Would you ever choose to watch a bad movie twice? Probably not. Yet when it comes to something we dread or even something painful that happened in the past, we replay it repeatedly.
Every time you play the movie in your mind, the picture gets brighter, and the sounds more intense. Some of us have been playing the movie for years, preventing us from making progress on what matters most. So what can you do about it?
Although the fear is still real for you, it’s also important to know you are in charge of it and can choose a better way to approach situations, so you are always in control of how you respond. You cannot change the external world or circumstances, but you are always in complete control of your inner world. Here are some things you can do to feel the fear but use it as fuel:
Own your attitude.
My son constantly worries about missing the plane or train whenever we travel. We have never missed a single flight, so I asked him why he added such unnecessary stress to the day, especially since we are punctual and efficient travellers.
His answer astounded me – he said he would rather have low expectations and be delighted when we make the plane rather than risk feeling disappointed.
I explained to him that he was ruining the entire experience for himself because everything up to the point of getting on the plane became painful and stressful.
My advice to him comes from the 13th-century poet Rumi: ‘ Live life as if everything is rigged in your favour’. It’s adopting the attitude of expecting the best. Expect everything to go according to plan, and then if it doesn’t, ask yourself – how can I now appreciate this as a gift? Maybe it’s more time; maybe it’s an opportunity to grow.
If you fear disappointment or things going wrong, how can you shift your attitude to live life as though everything is rigged in your favour? What if you rehearse success instead of rehearsing failure and the worst-case scenario?
You can dissolve any fear when you approach a situation with this attitude.
Focus on what you can control.
Fear becomes amplified when you focus on the things you can’t control. You fear someone’s reaction in a difficult conversation; you fear the weather if you have something planned and then imagine the worst-case scenario and start playing it in the cinema in your mind.
Seneca says, ‘We suffer more in imagination than in reality’. Let go of what you can’t control and focus on what you can. This includes your thoughts, beliefs, attitude and actions.
Perhaps you must deliver an important presentation, and fear takes over. Preparation is the antidote to your nerves. Apart from physically rehearsing the content, do you have a backup of the presentation on your PC, a memory stick and even email it to yourself as a third backup?
Remember, there will be situations where all you can control is your breath, but a few deep belly breaths are enough to neutralise the adrenaline in your body and shift your state from reacting to mindfully responding.
What is the story you tell yourself?
When you find yourself moving into a fearful place, stop and question what is the story you are telling yourself. If your story is that you’re introverted and have awful people skills, or you’re bad with numbers and technology – you fill in the blank, this will prevent you from taking action on your goals.
Is your story fuelling the fear and keeping you playing small?
Remember to separate the facts and your story about the facts. Fear only shows up when you create a story about it – go for the interview, sign up for the course, publish the article, put your hand up in the meeting – don’t create a story about what could go wrong before you do it.
If your story is not serving you, it’s time to write a better one. Perhaps you did have a bad experience in your past, this is one chapter, and you don’t have to keep it in the final edit. You can take the lesson and rewrite a new story where you use your fear as fuel or keep it in the ‘bloopers’ and laugh at yourself.
Who is narrating the story?
The most important conversations you have are the ones with yourself. When facing a situation of uncertainty or challenge, take ownership of your self-talk. Are you allowing the inner critic to take over and anticipate the worst?
Your thoughts and beliefs are the operating systems that run your story. Is your belief that terrible things always happen to me? Or do I need to sacrifice my personal life to be successful? Or does stillness equal stagnation?
Most of your beliefs were inherited or created long ago in a different phase of your life. Sit in the question ‘what am I still believing that is triggering my fear?”. Is it true? And if not, what is a better belief to replace it?
When your fear shows up, tune into the inner coach to encourage you and be your own cheerleader.