When I was five, a friend dared me to ride my bike down our neighborhood’s “big scary hill.” I watched her do it first; she screamed with delight, her hair whipping in the wind. I sat on my bike, poised at the top of the hill, unsure if I could do it. Part of me felt so crippled by fear that I couldn’t move my body. But another part of me knew that if I made the plunge, I’d experience something extraordinary and gain the courage to do it again and again. The next thing I knew, my feet were on the pedals and I was flying. It was exhilarating.
Fear creeps up on us in every stage of life. Those big scary hills can be making new friends, dating, moving cities and, if we’re brave, pursuing our dreams. At all of these junctures, we face risk, and with risk comes fear. We can let fears cripple us or we can overcome them and experience the exhilaration of a life boldly lived.
1. Name your fears
Literally name the fears that are holding you back. Often, we avoid things that scare us without confronting why we are afraid in the first place. When we name those fears, we can actually process our emotions and identify concrete, manageable ways of conquering those fears. For example, let’s say you are afraid to ask someone on a date. By simply saying, “I’m afraid of rejection,” you’re letting that fear control you a little less. Now you have something concrete to overcome.
2. Take a step back
From there, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. To continue the dating example, you can remind yourself that rejection is a part of the dating process; people experience it all the time. It feels bad for a little while, and then people move on and experience good times dating. Already, you’ve moved from facing a vague, paralyzing fear to facing a normal, finite, conquerable concern.
3. Recast your fears into something positive
Think of your fears as exciting challenges that you can overcome. Make a list of all the positive things that will come from taking that scary next step. By simply shifting your posture, you’ll put yourself in a better, more confident frame of mind to tackle the challenges ahead.
4. Feed your brain
Oftentimes, fear comes from not knowing. The best way to move past that: educate yourself. For example, let’s say you are afraid to pursue your dream career because you don’t know the steps required to do it successfully. Read how others did it, do informational interviews with those in the industry and find a network of folks striving toward a similar goal. By feeding your brain new information and surrounding yourself with successful people, or those aiming for a similar target, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to achieve your goals.
5. Come up with a plan
Now that you have a better sense of how to overcoming your fear, break it down into tiny, digestible action items. This helps subdue feeling overwhelmed. For example, if you’re afraid of pursuing your dream career, after educating yourself, make a list of everything you need to do to get there. That may include updating your resume, enrolling in certain courses, and so on. Take it one step at a time.
6. Turn to your community
If you’re afraid, ask your community to support you. It’s always easier to face our fears with a squad than by ourselves. Your posse can provide emotional support, tell you about how they overcame a similar fear, help you come up with a plan and give you a hand when the load is too heavy to bear alone. Just ask.
7. Keep track of your victories
At every step, keep a record of every little way you’ve conquered your fears. Having a list of wins serves as a reminder that you’ve conquered fears before and you will conquer them again.
Remember that fear is a normal part of everyone’s life. To climb out of your fears, name them, get some perspective, recast them positively, learn how to overcome them, get the support you need, take it one day at a time, and always celebrate your victories. It can be scary at the top of the hill, but hopefully these strategies can help you fly.
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