “things are always better in the morning?” Harper Lee said that. You know the feeling,  when you wake in the wee hours and your mind is filled with thoughts and it seems like your worst fears are coming true. Fear can be powerful and it thrives in the dark places but cannot survive in the light.

Did you ever experience a fear of the shadows when you were small? Or perhaps you have seen it with your children or a loved one? We can create a negative spiral where we fear something and so hide from it under the bedclothes (i.e. deny or ignore it) and then become paralysed as we build up the thing which scares us on the other side of the sheets. But when you (literally) shine a light on the situation you see that it is a jumper draped over a chair or a branch in the moonlight and thereafter comes sense of relief which floods through you.

This is exactly why examining your fears are so important, rarely are they as awful as you imagine. Fear, as I said last week, is an emotion, the ‘light’ (in this case) however is our rational and logical mind. By shining a light, i.e. paying attention to our fears we can see if they are rational or irrational. Once you know this you can take action. Start with some questions (and be honest with your answers):

  • What am I afraid of specifically?
  • What am I avoiding?

Let’s take a common fear: that you will fail at whatever it is you are trying to achieve…

Step 1:

Approach it with your logical mind, have you a reason to think you will fail at it? Of course it’s possible that you might, but equally (and probably more likely) you might not. Most commonly a fear of failing comes from not knowing what will happen, which of course we can never know until it happens!

Now perhaps it’s the scientist in me somewhere but I like to break things down into small steps, researching, testing and experimenting as I go. Taking this approach you can see what works and what doesn’t and whether your fears are rational or not.

Step 2:

By taking a small action e.g. spending 5-10 minutes doing the scary thing (paperwork in my case) or connecting with someone on LinkedIn or asking someone you trust for help then you can examine your feelings too…how did it feel? On a scale of 1-10 how confident do I feel about the task ahead? It almost certainly wasn’t as bad as you thought.

Gradually, each time you succeed (and you will) that confidence grows and you feel less like you will fail and so the fear diminishes, like the scary shadow when you realise it’s your jumper.

Looking from a new perspective

The other strategy you can employ when you are in your logical mind (not your emotional one) is that of observing from the outside. Take a step back from the situation and pretend you are looking in. Where is it possible to take control and where is there less or no control?

This is particularly useful in situations like going for a new job. Many people fear the interview but there is only so much you can control:

  • Your mindset
  • Your answers
  • Your preparation

You cannot control (or predict accurately) all of the questions, the interviewer(s), the other candidates, the outcome…but you can control the impression you leave on the interviewer and how confident you feel on the day by taking action beforehand. Walking into a job interview feeling you have done all you can do, with your logical and rational mind in control removes the emotion of fear, or at least keeps it under control.

When you allow fear to become nebulous and unwieldy it thrives, but, when you take time to focus on the rational and logical, breaking it down specifically and shining a light on it then you are able to lose the emotion, engage the rational side of your brain and start making progress.

We generate fears while we sit; we overcome them by action. Fear is nature’s way of warning us to get busy. -Dr Henry Link


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