What happens when you let go of fear?
If I had to use one word to describe myself, I’d use worrier. I’m sure the people who developed the English language are looking down laughing at us, I have to clarify—I really do mean ‘worrier’ and not ‘warrior’.
It’s ironic, now that I think about it. As a kid I struggled to say the word. My mum would laugh at me as I stumbled through sounding it out. “Wow-wow-wowwey”. Thanks mum.
As much as I don’t remember much of my tongue-tied childhood, I do remember being scared, most of the time.
I remember being scared of strangers on the street. Scared of cars pulling up next to me. Scared of being in the same vicinity as teenagers. I even remember being scared when boys confessed they youthful love for me. Or for the day I’d eventually have to bring a boy home to meet the parents.
The worst part of my constant fear of the world, was that I was even afraid of my own thoughts and opinions. I was afraid that if I spoke up, I’d be ridiculed, laughed at and made fun of.
All this fear and anxiety, stemmed from my paranoid dad, who, to this day, is still terrified of the world.
Luckily, I broke my streak of constantly hiding from the world out of fear of the unknown. Today, I own a business, I’m not often afraid to speak my mind and I never stop dreaming of travelling to foreign lands (seriously, it’s an addiction). But that doesn’t mean I’m not the same scared little girl inside.
I’ve just learned to push past my anxieties.
1. In order to conquer fear, one must understanding it
Let's start with the facts.
Fear is actually a very primal instinct. It came in handy back when we were prey. It's a way for our minds to warn us when we’re not safe and that our lives are literally in danger.
Of course, these days, we’re top of the food chain (if you can call it that). We’re so far beyond predators and prey, that fear has got all mixed up. Now we feel fear in a totally new way.
Fear is something we have absolutely no control over. Something stimulates our brain to switch into flight-or-fight mode. Our heart beings to race, our breathing speeds up and at times, it gives us strength we didn't even know we had. (Source: How Stuff Works)
Knowing what to be fearful of is learnt from watching the people around us as we grow up. But who's to say that we can't change our perceptions once we're adults? Old dog, new tricks?
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
2. Remind yourself it’s not likely to happen
It turns out, 85% of what we worry about never actually happens. And when that measly 15% does happen, 79% of people realise that it’s not actually as bad as imagined. (Source: Huffington Post)
So, next time your brain is going into hyperdrive, remember that it’s actually more likely that it won’t even happen then it will.
3. Stop blaming your introverted nature
Living a life outside of fear isn’t exclusive to extroverts. Introverts can live a daring life too, we just have to make more of an effort to make it happen.
I’m a typical introvert. I prefer to stay in, and when I’m forced to go out, I feel sick to my stomach with anxiety. But one day back in university, I realised I could let fear make my decisions for me, or I could say ‘fuck it’, push through and live my life the way I want.
That day, I bought a ticket to Europe, by myself. I felt equal amounts proud and equal amounts terrified.
When it got to the day to fly out, a fierce storm rolled over Melbourne. I watched the lightning strike the ground as my mum drove me to the airport. I had that feeling at the pit of my stomach, I wanted to crawl into bed and cry.
As I waited, alone at my gate for my flight, I cried. I screamed internally, ‘what the hell have I done? I’ve made a terrible mistake!’.
I remember that moment so vividly. I remember every moment of the dread and anxiety that took hold of my body that day. But y’know what? I got on that flight. I travelled around Europe, alone. And although there were times where it all became too much—often calling my boyfriend in tears—I came out the other end perfectly fine.
That's when I realised that I need to stop making excuses by blaming my introverted nature. Not doing things because I'm scared, won't get me anywhere. Instead, I need to step out of my comfort zone, and actually give myself the chance to live, try new things and continue to grow.
“Anxiety is nothing but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.” — Seth Godin
4. Fear Is Actually A Good Sign
I’m not talking walking down a dark alley in the middle of the night fear. I’m talking the kind of fear that arises when we’re approaching change and challenges in our lives.
As I was writing this article, a friend sent me a Creative Mornings talk with Ngaio Parr— definitely worth a listen if you’re interested in this topic.
Here Ngaio talks about how fear can actually be a good sign, signalling that you’re moving in the right direction. You might be fearful of something new or a challenge ahead, but instead of listening to that fear and backing off, we should embrace it and realise it's a good sign.
If we're not afraid of what lies ahead, then we're not moving forward and growing. I really believe life should be one continuous steam of lessons and challenges.
We need to flip our perception of fear, to a feeling of moving forward into the right direction. If you’re feeling it, take a step back and ask yourself if you really should be fearful.
“Your longest fear carries your greatest growth” — Unknown
5. Imagine Where Fear Could Take You
If you followed fears path and said yes to everything that turns your guts, imagine where it would take you.
I mean, we’ve all had wild dreams—I know I have! Maybe you've dreamed of turning your passion into a business. Or spending a year riding a motorbike around South America learning Spanish along the way. Or maybe you've dreamed of moving your life to a big new city. Or completely changing your career.
Whatever your wild dreams are, they’re bound to terrify you. And that's a good thing!
Imagine for a moment, if you let fear guide you, where it would take you. And then imagine yourself at 80 years old, and your grandchild just asked about your life. How would you like your life story to go?
“Always do what you are afraid to do” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
The thing that I realised is that fear is fleeting. So, why should we let it win?
Just because some chemical force in my brain makes me feel scared, anxious and sometimes completely hopeless and useless, doesn’t mean I need to act on it.
It’s perfectly fine to have days of recoiling back into my shell. It’s okay to feel sick to the stomach. It’s okay to visit the toilet three times before leaving the house for that big thing.
It’s okay because we ALL feel it. Even the extroverts from time to time.
But what’s important is to not let fear own us. To not let it become us. We need to change our perception of it. Because I’m telling you, when you let go of the hold that fear has over you, wonderful, magical, incredible things happen. And life becomes so much more interesting.
Let’s enjoy this crazy, beautiful life we have.