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Everything you’ve ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear.

George Addair

I used to be afraid of everything.

Day-to-day life was exhausting. Simple tasks like cooking and cleaning were mammoth efforts. I washed my hands constantly for fear of contamination and wouldn’t drive beyond the end of my road.

From a child who didn’t know how to cope with OCD to a teenage hypochondriac, I moved into adulthood never pushing against the limits of my fears. I played small, and my life shrunk to the size of my comfort zone. Most days, even that didn’t feel safe.

I recognise that most people don’t have these debilitating or irrational levels of fear to contend with. But since I made the decision that I wasn’t prepared to live with crippling anxiety anymore, I’ve come to understand through personal experience how important it is to push through fear and find out what is on the other side.

This is what I’ve learned so far about fear, how to overcome it, and how to be uncompromising about living life on your own terms.

Why Do We Experience Fear? Is It Helpful?

Diagram of the avoidance cycle

Fear, in essence, isn’t a bad thing. It’s a primal, evolutionary response that is hard-wired into our DNA. When our ancestors faced life-threatening situations, fear played a vital role in their survival. In truth, it has kept the human species alive for millennia.

In today’s world, most fears won’t kill us, yet it’s funny how they often continue to hold us back just as powerfully.

The amygdala, aka the brain’s fear centre, is particularly responsive in people with anxiety disorders like OCD, creating a persistent loop of anxiety (see above diagram). Fear is felt as a powerful reaction in the body as our brain’s protective mechanism moves into overdrive, paralysing us and driving us towards short-term relief from anxiety. Whether the fear is justified or not, it still feels very real to the person experiencing it.

Even without an anxiety disorder, we all carry subconscious fears rooted in limiting beliefs. These typically stem from how we learn to cope when we experience emotional pain in childhood, which then go on to control the surface-level actions of our adult lives. These fears attempt to shield us from pain but can end up stunting our growth and potential.

When we consistently avoid the things that scare us, the avoidance trap shrinks our comfort zone and leads to long-term anxieties that bubble away beneath the surface.

Understanding What Is Going On Under the Surface of Fear

Reading Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear & Do It Anyway was a lightbulb moment for me. In it, she outlines three levels of fear:

Level 1 Fears

Level 1 fears

These are the surface-level stories we tell ourselves, typically manifesting as external circumstances and situations in our lives. These fears can be split into two categories: fears of things that happen to us or are outside of our control (e.g. death, illness, natural disaster), and fears that require action or are within our control (e.g. ending a relationship, public speaking, or changing career). For starters, it’s a really useful exercise to get clear on the fears you can and can’t control in your life.

Level 2 Fears

Level 2 fears

Dig down a layer, and these are the underlying states of mind that cause our surface-level fears. These revolve around the ego, such as fear of rejection, success, failure, vulnerability, helplessness, disapproval, or loss of image. Level 2 fears can manifest in various aspects of life. For instance, fear of rejection could lead to avoiding job interviews or self-sabotaging in relationships. Ironically, when we try to protect ourselves from these fears, they can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Level 3 Fear

Level 3 fear: "I can't handle it!"

The core fear underlying all Level 1 and Level 2 fears is the belief that: ‘I can’t handle it!’

Yep, beneath it all is simply the fear of being unable to cope with challenging situations and emotions when they arise. Understanding this can be transformative, as it reveals that there’s only one root cause to address: our lack of trust in ourselves.

We crave predictability and certainty at all costs. But if you knew you could handle anything, what would you have to fear?

In this sense, building trust in our ability to handle whatever life throws at us is the antidote to fear. When we embrace this mindset, we no longer need to worry about controlling everything.

Falling Into the Trap of ‘Someday’

Have you ever found yourself caught in the ‘someday’ trap?

You dream of giving van life a try, taking that Spanish class, or switching careers to follow your passion, but you’re waiting for the perfect moment.

However, ‘someday’ never seems to come.

To break this cycle, we must acknowledge the fear that holds us back. Remember, fear isn’t the real problem – it’s trusting that we can handle whatever comes our way.

We can approach fear from a place of power, energy, and action, or from a position of pain. Pushing through fear will always feel scary when trying something new, but it’s far less daunting than living with the regret of not reaching our full potential.

So take a deep breath, because it’s time to embrace your fears and transform them into a driving force to make your ‘someday’ dreams a reality. It’s time to create the life you’ve always envisioned.

12 Ways to Overcome Fear & Live Your Life to the Fullest

#1 Sit with the emotion of fear

Mindful breathing

The first part of looking at our fear is just inviting it into our awareness without judgement.

