Fear is a normal and appropriate response to many of the challenges we face in life. The problem comes when fear becomes a reason for not accomplishing something. The reality is that we often do things in spite of fear – we ride scary amusement park rides, meet future in-laws, go on job interviews, or go sky-diving. Fear is not the real reason we do not do something; it’s just an excuse we allow ourselves to use in order to get off the hook.
For instance, fear of public speaking is one of the top fears people have. Yet few of us never speak in public! We may dislike speaking in front of large audiences, but we can learn to control the fear. Johnny Carson, Carly Simon, Carol Burnett and Barbra Streisand all had fears of performing in public – yet, they became very successful. They learned techniques to handle and overcome their fears.
The truth is that fear does not stop us from doing anything; we stop ourselves.
Here are five tips to help you gain control and overcome your fear.
1. Channel your fear into useful energy and actions.
Instead of bottling up that nervous energy, channel it into actions, such as preparation or planning. Walter Cronkite said, “It is natural to have butterflies. The secret is to have them fly in formation.” For example, if you are nervous about a job interview, write down interview questions and answers you are worried about, then practice them out loud. You might even take a practice ride to the interview site or prepare your interview outfit the day before. Do not bottle up your fear – use it.
2. Share fears out loud, then repeat positive affirmations to yourself.
This may feel odd at first, but try it. Say out loud all your concerns and fears about a situation. For example, say out loud, “I am concerned I am going to make a mistake” or, “I am worried they are going to get upset.” You will know when you are done because you will begin to feel a sense of relief. Once you get the concerns and fears out, start verbalizing the positive affirmations. For example, “I am smart enough to correct a mistake” or, “They are going to love the presentation.” Remember, it is impossible to think positive and negative thoughts at the same time. So, share all of your worries and concerns, then share the positive affirmations and watch the magic!
3. Practice visualization.
Visualization is a powerful tool. Do you ever catch yourself daydreaming? Daydreaming is visualization, and you can apply the same concept to facing fear. In a quiet place with your eyes closed, visualize yourself successfully handling the situation you are afraid of at least ten times. If you cannot visualize yourself successfully facing a fearful situation, imagine you are in a movie theater watching someone who looks like you, acts like you, and talks like you handling the situation successfully. Do this at least ten times. After you complete this visualization, put yourself back into the picture and run through the successful scene another ten times. Your outlook on the situation will change.
4. Be clear about how you want the event to begin and how you want it to end.
We tend to be the most nervous at the beginning and the end. If you are clear about these two parts, then you can always fall back on autopilot if you get really nervous. For example, if it is a presentation you are nervous about, write down the beginning and end and practice these two parts the most. This helps organize your thoughts so you are certain to capture all the points you want to make and it helps you get back on track if the situation gets derailed. The point here is to pay particular attention to the areas that make you the most nervous, which is usually the beginning and the end.
5. Play through the worst-case scenario and then the best-case scenario.
Most people think that going through a worst-case scenario will make them more stressed and afraid. Actually, the solution is to play out the worst-case scenario all the way to the end by continually asking yourself, “And then what would happen?” Unfortunately, many of us stop mentally working through this worst-case scenario as soon as we come up against our fear. Instead, play out the scenario completely, as if you are watching a movie. You would watch the movie until the end to see what happened. That’s what you must do when you envision your worst-case scenario. Most of the time you will simply discover you are right back where you started. This exercise can also help you uncover and learn from potential mistakes. Suppose you are afraid to ask for a raise. If you ask despite your fear, the answer may be no. But you may receive helpful feedback in the process, so at the very least, you now know where you stand so you can make decisions about your future. Parts of your worst-case scenario may come true, but chances are you will have learned something from the experience.
Next, play out the best-case scenario and notice how you feel. There is a lot more room for positive thought when we clear out the negative doom and gloom. If you are like most people who have gone through this exercise, you will find yourself more willing to tackle the fear, all because you have a clearer picture of the possible outcomes. Now you can prepare for them!
Michael Pritchard said, “Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed.” Don’t stop yourself from doing and saying things you want and need to do. Fear is like an alarm. You decide how you want to respond to it. You can take action whether or not you are afraid. Fear cannot stop you – only you can stop you.