Do you have fear of failure, rejection, selling or other fears that limit your success, relationships and happiness? Most of us do. We have fears in our conscious and/or subconscious minds.
There are rational fears and irrational fears. Rational fears, such as fear of rattlesnakes, are healthy. They keep us safe. Irrational fears are the rational interpretation of the false stories we make up and then believe. It’s Make Stuff Up (MSU) learning (I’ve heard others use a different "s" word!).
Here’s an example of an irrational fear: A leader, whom I’ll call Adriana, thought that if she held her employees accountable for what they were supposed to do, they wouldn’t like or respect her. After some executive coaching, she instituted accountability with her team. The result of the accountability surprised her—she learned that when she held her people accountable, they actually liked and respected her more as a leader AND they improved their job performance. Her fear was irrational.
Irrational fears distort perception. When you think and act out of fear, everything is distorted. Imagine wearing glasses that were tinted red. When looking through them, what you see and what you perceive is tinted red. It’s the same with fear. When you look through fear, everything seems scarier. Irrational fears distort your thinking and perception.
What stories are you “MSUing” At work? In your relationships? In your family? Compete the exercise below to find out.
Fill in the rest of these sentences with as much information as you choose.
- I can’t … .
- I don’t because … .
- I’m afraid … .
Whatever follows "I can’t," "I don’t because" or "I’m afraid" likely reflects an irrational fear. What are the irrational fears in your professional life? What are they in your personal life?
Here’s how you can begin to master your fears. These six simple steps can help you have freedom from irrational fears that keep you from fully experiencing success and happiness. This six step process has been refined over my 30-year career.
Step 1: Identify your fear.
From the exercise above, write down one fear you identified.
Step 2: Embrace your fear.
Gently embrace your fear; imagine it. What does it look like? What might it sound like? Does it have a name? Drawing your fear without judgment is sometimes quite revealing; just let your hand draw free of judgment. Remember, you created this fear and continue to create it, so you developed this fear for a reason. Its original purpose was to protect you, but now it holds you back. Be thankful for the protection it gave you when you needed it. Acknowledge your fear, and then release it with deep appreciation. Begin to let it go.
Step 3: Disidentify with your fear.
Fear isn’t you. Your beliefs have created fearful thoughts, and your fearful thoughts have created a fearful emotion. But you are not your beliefs, thoughts or your emotions. Emotions come from thoughts, and all thoughts are transients.
Now you need to disidentify with your fear, because it isn’t you. Using the image you created in the previous step, imagine examining your fear outside of your mind and body (it’s outside of you—it’s not you) and slowly let it dissipate, shrink, etc. See, feel or hear your fear leaving you, moving behind you and becoming smaller and weaker until it disappears. Let it know you’re safe without it. Time to let it go with kindness; it’s not you!
Step 4: Identify and accept your worst-case scenario.
This can be extraordinarily powerful. Worst-case scenarios are usually not as bad as we fear. Even if it’s what most people consider the worst outcome, death—which is the worst case for athletes such as freestyle mogul skiers, downhill skiers and car racers—you must come to peace with the worst case if you want to be successful. It’s true in sales, building a business, marriage, everything. If you worry and focus on your worst-case scenario, then subconsciously that’s what you attract. Fear takes you out of the present moment, distorts your thoughts and changes your actions. And it focuses you on creating what you fear, what you don’t want. Time to come to peace with your worst case.
Step 5: Do a reality check.
Now that you identified and are beginning to accept your worst-case scenario, what’s the probability of it happening? Can you accept your worst-case scenario and then put your worst case aside without emotion? Don’t empower it by focusing on it.
Step 6: Create a positive, fearless focus.
When you can accept the probability of your worst-case scenario and your worst case, start focusing on what you want—as if you already have it—to strengthen that neural network in your brain. When you overcome fear and focus on what you want, your success and happiness have no limits!
Master fear. Master your mind. Master your life.
Note: If you have panic disorder, phobias or another mental health disorder, you may need deeper work, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Or, if you just want to blast through your fears more rapidly.