The Mask Fear Hides Behind
The very first thing I want to say about fear… actually, scratch that… the first thing I want you to say to yourself, is that it’s not your fault! Fear is not something we choose, it is something that is imposed upon us. As children we simply go through life assuming everything that happens is true and representative of the world. Little do we know, that as time passes we are forming fears that may hold us back significantly in our teen years and onwards into our adulthood.
Of course, as we get to an age and level of awareness where we can actually identify that we are afraid, we start to feel guilty. We know we should be making changes or improvements in our lives, so when we fail to act because of fears we feel like we have let ourselves down. It’s such an uncomfortable feeling that your brain, the powerful and protective machine that it is, starts to look for solutions.
To overcome your fears you must face them. But by now your brain will have been working for years to make it more comfortable to avoid them. You may no longer have any awareness of what your true fears are. When I work with clients, we first have to remove the masks that the core fears hide behind. It is only then we find those childhood fears, conceived in our immature and skewed perspective of the world through young eyes.
There is good news: The true fears are usually simple and straightforward, and best of all, no longer relevant in your adult world. This means that once they are identified, they can be effectively neutralised. I should warn you however, when you identify your fears it will be very hard to go back to ignoring and avoiding them. You will start to see them rearing their faces in your everyday life. So if you’re ready to release yourself from the shackles of unhelpful mental barriers, read on. If not, it’s OK, you can try again another time.
By now there will have been a number of goals or targets in the past which you have tried to succeed in but fallen short. These ‘failed’ ventures are the starting point of your investigation, because hidden behind them are your fears. Fears usually are triggered into action when you are taking risks to achieve a change. Your brain has turned them into something else: Excuses.
Excuses, in the form of procrastination, giving up, justification, minimisation and so forth, are the masks your fear hides behind. So what you can do to identify them is choose two or three previous ‘failures’ and write them down. Most importantly, write down the exact moment, as best as you can remember, where you made the firm decision to stop trying. This is the point where the fear overpowered your will and ambition.
What were the thought patterns running through your mind during and just prior to giving up? What were your excuses? How did you justify it to yourself? What did you tell yourself to remove or lessen the guilt of quitting? Remember, this is not your fault! It’s just your brain trying to make life easier for you. But life is supposed to be challenging, that’s what makes success feel rewarding.
If you’ve looked at a few different past ‘failures’, you should see some patterns in the excuses you use to allow yourself to quit. Some common ones my clients come up with are:
• This is just not the right time to do this
• I don’t have enough money
• The risk is too high
• I’m too tired
You’ll know it’s not a legitimate excuse if it made you feel relieved at first, but guilty later on. Once the brain is out of the scary situation it lets the truth back in, which is symbolised by the guilt. Bet it would be great to not have to tolerate that guilt anymore, right?
That guilt is your saviour, because it’s the point where some part of your brain has opened the door to the fear. Your thoughts during that moment of guilt are directly related to your fear. Think back, what were they? Some part of you realized you should have gone ahead with whatever it was, but you held yourself back irrationally.
Now usually at this point in my coaching sessions I go through a series of questions to elicit the fear in its truest form. But I can’t do that through an article, so instead read over this next list of the most common fears my clients come up with and see which ones speak to you:
• I am not worthy of what I want
• I will be humiliated if I fail
• I need to be in control or otherwise things go wrong
• I will end up alone
Like I keep saying, these fears are not your fault. When we are children, our ability to comprehend fearful stimuli is very limited. In our childish way we try to understand why something scared us and how to avoid it. We usually make huge assumptions that are not accurate.
A really common example is getting rejected by a girl you had a crush on. If, as a child you gave a love-note to your favourite girl and she brutally rejected you, your comprehension will likely be that it’s your fault. You will think there is something wrong with you that makes girls hate you. So you may make the assumption that it’s bad to risk rejection, when in reality it was just one little girl one time – hardly a representative example. So as an adult you steer away from taking risks when in fact the fear is not based in logic.
Accept the fear for what is truly is: a childhood misunderstanding of upsetting or even traumatic events. You can accept this and forgive your childhood because you have finally acknowledged it and are ready to move on.
Knowing is half the battle. Now that you see your excuses for the childhood fears they really are, it’s time to finish the battle. This will not happen overnight. There is a safe way to do it, but it will require some courage from you. Knowing what the fear is won’t completely make it go away, though it should make it easier to deal with.
I have a range of different strategies I use with clients to overcome fears and most of them have the same underlying concept: desensitisation. Gradually overcoming the fear by taking it on in little steps, each time upping the ante and challenging yourself more as your self-confidence grows.
I recommend you write yourself down a list of 50 to 100 small but challenging tasks that will directly confront your fear. For example, if you fear is that you are not worthy, then the tasks should be about doing things for yourself, like applying for a better job or saying no to requests you don’t want to help with. After 100 actions like these you will start to believe that you are worthy of your desires.
If your fear is about lack of control, then choose tasks which remove your ability to control the situation. You will know best what kind of activities will challenge you specifically, like giving the leadership role to a project to one of your staff, or allowing your children to choose the movie for DVD-night.
And if it’s about rejection, you could put together a plan of slowly approaching girls more and more directly over time. Start off asking for the time, and by your 100th approach you could be telling them how gorgeous they are with their dancer’s posture and sophisticated style.
Why so many activities? To build up evidence. Your childhood fear probably started with a one-off incident and then you spent years seeing ‘evidence’ justifying the fear. It’s time to replace that skewed and biased ‘evidence’ with real-life proof of your abilities.
Good luck with your journey, I hope this article has helped you remove some of the fog, the confusion, which fear hides
behind. Overcoming fears is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have, enjoy!
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About Dan Munro Dan is a lifestyle and career coach, with his own company The Inspirational Lifestyle Ltd. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand, and loves to share his advice and opinions on how to attain success. Make sure you checkout more of Dans articles at: www.theinspirationallifestyle.com