How to overcome your fears even if you’re scared witless

Fear of the Dark

stuart anthony via Compfight


Fear doesn’t have to stop us living  extraordinary lives. Why do so many of us let it?

Yesterday I attended a workshop ” Strategies to Harness your Energy” arranged by our local small business development organisation, it was presented by The Resilience Doctor – Tim Gibney.

Tim covered a range of topics including beliefs, habits, thoughts, he gave us many valuable ideas to harness our energy, improve our lives and be more effective. I am not going to go into more detail about the workshop, to find out more about Tim and what he does, go to his website The Resilience Doctor.

One topic that did get discussed was FEAR, there are many interpretations of FEAR as an acronym, Tim used Funny Emotion Arresting Results. Another popular one often quoted by personal development experts is False Expectations About Reality.

I am the first to admit that in my life I have experienced terrifying fear, sometimes real fear because I found myself in dangerous situations with real risks of painful or even fatal consequences, but more often unrealistic fears about possible outcomes that had no risk of physical danger. Yes I have at times let those fears hold me back and prevent me taking the action I knew I should take.

Why do we let fear hold us back?

Is there a difference between fear based on a real possibility of something terrible happening to us, our car skidding sideways towards a huge tree for example and a fear that only exists in our minds, one of the most common being the fear of public speaking.

Frequently, the worst fears, the ones that keep us awake at night, make our palms sweaty and our pulses race are the unrealistic ones we allow to occupy too much space in our minds.

Very often, in situations where there is a real and imminent danger, we don’t have time to feel fear. We either act or freeze, the classic “fight or flight” response.

Why then do we become victims to a fear that only exists in our minds? Why do we worry what “they” will think if our speech – to use the common fear – is less than perfect?

How do we overcome real fear and stop being held captive by irrational fears?

We should do all that we can to avoid potentially dangerous situations, like walking down dark alleys in dangerous areas alone late at night. We should take sensible precautions, lock our doors, be observant of our surroundings and not take unnecessary risks. But we must also recognise that we cannot prepare for every possible situation, life itself is risky, accidents do happen. There is no point being afraid of something so remotely unlikely as winning the lottery.

For the non-life threatening fears that are holding us back we can confront them head on – just doing it, acknowledge, accept and overcome them or reduce their effect by eroding them incrementally. Different situations require different solutions.

Head on confrontation.  

If there is no risk of physical danger this can be the method of choice, almost a baptism by fire! Speaking in front of an audience, a visit to the dentist, asking for a raise, asking an attractive person of the opposite sex for a date could all fall into this category. Put any thoughts of failure aside, recognise that there will be no serious consequences of taking action and just do it.

Acknowledge, Accept, Overcome.

Acknowledge that we do fear taking action, accept that we have to take the action, limiting the potential for injury if there is a risk, perhaps asking for help the first time. This could be an alternative to head on confrontation in some situations of public speaking, asking for assistance could be sensible for a situation involving handling an unknown animal or unfamiliar machinery for the first time.

Incremental Erosion.

The desired course of action when there is a real danger of someone getting hurt or where the fear is at paralysing levels.

I have been a horse rider all my life, I have been fortunate to compete in a number of equestrian sports, show jumping, cross-country, polo and polo-crosse. When I started riding as a 7-year-old, I was petrified when my father let go of the lead rope the first time. I was desperately afraid of falling off, until I did the first time. Then I was afraid of cantering for the first time, afraid of jumping the first jump, first competition, first polo-crosse game. But as I got through each level with no more than a few scrapes and bruises (the serious injuries came much later) I overcame the fear.

Just as I think rodeo bull riders are nuts,  non riders find it inconceivable that I could enjoy being in a bunch of up to 8 Thoroughbred horses standing in the stirrups of an English saddle, galloping at 60kph (30mph), controlling the horse with one hand and trying to hit a hard ball the size of an orange with a 5ft mallet in the other. It is an adrenaline rush like no other, after the first time, fear is totally banished.

The same experience of incrementally overcoming fear happened driving a car, riding motor bikes at high-speed, flying a plane, water skiing, windsurfing and running my first road races. I imagine the same is true for many other sports.

Applying the incremental approach to a non physically risky activity works well for public speaking, start small by getting comfortable with speaking in departmental or committee meetings, progress to service clubs, industry associations, and on to larger audiences. Become more competent along the way by getting training, either with a coach or by joining a group like Toastmasters.

What about Real Fear?

Yes, there are times and situations where there is a real chance of something nasty happening to us and fear keeps us on our toes. As long as we do not let it paralyse us, it is useful, it keeps us alert, stops us getting complacent, might even save our lives. But those situations are few and far between. There can be others, like a bolting horse, an out of control bull, steering or brake failures in cars, trucks and bicycles, engine failure in an aeroplane, emergency landings. I have experienced all those and more, most of the time you are too busy trying to minimise the danger to be afraid.

There are less physically dangerous but equally frightening ones like impending bankruptcy, losing a home, divorce, very sick or badly injured children, unemployment, loss of a business. Been through all of those too, no amount of fear changes the outcome. We can only do everything possible to get the best outcome from a bad situation and let it unfold as it will.

In times like those, remember the saying “This too shall pass”. Life is dynamic, it has to be, nothing good or bad, stays the same for too long.

What next?

Don’t let irrational fears hold you back from living your life to the full. If fear is stopping you moving towards your goals or creating your vision, analyse it, if there is a risk, do everything to minimise that risk, determine which is the best way to overcome it and just do it.

How do you get over your fears? Share your ideas in a comment.

Wishing you success and a fearless future.

Peter Wright




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