How often have you excused yourself from doing something that could’ve been fun because of fear of some kind or another? Perhaps you’ve been asked to sing in front of others but dismissed it as something you would never do in public because you “can’t sing”. Perhaps you were asked to speak on a subject that you know, but are afraid to speak in front of others. Perhaps you had the opportunity to climb to heights unknown and see the amazing views but are terrified of heights. Or maybe your fear has kept you at home when there were things that you wanted to do in the outside world.
Fear is a funny thing. To some extent, we need it in order to function and survive in the world. We need it so that we do not run headlong off a cliff from which there would be no return. We need the adrenaline rush that we get with it so that we can effectively fight danger when it comes our way. But the opposite side of fear is paralysis. Fear can prevent us from doing things that are good for us, too. We get paralyzed into thinking overmuch about the activity we’re about to engage in. The fear may be so overwhelming and make us so uncomfortable that we stop thinking, close down and refuse to carry on. Fear like that is not productive and can actually cause us harm if we listen to it repeatedly. Our brain’s physical make-up begins to change when we give in to the fear response. Habits are formed when we repeatedly do the same activity. New pathways are formed and re-enforced in our brains each time we engage in an activity. If you decide that you cannot speak in front of others (which America’s number one fear, by the way) and repeatedly choose that stance, you will become less and less likely of ever breaking out of that rut, even if at some point you really are knowledgeable enough and completely capable of speaking intelligently on a topic.
Habits once formed are difficult to overcome, especially if fear is somehow linked to them. But it is not impossible to overcome them, even at a much later age. Whether you are 18 or 85, you can begin today to walk in opposition to the fear that has gripped you your entire life. You simply need to know how to go about it & refuse to let anything stop you.
First, identify why you are so afraid. Most fear has a time of entry into your life, so identify when you first remember being afraid, if you can. Then figure out what you’re actually afraid of. If you have a fear of public speaking, is it because you are afraid that people will think you are less intelligent than you are? Or because you might no be understood? Or because your viewpoints are less than popular? If you are afraid of heights is it because you feel intimidated when you’re not in control? Or perhaps you do not trust the ground beneath you? Identifying what the actual fear is can help a ton in overcoming your fear and enable you to take small steps in overcoming it.
Next, find small ways to challenge the fear in your life. If a fear of heights, work on climbing smaller inclines with stable footing. If you fear singing in front of tons of people, work on singing in front of a couple close friends or family members first. Or, if public speaking is your nemesis, speak in a small, group setting before attempting a large crowd.
Finally, confront it. If it is something you need to name, go for it. It is okay to tell your audience that you are doing what you’re doing in order to confront a fear you’ve had for decades. You’ll find abundant support from the majority of people when you let them know you are real and that you are not comfortable in the situation you’re in. It is perfectly fine to be afraid…just do not let it stop you from doing what you have always wanted to do!
The more often you choose a different neural pathway, the easier it will become for you to do any one of the things listed above, or something else that you’ve been wanting to try. In short, the only way to overcome fear is by DOING the thing that makes you afraid. Doing the same activity creates new pathways in your brain that can become their own habits over time. Who knows, before long, people might be asking you get off the stage!