Fear is a natural part of human life. That's not necessarily a bad thing, either. As a survival mechanism, fear heightens our awareness and literally prepares our body to throw down or to run away as fast as we can. The fight or flight response triggered by fear is an important physical response in the right setting: say, confronting a panther in the middle of a jungle.
However, in the context of modern everyday life, most of us probably won't cross paths with a panther anytime soon (at least I certainly hope not). That being said, our fear can potentially hold us back from trying new things and living our best lives. I recently left a high-paying job in corporate finance to focus on life coaching and teaching yoga. I would have made the jump much sooner, but I found myself plagued by fear: "How is this going to turn out? What will people say? Can I really do this? Will I make money?" All were valid questions that I took the time to consider, but at the end of the day they weren't enough to keep me from following my heart.
By giving credence to our fears, we often feel stuck in a less than ideal situation and merely survive our daily lives instead of truly living. I suggest that, although we can never fully get rid of fear, we can learn how to proceed despite the voice in our head that keeps us playing small.
Here are six powerful ways you can address your fear and tap into your inner wisdom:
At the root of fear is a profound desire to keep you safe and protected. This truly is a noble cause. You are a precious being who deserves to feel safe, loved, and protected. Reframe your fear by honoring that desire. Also, instead of numbing out or denying your fear, give yourself permission to feel your fear. Yes, I realize I am telling you to run towards the fear instead of away from it. Consider that on the other side of your fear lies your greatest treasure.
Your fear has much to teach you about how you view life and your place in the world. Get curious about the root of your fear: What is it about the current situation that is triggering a fearful response? Are you afraid based on something that happened in the past? Or perhaps you were taught by others that the world will not support your endeavors, and life is to be feared? Our interpretation of past events and what we learned from others growing up are powerful in creating a fearful response because they form the filter through which we process our current reality.
When I am fearful, I feel a frantic energy in my heart space and I feel like I am drowning. My teacher, Gabrielle Bernstein, says to fully feel emotion (in this case, fear) for 90 seconds. Observe what it physically feels like. After 90 seconds have passed, now feel for your feet. In fact, stand up and ground down through your feet. By having your feet firmly planted on the ground, you anchor yourself in the present moment. You tap into your inner power, which is so much greater than any fear your mind can hold.
When I find myself in fear mode, I think about whatever it is that I'm scared of. I ask myself, "What is the worst that could happen?" I try to get as specific as possible: "If I start my own business, I won't make any money. I'll rack up credit card debt. I won't be able to pay the bills. I will have to move in with my family and sleep on the couch. People will laugh at me and I will feel alone." I allow myself to fully feel the fear.
I then ask myself, "Now how am I going to get myself out of it?" I spend five minutes detailing my plan of action should my worst-case scenario come true. "I'll move in with my family. Get a job bagging groceries at Whole Foods. I'll hang out with my core set of friends who have been with me since the beginning. I'll blog about my experience and I'll connect with other entrepreneurs who have failed gloriously." This really helps me when I start to go down the rabbit hole of fear. I remind myself, "I have a plan." I'll recite my plan over and over again. Use your imagination constructively. If the worst does happen, you are creative and resilient: You can and will figure out how to proceed.
Meditation is a game changer for addressing a fearful mindset. Our minds are like 3-year-old children, constantly running around with an endless supply of energy, leaving us in a frenzy. From the moment we wake up until we go to bed, our mind jumps from past to future in a matter of seconds. When we are in the present moment, our mind is usually in some form of judgment around it. The truth is that we may not have even been experiencing this moment, but rather experiencing our thoughts of it. A lot of people think that when we meditate, we stop thinking. This is not at all true. The point is to simply refrain from following a particular thought down a rabbit hole. Meditation is the practice of bringing our awareness back to the present moment. This may mean having to bring it back a million times, and that's OK. When we are fully present in this moment, fear does not exist because it is usually associated with some future outcome or some past occurrence.
As we ponder what decision to make, we create a story about the situation. We put the story on repeat, using the same verbiage and tone. It becomes increasingly more difficult to consider other outcomes or viewpoints. We have become anchored in a very specific version of reality. It's true: What you are afraid of is a potential outcome. However, it is not the only outcome. It is simply one possible outcome out of an infinite number of possibilities. Ponder the other outcomes—especially the good ones—to bring balance into your viewpoint. Your fear is healthy because it asks you to consider the downside of your action. However, don't forget to invite faith to the party as well.
The timing and conditions may never be right. The markets could crash and the world could end tomorrow. Or not. If you spend a lot of time with elderly people, you'll find that what they regret the most is letting fear (fear of the future, of what people will say, of failing) prevent them from going for it. If it's still in your mind, it matters, regardless of how much your fear has stopped you in your tracks up until this point. Just try it, even on a smaller scale. Perhaps instead of going full-time with your business, you commit to 20 hours a week.
I truly believe that you are a brilliant beam of light and that there is literally no one in the world just like you. Following your heart—despite your fear—is not only good for you, it's good for the world. Your example will inspire others to address their fear and to meaningfully move forward. How amazing would the world be if we all lived life on purpose, lit up by the fire of our dreams! It all starts with our decision to honor our fear and hone our faith.