Thich Nhat Hanh

I don’t know about you, but my first response to fear is typically to try and wrestle with it and rationalise it away.

How has this been working out for you? Because my success rate is 0%!

What I’ve come to understand is that logic will never win out against the primal bodily sensation of fear.

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests a different approach: inviting fear into our awareness without judgement.

Mindful breathing helps to ground and centre us during fearful moments, building a sense of security and stability within our own bodies. By practising mindfulness, we can learn to treat our fears with openness and curiosity.

Once the immediate fear has calmed down, we can then explore the root cause of our anxieties and fears. Through this process of self-discovery, we are better equipped to understand our emotional responses, ultimately empowering us to release their grip on our lives.

#2 Identify the root cause of your fears

Next up, you’re going to need a good old dose of self-awareness to identify where fear and limiting beliefs are showing up in your life.

Approach this exercise curiously and non-judgementally when you’re not in the throes of anxiety. This set of self-reflective questions should help you to approach situations where fear is preventing you from taking action. Consider the following journal prompts:

  • What is the external situation you’re afraid of?
  • Is it inside or outside of your control?
  • What is the Level 2 fear underneath it?
  • What would happen if your fear came true?
  • How likely is it that this scenario will materialise?
  • What would the long-term consequences be?
  • What’s the worst that could happen?
  • Are you prepared to accept the worst outcome?
  • Can you improve the outcome at all?

Then, create a table listing the best and worst possible outcomes. By comparing these potential results, you can determine whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks. If so, it’s time to summon your courage and take action!

#3 Lean into your fears

Microphone in front of a sea of people

What is the backwards law of overcoming fear?

The number 1 rule is to take action, no matter how scary it feels, and no matter how small.

Whilst it’s natural to experience discomfort at first, each action builds a sense of progress, confidence and self-trust. Where possible, I’d always suggest starting on the edge of your comfort zone so it’s not so overwhelming, but other times there may be a need to throw yourself in at the deep end.

For instance, a new teacher may have crippling anxiety about standing up in front of a classroom of students for the first time. However, once she gets through the first lesson, her anxiety will gradually lessen with each repeated exposure. Before long, it will be a mundane task that she doesn’t even stop to think about.

It was a similar experience when launching my website. When I published my first article, I felt extremely anxious. But once I’d hit publish on a few articles, it quickly began to feel normal.

Understand that fear is a natural part of growth and will always happen the moment you step outside of your comfort zone. But you must keep taking calculated risks if you want to make your vision a reality.

Everyone – and I mean everyone – experiences fear when venturing into the unknown. You’re not weird and you’re certainly not alone!

#4 Talk to your inner child

One of the most transformative exercises I’ve come across when addressing fear is connecting with your fearful inner child. This vulnerable part of ourselves can hold feelings of helplessness, fear, and anxiety.

As adults, we can revisit our inner child at their most fearful moments and offer reassurance that everything will be alright – just as we would comfort a child in need.

For instance, I can sit with the little girl feeling overwhelmed with unrelenting OCD rituals. I’ll tell her that she is safe, she is loved, and that I can take care of her now.

When you give your inner child the love and support they need, you cultivate self-compassion and create a sense of safety within yourself.

#5 Learn from past experiences

When you finally overcome a fear, have you ever thought to yourself: ‘Well, I don’t know why I didn’t do that sooner, it wasn’t half as bad as I’d made it out to be…’

Hell, maybe you even realise that you were missing out all this time!

Sometimes, when we take a scary leap of faith – whether moving to a new city or going to an evening class – it’s the catalyst for some of the best things that happen in our lives.

I experienced this first-hand when starting Intentional View after years of hesitation due to fear. ‘I couldn’t possibly put myself out there! What do I have to contribute? Maybe one day…’ I reasoned.

But taking action was honestly one of the best decisions I ever made.

Recognising this helps me to reframe other fears. By acknowledging past successes, we can use our experiences as motivation to push through fear and embrace new opportunities for growth.

#6 Confront your mortality

When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

Bronnie Ware’s urgent and moving book The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying is written after a lifetime working in palliative care.

It’s so telling that the most common regret she comes across is people wishing they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, and not the life others expected of them.

I think we’d all do well to get clear on the fact we’re going to die. It sounds morbid, but it’s actually an incredibly life-affirming reminder. By acknowledging that the time we have on Earth is short, it inspires us to try and fail rather than tantalisingly always wondering what could have been.

