By Jim Hjort
Let’s face it; everyone has something they are afraid of, whether it is a fear of heights, public speaking, social gatherings, or going to the dentist. Fear can be debilitating and prevent people from living life to its fullest, both personally and professionally. It’s time to put fear in its place once and for all! Check out these tips to learn how to successfully cope with and overcome situations that bring about intense fear, so you can have a new lease on life.
Make A List – Fear is a natural, adaptive, and healthy response to perceived risk, but it can also cause irrational feelings of being incompetent or under qualified to be successful in a new career or role—and paralysis. To overcome feelings of inadequacy, create a list of past accomplishments and qualifications that disprove the fear. Bringing this additional perspective to the situation can help to nullify the “imposter syndrome” that many people are plagued by.
Assess Pros and Cons – Paralyzing fear often results from the human brain’s tendency to focus more on possible undesirable outcomes, and less on the possible favorable ones. Therefore, it can be helpful to deliberately call to mind the potential benefits of your feared action or situation. This exercise can be as simple as creating a list of pros and cons, so that your brain has a concrete, visual reference point for the balancing of the scales, and settle down a bit. Then you’ll be better able to assess rationally if the risk outweighs the benefits you might enjoy by facing your fear.
Create A Support System – It can’t hurt to have cheerleaders in your life—positive people who can encourage you to face a fear and push through it. Just as important is to have people with whom you can discuss your concerns. Most important of all is knowing that those people will still be there even if things don’t go your way. Just knowing that can provide the boost of confidence you need to get out and explore new territory, and increase your likelihood of success. If you don’t have people like this in your life right now, it’s worth the effort to find some.
Build Up A Tolerance – Gradually exposing yourself to the thing or situation you’re afraid of can help you extinguish your fear a little at a time. Start with just imagining the feared situation, if that alone causes you anxiety. Practice often, until you’re not activated by it as much, if at all. Then try observing other people in the same situation from a distance, and so forth, working your way up to actually engaging in the activity. Even then, start small. If public speaking frightens you, start by practicing raising your hand and asking a question when someone else is speaking.
Envisioning Success – Either by itself or in connection with the previous exercise, visualizing yourself successfully engaging in your feared activity or situation can work wonders. Pro athletes use visualization all the time: imagining shooting perfect free throws has a measurable effect on basketball players’ success on the court. Practice imagining, as vividly as you can, yourself not just in the situation, but mastering it. Then give it another shot in real life and see if your relationship to it has shifted.
Fearful situations won’t just disappear from your life overnight. Coping with fear is a process, so just continue to take small steps and build on each bit of improvement. Some fears may never completely go away, but there’s no reason why you need to be incapacitated by them.