Chronic FEAR Will Not Move You Forward
I am yet to meet a successful person who didn't suffer from painful events and failures in their life. When I refer to successful people, I look at the history of well-known inventors and hundreds of entrepreneurs and senior leadership executives that I coached. Many stories are filled with trials and tribulations of the immense magnitude that could have stopped these individuals' progress dead in the tracks. Some lost millions of their investments; some lost jobs and income; some lost families and much more. Were they afraid of what would happen next? Of course! They are all humans just like you and I.
Unexpected life events that alter our routines create enourmous sensation of fear and desparation. Fear of the unknown can consume us if we let it. Humans prefer to feel safe and will often choose to be controlled by fear without realizing that there are other ways to live a meaningful life. Some turn to alchohol, drugs, desructive behaviors, and even sucide to get away from what seems like an ever-persistent audience of hecklers in your mind trying to convince that you are never going to be good enough to recover from a setback. Witihout going too far in history for evidence, consider how many people lost their jobs and businesses during pandemic and how adversly fear of the unknown impacted people's lives. These hecklers (unpleasant thoughts) are little (or big) liars created by your mind to protect you from a precieved danger. They don't have good intentions to move you out of your grief state. Try to banish them. I will give you some ideas later on how to do that.
So what exactly separates those successful people from many others who are going through lives like zombies, consumed by fear and unknowingly magnifying its influence on the daily actions? I believe, based on my personal experience, it is the reaction to a critical change and the management of fear.
OK, to be fair, perhaps it sounds a bit hyporbolic when I say that some people go through life like zombies without realizing that they chose to be consumed by fear. In reality, some people simply don't know how to manage the reaction to fear due to ignorance (my definition of ignorance: "don't know and don't want to learn") or a medical condition that prevents them to learn new things about themselves and the world around them. For those who want and are able to learn, I would like to offer a solution for how not get stuck in fear forever.
Let's talk about fear during change first.
Any change, regardless of its magnitude, can create crisis and wreak havoc on your life. It might take days or even years to rebound from an the unexpected and unprecedented external event. However, if you want to be successful at anything, you need to find a way to move forward and try out a new path without having a 100% certainty that this path will work and lead you to the next step towards success. In other words, you have to possess a higher degree of risk tolerance. One important point to consider is that your definition of success most likely will evolve over time because your life experiences will lead you to new discoveries.
It is normal and healthy to feel pain and discomfort due to stress, anxiety, and depression when unexpected and unpleasant events catch you off guard. Think of a time when you got laid off from a job, lost a place to live, had a relationship-ending argument with a friend or a business partner, or any other situation that caused a change to a normal flow of your life. Naturally, you had unpleasant thoughts and feelings, right? At the time of what seemed to be a catastrophic event that created this forced change you must have felt broken, lost, angry, or afraid. Your future seemed to be filled with fear of the unknown outcomes and your thoughts were as dark as night.
You might have felt like you were caught in a rip current, struggling to keep your head above the scolding water and catch one breath to fill your lungs with oxygen instead of a persistent pressure of salty water pushing its way into your entire being. You didn't want to drown, so you resisted and fought. And the more you fought, the weaker you became. Your fear of drowing was all-consuming and you couldn't remember what could be done when you were caught in the rip current. Instead of thinking of a logical and creative solutions to try floating, yelling for help, or swim parallel to the shore to escape the rip current, you fought in fear. The longer you fought, the more you were drowning. That is how fear works. It sucks you in its depth and leaves you helpless and exhaused. Unless you pause for a split second and acknowledge the facts, no matter how painful they are in the moment.
So how can you get unstuck by stopping fear from lingering and preventing you from moving to the next solution or chapter in your life?
If you know that fear and feelings associated with it are natural because we want to feel safe, what do you want to acknowledge next? It is unhealthy to be stuck in this painful circumstance and choose to not seek solutions for moving forward in a meaningful way. A meaningful life has a different definition for each person. A meaning comes from your values and beliefs, as I eluded to earlier. These are specific to an individual, so will be your actions. Irrespective of individuality, you can try the below framework to stop fear in its tracks.
1. The first important step is to recognize what FEAR is and how it impacts your success in life. Knowledge is power. If you are interested to learn more about it in depth, check out Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes' podcast. I found it very insightful when learning about mental health coaching. She brilliantly describes how to address all the elements involved in this human psychological process. Fear, according to Snipes (2018), could be broken down into the following elements:
F = Fusion (stuff your mind tells you that gets in the way when you get caught up in it)
E = Excessive goals (your goal is too big, or you lack the skills, or you lack the resources)
A = Avoidance of discomfort (unwillingness to make room for the discomfort this challenge brings)
R = Remoteness from values (losing touch with – or forgetting – what is important or meaningful about this)
2. Next, acknowlege that you are afraid. This is normal, and there are options to try something new.
3. After you acknowleged that in this moment you are thinking and feeling something specific, also recognize that these thoughts and feelings aren't YOU and these are not permanent. Just like the weather, they will change. YOU are not your thoughts or feelings.
4. Then, assess all these thoughts and feelings against the facts. Remember those hecklers? If you think that you are a failure and this thought creates a feeling of despair that nothing good ever happens to you, then ask, "How factual is this thought? When there was a time that you succeeded in the past?"
5. The next step is vital! Ask yourself, what are my options in this situation? What can I do to move forward? What actions can I take to get to the next step? What small and realistic goals can I set? If your actions aren't moving you towards your goal and go against your values, reconsider your next steps.
If you tried getting out of FEAR without success, ask for help. Being on your own might not be the best solution. Find a trusted human who can listen to you. As always, I am here for you. Reach out for a free consultation at https://www.xcalibercoaching.com/bookings-checkout/initial-consultation/book.
About the author: Alex Aberle, MSML, CEC is an award-winning career and executive leadeship coach, resume writer, organizational development consultant, and the author of Guide to a Successful Career Transition. In the last 25 years she has been working with the individuals and teams going through transition. She is passionate about building the world with better leadership and improving individuals' emotional well being.