Remember, you’re never going to look back and regret the things you tried – only the things you weren’t brave enough to do.

#7 Know what you do & don't want

Drawing pin in a map

On the back of the last point, it helps to get clear on what you want out of life – as early as possible.

Most of us don’t take the time to work any of this out. We live on autopilot; wandering aimlessly, doing what we’re told, or else driven by others’ expectations. Either way, we never really pause to clarify what truly matters to us as individuals.

So take the time to reflect on your own personal values and purpose, as this will provide you with motivation and clarity in the face of fear. Living a life in alignment with your authentic self is worth the courage it takes to overcome obstacles.

#8 Take radical responsibility

If you’re tired of feeling stuck, ask yourself what your vocabulary consists of.

Does it sound like ‘probably’, ‘should’, ‘if only’, or ‘not my fault’?

When you embrace radical responsibility, you shift from a victim or ‘pain’ mindset to one of power – focusing instead on what you can control.

I think it’s safe to say that all of us have a runaway chatterbox within us that, when left unchecked, can fuel all sorts of debilitating, fearful, and catastrophising thoughts. So it’s really important to silence your inner critic and transform your self-talk, so as not to let fear dictate your actions.

By owning your choices and speaking kindly to yourself, you’ll witness a new sense of empowerment. Check out Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping for a thought-provoking perspective on the subject.

#9 Live in the present moment

Focus your attention on the present moment

Live in day-tight compartments.

I love this sage advice from Dale Carnegie. In his book How To Stop Worrying & Start Living, he encourages us to focus on the present moment, because that’s all we have. By concentrating on what’s within our control today, we release any anxiety about the past or future.

Embrace each day as it comes and prioritise your energy accordingly. When you channel your efforts into what you can influence right now, you’ll find a sense of peace and purpose, ultimately building trust in yourself that you can handle whatever comes your way.

#10 Reframe failure as growth

Thomas Edison’s perspective on failure while inventing the lightbulb resonates with me:

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

From a young age, we’re conditioned to celebrate success and fear failure. So, by the time we reach adulthood, it’s unsurprising that we all shy away from opportunities to try new things or attempt something that might not work out.

The truth is, failure is underrated. It provides valuable lessons and life experiences that we need to grow and improve. By reframing failure in this way, we can overcome the fear of not succeeding – approaching it with the curiosity of a scientist and having fun along the way.

Whenever you experience a setback, remember that it’s bringing you one step closer to where you want to be. It’s a necessary stepping stone to living your best life.

#11 Accept that criticism is inevitable

When you step outside of your comfort zone, it’s easy to feel afraid of putting yourself out there or going against the grain, as you don’t know what people are going to think or say.

Remember that criticism is inevitable – but it doesn’t have to hold you back! By accepting this reality, you open yourself up to a whole new world beyond the narrow confines of external validation.

Oh, and don’t forget, criticism is more often than not a compliment in disguise. When you stand out from the crowd in any way, it can inadvertently threaten other people’s stable worldview about what is and isn’t possible in their own lives. Embrace it as a sign of growth and keep pushing forward!

#12 Btw, no one really cares anyway

When you’re 20, you care what everyone thinks, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60, you realise no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.

Anon

Honestly? If you’re feeling afraid and it’s based on what other people might think, this is some of the best advice I can give you.

Whilst criticism is probably what you’re envisioning as the ‘worst’ that can happen, the harsher reality is that no one actually cares that much!

No one’s avidly watching your every move. In fact, everyone else is too busy worrying about themselves and how they look to pay much attention to you and what you’re doing.

Starting a blog has been proof of this. I felt so nervous about judgement when I first told family and friends about it. But whilst there is always some initial curiosity, no one is ultimately that bothered!

The sooner you learn this, the more liberated you will feel.

Get Out There & Do the Thing That Scares You!

Fear isn’t absent from my life now – far from it. The difference is, I’m learning how to manage and reframe it from a more empowered perspective.

Now, when I sense a fearful situation, I’m more likely to approach it with interest and curiosity. This is because, usually, there’s something worthwhile on the other side.

I went for years bottling everything up inside, and this is exactly where fear thrives – in shame and secrecy. So if you’re struggling to work through fear and finding it difficult to manage on your own, please seek help.

Reach out to a professional for guidance and support, or confide in a loved one who can provide comfort and a fresh perspective on the situation. I’ve also put together a list of my favourite books on overthinking and anxiety that helped me on my own journey.

What about you? What fears do you need to take small (or massive) action on to start living your best life?

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