Before we begin, let me clarify: This post is about managing fears associated with life change that enables you to thrive, not daredevil courage needed for high-risk sports or lifestyles.
Fear. it’s a simple four letter word that everybody dreads but even the most confident person experiences.
If you don't agree with the above statement, it’s possible you might be living a life that is so familiar you don’t experience any challenges. While this lifestyle may keep you safe, it can also be pretty boring.
Everyone dislikes discomfort, and safety is essential to our well-being. However, these ideas are more than wishful thinking. Our brain is hardwired to avoid change because it is interpreted as a threat and will trigger fear. Therefore, the brain will resist change.
Fear is an emotion that many will avoid consciously or unconsciously. Yes, it’s possible you are not aware of the limitations you place on your life so that you can avoid fear.
Fear is a very useful emotion because it warns of danger -- and certainly, risk-taking needs to be mindful and not precarious for obvious reasons. When it comes to fear, it is essential to practice discernment of what choices and behavior to engage in. That’s the tricky part. People will have different ideas and tolerance regarding risk taking and safety.
Unfortunately, the brain interprets all change as a threat, so that is why discernment is necessary. If we respond to all fear with our primal response, we will avoid and miss wonderful opportunities for growth and fulfillment.
Some interesting research exists about the brain and change. Dr. Srini Pillay, a Harvard professor and brain science expert, claims that many people would rather master disappointment than seek fulfillment because that can bring some sense of self-worth that doesn’t involve change and the associated fears. Making the decision to survive instead of thriving gives you a continuous sense of familiarity which is more comfortable than risking change.
Unfortunately, when you set goals but have a belief system based on survival, you set yourself up for self-sabotage and failure.
So if fear is a primal instinct that is hardwired in the brain whenever it encounters change, how do we achieve our desired life changes?
The only way to achieve a desired change in your life is to experience the discomfort. You need to find ways to manage the fear and discomfort. Click to tweet
First of all, you need to discern a survival threat from the discomfort of change and potential growth. Sometimes, the discomfort seems too great to manage, yet you want your life to be different, so you reach a type of impasse. This impasse is a critical point of change that needs delicate managing.
Second, it is important to see the end goal clearly and how you will benefit. What will be different about your life? How will you feel?
Third, you must define your goal positively rather than negatively. In other words, describe what you want instead of what you don’t want. Don't be like many people and ignore this important step.
Knowing what you don’t want can be very helpful, but only if it helps you define what it is you do want. If you focus only on avoiding the negative, you will almost surely see more of it in your life. You may have heard about what happens when you tell people NOT to think of an elephant. You are already imagining the very thing you are trying to avoid. So use your understanding of what you do not want in your life to help you define your goal accurately. For every negative picture, reframe it positively.
For example, I don’t want a relationship with somebody who takes me for granted, can be reframed as I enjoy and appreciate people who are considerate and value my contributions.
“I don’t want to be exhausted and overwhelmed anymore,” can be reframed as “I can manage my time and responsibilities effectively, in a way that excites and energizes me.”
“I don’t want to feel anxious and worry all the time,” can be reframed as “I give myself time every day to calm my mind.”
The clarity you gain from positively describing your future as compared to your present will also help you design your first steps towards change.
Design your first steps to guarantee success. For fear to be manageable, it is best to take small manageable steps in the direction of your goal. One of the main reasons people give up or give in to fear is because they have taken a step that 's too big. What action step can you take in the next 24 hours that will be so small you can’t possibly fail? Don’t dismiss the simplicity of the first steps towards change. As you succeed, you will develop your tolerance for the discomfort of fear and change and take increasingly larger steps.
You need to find a way to quiet your inner critic. There is no doubt you will experience self-doubt and self-criticism. One of the best ways to manage this is to acknowledge it. Speak to it as though it were a dear friend, thank your friend for looking out for you and protecting you while assuring it you are in control, will quiet the negative chatter. If your inner voice starts yelling at you or won’t be quiet, then turn it off by counting your breaths. It is not possible to place equal mental attention on two things at the same time. Focus on your breath.
Be mindful of what you are changing and why. Stay solutions-focused instead of problem-focused. Measure how you are feeling and your success. On a scale of 1-10, with ten being the most fearful, rate how you feel before you take your step and afterward. If you do not notice a decrease in the level of fear you are feeling, then you need to take a smaller step.
Practice self-care. Being kind to yourself is imperative. Change is a process, not a destination, despite wanting specific outcomes, you will experience less fear and greater fulfillment when you realize you are doing your best at this moment. You can make adjustments from what you learn as you proceed. When you learn and grow, the possibilities are limitless.
Take good care.