« The fastest way to deal with fear is to do it anyway » – Tony Robbins.
We are born with only two fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds.
These two fears are necessary for the survival of the species. So how do we develop so many other fears?
It might be public speaking, talking to strangers, quitting a job, splitting up, moving house, driving in a different country, quitting alcohol or smoking, presenting your opinion in a meeting.
Fear stops us from enjoying life and pushing the boundaries. We limit ourselves and end up not doing things which could enhance our lives. There are even people who are scared of leaving the house. This is quite extreme, but it happens.
On the other hand, there are people who genuinely seem to enjoy being scared. They love watching horror movies and undertaking risky activities. They are adrenaline junkies.
Men have been socialised not to show signs of fear, but to conquer it. For females it is much more acceptable to show signs of distress.
By constantly exposing ourselves to our fears – whether it’s extreme sports, heights, horror movies, snakes or spiders – our ability to tolerate them grows.
Some of these fears are irrational and have been instilled into us by our environment, culture and other people. You might remember your parents saying: « Don’t talk to strangers ». A lot of people are afraid of public speaking. However, what they’re really worried about is how their anxiety might affect their presentation.
Also negative thoughts about ourselves – such as: I’m a bad speaker; I’ll forget something; I’m boring; I’ll embarrass myself – raise anxiety.
I remember how stressed I was before and during my public speaking engagement. It was a horrible experience, but I decided to overcome this fear and now I absolutely love speaking in front of an audience. I don’t have any fear any more.
The key was to practice. Once you have done it once, the second time becomes easier. And after a few times you might even start to like it. You can go from being afraid of something to loving it.
To overcome my fear of swimming with my face under water, I signed up for an IronMan triathlon and practised for a year until I started really enjoying swimming. Now I love it. I’m also working on my fear of heights by constantly exposing myself to heights. It’s going away slowly. I’ve also overcome the fear of driving a scooter and now I really enjoy it. It’s so freeing. Spiders next!
There are so many people who decide to accept their fears. I’ve met a lot of people who really dislike their jobs, but they are scared to quit because they fear the unknown. They stay unhappy for years and waste time doing something they dread.
The alternative is to face the fear, get uncomfortable and experience something new and exciting. Of course, it’s never easy but if we want to live our lives to the full we need to push ourselves outside the comfort zone.
When we avoid something that scares us, we tend to experience a sense of failure. Every time we avoid the fear we accumulate experience of failure and eliminate the opportunity to practice. It makes us feel even worse.
If you’re scared of the elevator, you will have to take the elevator every day. If you dread speaking in public, you will need to start speaking in front of large groups. You will have to stay in the feared situation until it begins to subside.
Every time you confront your fear you gain power while your anxiety loses strength. The short-term discomfort of exposure is the price we must pay to purchase a valuable long-term asset: a life free from anxiety.
And the more we do it, the easier it becomes in other aspects of life. You will literally become a different person, someone who is prepared to lead by example and be an inspiration to others. The only way out of fear is through it.
– Written by Anna Bastek: multi-award winning entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, owner of Wolfestone, VoiceBox and Robertson Languages International, Welsh Government Dynamo Role Model, Ironman triathlete, traveller.