Ah October–the month when ghosts and ghouls come out of hiding, spider webs are hung as decorations, witches cast their spooky spells and we visit haunted houses because we actually want to be scared. This is the one time of year when we enjoy and even celebrate feelings of fear.
What about the other eleven months of the year though? Isn’t fear a feeling that we normally try to avoid? Isn’t fear a feeling that we normally should try to avoid?
The answer to these questions is yes…and, no.
Yes, clearly we need to take the steps necessary to keep us out of certain kinds of scary situations. Don’t go walking alone at night down dark, scary alleys on the sketchy side of town. Don’t go skydiving from a plane without first making sure that your parachute is packed correctly and don’t poke a sleeping Grizzly Bear with a stick. These kinds of activities are bound to result in the kind of fear that should most definitely be avoided at all costs.
What about other kinds of fear though? What about the fear that many people have of public speaking or the suffocating fear of failure that most of us experience from time to time? As much as we may want to avoid these fearful feelings, our lives can be greatly enriched if, rather than avoiding them, we instead create mechanisms and strategies to help us confront and overcome them. In fact, scholars in fields ranging from psychology to business, have found that the ability to face one’s fears and push out of a known comfort zone has been associated with enhanced creative ability and the willingness to step out and take healthy risks.
That’s all well and good, but still…fear is SCARY, so how can we learn to not let it consume us? One of the best ways that I have found to address my fears is to make my fear work for me instead of against me. This isn’t such a stretch when you think about it because the original purpose of fear was, in fact, to work for us. It was fear that kept our caveman ancestors alert and cautious when hunting saber tooth tigers and fear that kept toddler neanderthals from wandering too far away from mama neanderthal and thereby becoming mammoth munch. We were designed with a fear mechanism in order to guarantee the survival of the species.
The problem is, as humans, we still have highly developed fear centers in our brains despite the fact that we no longer face the kinds of imminent dangers that our early ancestors faced. Yes–giving a presentation in front of your boss and co-workers might be scary, but it isn’t likely to end in carnage (if so, you really need to find a different job!). Therefore, in order to not be inhibited by our fears, we instead must learn to use our fears and let them serve as catalysts of change.
One powerful way to use your fear is to visualize it as a fierce competitor. I have big FabYOUlous dreams for my life; and, as I think about my dreams, I could easily get side-tracked and overwhelmed by all of the myriad things that could potentially go wrong in my quest to reach these dreams. THAT is exactly what fear wants to happen. Fear wants to keep me trapped in my hum-drum comfort zone and prevent me from taking any steps toward my FabYOUlousness. To help counteract this, I picture myself as a fighter who is fighting for my dreams and fear as a competitor who is fighting to keep me from my dreams. Every time fear starts to rear its ugly head, I visualize myself punching it square in the face. Sometimes I’ll even crank the song “You’re Going Down” by Sick Puppies to get myself really fired up (laugh if you want but music can be a powerful motivator–especially hard, angry music). This strategy might sound a little extreme but it works for me because 1.) I am highly competitive by nature so picturing my fear as a competitor is incredibly motivating for me and 2.) visualization has been proven to be an effective technique for goal attainment, so we might as well put it to good use by visualizing ourselves kicking our fears butt.
Another way to use your fear is to see it as a trainer. Just as a personal trainer can help us to develop our physical muscles by providing the resistance of weight training, fear also employs resistance that can help to us to develop. Every time we face down a fear and act in spite of it, we build a little more muscle in the areas of courage and confidence. The more “muscle” we build, the more resilient we become and the better prepared we are to face the next fear. The lesson that we learn from this is that fear IS NOT fatal and that it can be overcome. Every time we take a step forward in spite of the fear that is in our path, we gain confidence in our abilities. As we prove fear wrong, over and over again we begin to become successful in ways that seemed impossible before we began our resistance training. Feeling the resistance of fear and using it as a tool to develop our confidence is a powerful way to put our fear to good use.
Fear can also be the corrective lens that we need in order to help us better focus on what is truly important in life. When I was recovering from an eating disorder and escaping from a toxic marriage (you can read more about that insanity here) I was incredibly fearful about how I was going to provide a good life for my two little boys. I had no clue how I’d be able to cover the mortgage payment and keep food on the table (their father was a dead-beat so I couldn’t count on any help from him). I remember one night when I tossed and turned all night long wrestling with the fear until I felt like I was drowning. Interestingly enough, I woke up the next morning (after sleeping for what felt like five minutes) with a crystal-clear idea as to how I’d make it work. I absolutely refused to settle for anything less than a good life for my sons, so in order to help us get back on our feet financially, I decided to rent out the basement of our house. It had two bedrooms, a full bath and a living area–perfect for a single person who didn’t need much space and couldn’t afford traditional rent scenarios. This situation wasn’t ideal but it was temporary and it was a solution that helped me to stay afloat until I was able to find a higher paying job. That time in my life now seems so long ago and my boys and I have come so far. Still, it was the fear of losing everything that caused me to become hyper-focused on the things that truly mattered the most to me–my sons and the ability to provide a comfortable upbringing for them. Fear caused me to ignore everything else at the time and focus like a laser beam on my immediate concerns. This focused attention is what allowed me to come up with a solution that worked–and gave me the courage to face down future obstacles.
Screaming your way through a spook house in October is scary but fun; dealing with real life fears however, can be the difference maker when it comes to living a truly FabYOUlous life. Don’t let your fears hold you back from living the life of your dreams. Instead, put them to work on your behalf so that they help catapult you to your next level of FabYOUlousness.