Make your fear work for you

| October 22, 2015
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You’ve cut through the excuses — I don’t have enough time, I don’t know what to do — and now you’re standing face to face with your fear. And you’re paralyzed.

Your mind is in a tailspin of what-ifs and worst-case scenarios. Your breathing gets faster, palms sweat, mouth goes dry. Everything feels shaky and insecure. You wish you could tackle the challenge…but you also want to run and hide and face your fear another day. You are classically stuck.

But what if you could harness your fear and turn it into a power source, one that would propel you forward and build your confidence in unexpected ways? Yes, we thought you’d be interested, so we tapped into the collective wisdom of our colleagues at SYPartners (the creator of Unstuck). Inspired by their knowledge, experience, and courage, here is a four-step process to transform fear into fuel (with follow-ups for good measure).

STEP 1. INTERROGATE YOUR FEAR
Digging in will reveal what’s really scaring you. Then you can reframe it into more positive potential. Start by honestly answering these questions.

Get to the root:
• What exactly am I feeling? (Be specific. Fear can range from stressed anxiety to all-out terror.)
• Why am I afraid? Why? Why? (Keep asking “Why?” until you reach the core.)
• Is my fear based on past experience or the situation I’m in right now?
• Does this thing I’m afraid of really matter to me? (If it has more to do with others’ expectations, take a look at “Whose life is it, anyway?”)
• What does my fear feed on? What am I doing to support that fear? How can I turn that around?

Reframe it:
• Will I regret it if I let fear stop me from doing this? What might I miss out on?
• If I go for it, what’s the best that could happen? (Spend time imagining that result.)
• If I fail, how will I recover? Am I overthinking the consequences? (Remember, few decisions cannot be changed.)
• If I succeed, how will I feel? Will this fear seem silly when it’s behind me?
• What does this fear have to teach me?

STEP 2. DEFUSE YOUR FEAR
With fear front and center, your emotions are probably running high — which fogs your ability to reason. Here are ways to dial down the drama so you can get the upper hand. Use any or all of these tips to address your situation:

Prepare, prepare, and over-prepare. Whether it’s rehearsing ad nauseum or visualizing the scenario until you see it in your sleep, your goal is to get well past the point of familiarity — you want it to become second nature so you can improvise if necessary. To get comfortable with the uncertainty of what scares you, allow yourself to make mistakes as you practice. Don’t let it faze you, and then try again. You’ll learn what you can control and what you need to stay loose about. And you’ll definitely know what to expect.

Give voice to your fear. Keeping your fears a secret only grows them, but saying aloud what they are takes the sting out. Open up to someone you trust and explain why you’re afraid. That person may share some of your fears (and support you in facing them) or hold the key to debunking them. Either way, it will be reassuring.

Distract your fear. Do something. Not the very thing you’re scared of, but anything that prevents you from sitting and stewing.

Crowdsource your courage. Spend time with people who are better at handling fear. Attitudes are contagious — let their fearlessness rub off on you.

See fear through another person’s eyes. Help someone else conquer a fear. In providing moral support, you may summon that courage in yourself.

Stop anticipating. Many fears boil down to the unknown — we worry about negative results and let them distract us from the positive actions we can take right now. Instead, focus only on what you can do now (like any of the tips here).

STEP 3. TRANSFORM YOUR FEAR
Once you’ve tamed your fear, take a step toward fully accepting it and your own vulnerability. Mastering the emotion means learning to experience it, release it, and move on. You can do this physically, mentally, and emotionally:

Breathe through your fear. Fear is a sensation. Instead of trying to shove it aside, experience it through your body at your own pace. Focus on your breathing, taking note of how your diaphragm moves with every inhale and exhale. Notice how deeply you actually breathe. Now imagine all the dark and scary and confusing feelings that reside deep within your gut. Take a deep, deep breath and make contact with the fear buried down there with those feelings. Let the fear move through you. Feel how it moves physically — it might be bucking, clenching, twisting, churning. Keep breathing, deeply and deliberately, until your fear changes to another feeling. Do this as much as you need to until your fear evolves into a feeling you can accept. With practice, the process will become a natural way of working through your feelings in the moment.

Give your fear a makeover. Reinterpret your high-tension state as excitement. For instance, you’re a case of nerves, not because you’re afraid to perform but because you’re so excited to! See it as an opportunity and say it out loud: “I’m excited to ___.”

Visualize moving past your fear. Imagine your state of mind on a spectrum where one end is the most relaxed you could possibly feel and the other end is the most energetic. How would you ideally like to feel in this situation? Note where it is on the spectrum, and imagine the emotional and physical qualities of that state until they feel familiar. Now, where you are on that spectrum at present? See and feel yourself moving across the spectrum, emotionally and physically, until you reach your ideal state.

STEP 4. TACKLE YOUR FEAR
Time to get things done! In your calmer, more motivated state, break down your challenge into bite-size problems to solve. Pick one to tackle and ignore the rest. Then just do it. Repeat.

FOLLOW-UPS
We all have setbacks. Here are three boosters that can minimize the fearful effects.

Give yourself the rest you need. When you’re tired and depleted, it’s harder to deal with anything, let alone fear.

Inspire yourself. What insights did you gain while transforming your fear? Write them down and display them as reminders. It could be a sticky note on your mirror, the background display on your phone or computer, or a poster on your wall.

See things differently. Now that you’ve gotten past seeing fear as a negative and made it work for you, are there other areas where there might be hidden positives you haven’t noticed? Here’s how to spot an opportunity that may be under the surface.

Thanks to these smart and fearless minds at SYPartners for their contributions: Carina Cortese, Elyssa Dole, Andrew Hearst, Alejandra Jusidman, Sarah Malachowsky, Kate McCoubrey, Amelie Segrestan, Dennis Tseng.

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