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How Fear Holds us Back

Updated: Mar 29

“Living with fear stops us taking risks, and if you don’t go out on the branch, you’re never going to get the best fruit.” ~Sarah Parish

Silhouette of a man with a backpack leaning his hand on a rock that engulfs him as if in contemplation

It starts off as a small seed of uncertainty. Once it takes root, it begins to blossom and multiply slowly by slowly.

Over time, if left unchecked, it grows into this huge mental obstacle that gets in the way of your willingness to risk or even try, in turn casting seeds of doubt about your ability to achieve your dreams.

This is how fear holds us back and causes us to lead small lives.

Fear comes masked in different veils, but whatever the form, the common thread is that it holds us captive, crippling us into inaction.

Of course, there are other times when fear is a positive thing. This is when it serves to alert us of real danger.

In most instances, however, fear is not based on reality. Rather, it could be feeding off of negative assumptions of what we imagine could happen. The fight and flight response works both ways, you see.

Thankfully, we can learn to manipulate it to work in our favour, rather than against us.

Says Jimmy Iovine:

“Fear. Fear's a powerful thing. I mean it's got a lot of firepower. If you can figure out a way to wrestle that fear to push you from behind rather than to stand in front of you, that's very powerful.”

Fear will always be there. But you have the ability within you to do something about it.

It is possible to train yourself to manage your emotions and shift your outlook into a more positive direction. And in doing so, you start to move beyond the fear and embrace new experiences and opportunities.

Confronting your fears one step at a time

Fear has to be one of the strongest human emotions. Then again, being the one emotion that determines whether we live or die, it is not hard to understand why.

It has this ability to assume a life of its own to the point that it can magnify a certain area of concern and make it more menacing than it is in actual sense.

Take fear of change, for example, a fear we have to confront in almost every aspect of our lives.

Usually, trying to overcome it using broad strategies such as positive thinking or learning to embrace uncertainty can only get us so far. It helps, obviously, but such strategies in themselves are likely to fall short.

So then, where do you begin?

In just the same that you tackle your goals by breaking them into small, actionable steps, approaching fear this way is likely to yield better results.

Instead of throwing a blanket solution on your fears, attacking one specific fear at a time is likely to see you enjoy small but incremental successes that gather steam gradually, building your confidence.

Identify the trigger

Our fears emanate from certain triggers which are activated by the fight or flight response that is inherent in all humans.

Whenever we sense or experience a situation our brain considers dangerous, the body enters into a state of fight-flight (to fend off the danger or run for our lives) until the brain receives an all-clear message to switch off the response.

We fear situations or things that make us feel unsafe or unsure, some real; others imagined.

One common fear most people have is a fear of public speaking. Speaking in front of others – whether in class, at a meeting with colleagues or clients, giving a speech etc. – can make us feel literally sick in the stomach as we weigh our options on how to approach the whole thing.

For example, when you are called upon to speak in a business meeting, your mind could go blank once the fear of speaking in front of people kicks in.

This doesn’t mean you do not know the business – quite on the contrary actually! You might be the best in a certain area, but because fear turns you into such a nervous wreck, it becomes incredibly difficult to put your points across.

This is how fear gradually gets in the way of the success we could otherwise achieve if we managed to fight back this fear.

If you are reading this, there is a higher chance than not that you know at least a person or two whom, despite not being the brightest bunny in the hutch, has made their way up the corporate ladder or become successful in their business ventures just because they boast great public speaking skills. You can too, with communication skills coaching.

These days, hard skills alone can only get you so far. Soft skills, chief among them public speaking skills, can give you an edge.

This is why it is imperative to work towards ridding yourself of this fear (and others that get in your way of success!) because all it does is curtail your efforts at becoming the person you know you could become.

Perhaps a resilience life coach is what you need.

Rewrite your story

While fear could have genetic roots (innate), a large part of it (regardless of type of fear) can be attributed to a certain event or situation that happened to us earlier in life (learned).

Whichever the case, whether innate or learned, the first step to push through the fear is to identify and understand the underlying trigger(s) behind it.

Pay attention to what you are feeling and try to identify the root source of these feelings of dread.

Once you do, acknowledge it for what it is without sugar-coating. Then gradually, start shifting your mind-set with regard to how you view this fear.

You will need to summon a treasure trove of emotional and psychological resources as you make attempts to overcome your fears. A large part of this will involve positive thinking and confidence as you need to start viewing the fear in a different perspective.

That’s especially considering fear will always be there. In fact, you will never manage to wrestle it completely to the ground.

But by changing your perspective from that sickening feeling in your stomach to an attitude along the lines of “I-am-ready-to-do-this!”, you will, as Jimmy Iovine said, allow that fear to push you from behind rather than getting in your way.

This is key.

Remember, it is not fear that holds you back. It is your attitude towards fear.

Napoleon Hill summed it up perfectly when he said:

“Fears are nothing more than a state of mind.”

No one says it will be easy. But if you take action and slowly build momentum, you will get there eventually.


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