The idea that there’s some way of being forever “fearless” is pretty seductive. Trouble is, it’s not really possible. The next time you stretch, grow, or take a risk, fear will rise up. The game-changing question is: how will you relate to your fears?
As you’re digging into 2014, you, like me, probably have all sorts of ideas about what’s possible for you in the coming months. It’s easy at this new beginning to make the vision board, set the resolutions, or tell yourself that you’ll “dream bigger.”
I used to do that every year, too – except I kept finding that each year, I was dreaming bigger, and not necessarily living bigger. The dreaming part was easy. Handling the fear that came up once I started trying to make a change? Much harder, especially because my patterns around fear were long-term, such that they felt “natural” and making a change felt “weird.”
I’m guessing that in 2014, you’re up to something great – something that enlivens you, perhaps even something that changes the world and benefits others. Now that you’ve been dreaming big, here’s how you start actually living big, by relating differently to the fear that’s naturally going to arise as you step into a bolder, more courageous space.
#1: Don’t try to get rid of the fear. Don’t tell your fear to “go away.” Don’t try to white-knuckle your way through it. Don’t endlessly repeat affirmations that you don’t really believe, in the hopes that you can convince yourself to only see the positive in life.
Instead, be willing to embrace all that comes into the circle of your existence. Acknowledgment of hard things (like fear) doesn’t mean you’re destined to a life of experiencing them. You can acknowledge that something exists, and then release it and choose something higher – and that’s a much more energy-efficient way to live than trying to convince yourself to feel shiny n’ bright when the truth is, you feel fear.
#2: Let your fear ride sidecar. You know those motorcycles that have the little sidecar? That’s how I often think of my own fear. I try something new – writing something with a strong opinion, interviewing someone I admire, opening up when I feel vulnerable. I’m the driver. I’m steering the motorcycle and deciding how fast or slow we go, and whether we turn left, right, or keep heading straight, I understand that fear is going to ride shotgun in that little sidecar, but that I’m the one making choices about the direction I’m going in.
Why let your fear ride sidecar? Why not redouble efforts to get rid of it, entirely? For the reasons I said in #1: because getting rid of it, forever and ever, is just not going to happen. Fear is, in fact, a completely normal and healthy emotion. It just comes up, like sadness or frustration, or happiness or joy, or excitement or anxiousness. Emotions happen. We are emotional beings.
What’s not normal or healthy is how we choose to relate to fear. When we make it/ourselves wrong or bad for feeling a feeling that’s normal, we suffer.
By contrast, when we shrug our shoulders and go, “Sure, of course – fear is coming up because this is new and unfamiliar. I can just let the fear be, and I’m still doing my thing, deciding where to drive my choices,” then we create room for… ease. Expansion. Inner peace.
Notice: When you choose to relate to fear differently, you actually get all of the benefits (like the ease, the peace) that you wanted in the first place.
#3: Listen to your fear… and comfort it. This is where things get tricky. In my line of work, it’s not about living in lah-lah land and saying, “Ah, fear, you’re fine – you can tell me that I’m a terrible person and that’s cool with me.” Also, most people don’t want to listen to their fear. They just want it to shut up and go away.
Instead, I teach people how to reframe their relationship to fear by setting up boundaries. If you wouldn’t let a friend tell you that you’re “pathetic” if you fall short of a goal, then don’t let your fear tell you that, either.
How do you start setting up those boundaries? There are many ways to do it, but my personal go-to is a tool that I learned from my coach years ago: “Re-do, please.”
Fear: You never follow through. You’re so lazy.
Me: “Re-do, please. I want to hear what it is you have to say, and I’m absolutely committed to respectful communication.”
Fear: Whatever. If you’re being lazy, I’m not going to sugar-coat it. You’re lazy!
Me: “Re-do, please. I trust you have something valuable to tell me – but it’s got to be phrased with respect.”
You might go a few rounds with fear like this – fear needs to know that you’re serious. But here’s the thing that’s so interesting, something I find when I use this tool with clients or in my courses or programs… if you really talk with fear long enough, you find that while it sounds big and scary, underneath the bluster, there’s a wound.
Fear is not the horrible “monster” people think it is. Fear is actually a small, wounded child-like aspect of the personality. Fear thinks that the way to get what it wants is to berate or yell or condescend – it thinks that without that, you wouldn’t know what to do, you’d fail more often, you’d experience more rejection.
When a small child is throwing a temper tantrum, we don’t want to beat it or tell it to shut up or go away. We want to communicate that the tantrum isn’t acceptable, and that if the child can calm down enough to communicate thoughts, needs, feelings, that we’re open to listening.
This is, in essence, what we need to do with our fear. In fact, I challenge you to spend the next 30 days using the tool of “Re-do, please” with your fear, every single day–and see how much better life feels.
#4: Stop calling names. It saddens me when I hear people describe their fear, or the critical voices within, as a “monster” or a “gremlin.”
Think about it: if you and I aren’t getting along so well, but we decide that we’ll try to get along better, would you feel warm and fuzzy about me if I were calling you a “monster”? If I’m trying to establish trust with someone or change a relationship with someone, I’d have a harder time doing that if they referred to me as a “gremlin.”
Fear is the inner critic, and again, it’s a wound. It’s hurting. Don’t kick someone when they’re down. You’re trying to change your relationship with it, and that means no more name calling. If you’re really committed to loving and accepting all parts of who you are, don’t refer to the parts of yourself that are harder to be with as a “monster” or “gremlin.” Use neutral terms – “my fear says” or “the critic is saying” or “my inner critic voices.”
Bottom line: I’m suggesting that as you move into making big changes in 2014, that alongside your plans for the fun, inspired dreams, you also make a plan for how you’ll re-frame your relationship to fear.
This is about coming forth into a bigger vision for what’s possible in your life, into something beyond even the achievement of goals. This is about actually making this the year that the things you want for yourself become the things that happen. This is about understanding, not shaming.
In 2014, learn to understand your fear. When you understand something, it becomes your friend. (Tweet-worthy!)
Kate Swoboda, a.k.a. Kate Courageous, is a life coach, writer and speaker who teaches people how to practice courage in their lives and livelihood. Learn more about her and how you can practice courage in your own life and business on her website , or follow Kate on Twitter or Facebook.