If you’re human, then you’re most definitely familiar with the feelings of fear and doubt that come with trying new and unfamiliar things, putting yourself out there, or taking a risk.
When strong enough, they can stop you in your tracks; keeping you seemingly paralyzed, frozen, and unable to move forward. While everyone experiences fear and doubt to some degree, not everyone allows it to keep them from achieving their dreams or reaching their goals.
So how do these people do it? The key is to refuse to let fear and doubt take over the reins of your life by finding a way to take action in spite of them.
What Happens To Your Body in Moments of Fear and Doubt
Inside our brains, there’s a tiny, almond-shaped structure near the brainstem called the amygdala. It’s very similar to the brain of the reptiles that came before mammals some 200 million years ago. Because it’s still found in lower life forms like lizards and birds, it’s often referred to as the “Lizard” or “Reptilian” Brain.
This non-verbal Lizard Brain ensures self-preservation and survival. It’s responsible for our most primitive instincts: things like breathing, heart rate, fear, and hunger. It also sees anything new or risky as threatening and something that should be avoided.
When fear arises, it’s important to realize that the Lizard brain is only doing its job; keeping us safe and as far away from danger as possible. This is great for when we’re in actual physical danger. For instance: if we were being preyed on by a saber-toothed tiger. Unfortunately, it’s NOT so helpful when it comes to us wanting to move forward into unchartered territory towards new goals and dreams.
In my experience, doubt is simply a side effect as well as a cover for our underlying fear. It’s the verbal equivalent of, or a side-dish to, the Amygdala’s non-verbal fear. It’s the voice in our head that tells us it’s too risky to leave that job we hate or that we’ll never make it in this world alone – so we better not dare leave that terrible relationship.
Together, fear and doubt are responsible for our procrastination and resistance to change. If we aren’t careful, they can keep us feeling small and too frozen to ever take any action.
So What Can We Do?
The most important thing to do is to recognize when we’re stuck or frozen by fear and doubt, as it can be very easy to get caught up in their spiral without even realizing it.
We often ignore or suppress emotions or stay busy with everyday activities in our lives in an unconscious effort to avoid dealing with our feelings. What’s worse is that the Lizard Brain gets louder as we move closer and closer to taking action towards our dreams.
The good news is this: once we become aware, there are many ways that we can successfully combat the paralyzing effects of fear and doubt. Then, we can begin to more easily take the necessary actions to move forward towards our true desires – regardless of them.
Below are five useful strategies for maintaining your forward momentum (or kick-starting it) when fear and doubt get in your way:
- Acknowledge your feelings. Instead of letting them make you run and hide, lean into them and be present with them. When you hear your words or thoughts talking you out of taking action, STOP immediately and do a body scan.
Notice where the physical sensation of what you’re feeling shows up in your body and just sit with it. Let it exist. Concentrating only on the physical sensation, ignore the mind as it steps in with any thoughts.
If thoughts do continue to pop up, try to put them in a bubble off to the side. Close your eyes, don’t forget to breathe, and really concentrate on the physical sensations only.
Emotions are simply “energy in motion” and are meant to flow through us. The fear is there anyway so why not allow it? Suppressing or ignoring it will only lead to anxiety, stress or illness. I’m suggesting allowing it to exist only as a physical energy without trying to force it away.
Remember: allowing it to exist is NOT the same as letting it take the lead!
- Perform a risk assessment on your planned course of action. In Martha Beck’s book The Joy Diet, she outlines four questions to ask when considering taking a course of action that scares you:
- Is this risk really necessary to achieve my hearts desires? Do I feel a genuine longing for whatever it is I’m seeking?
- Does the thought of taking this step create an inner sense of clarity, despite my apprehensions? (When a risk is good for you, you may feel apprehension, but little or no confusion.)
- Do I feel only fear, or is there also a sense of toxicity akin to disgust? (Pay attention: a good risk feels like taking a high dive into a sparkling clean pool; a bad risk feels like taking the same leap, but into polluted swamp water.)
- At the end of my life, which will I regret more: taking this risk and failing, or refusing to take it, and never knowing whether I would have succeeded or failed?
If you had any question as to whether your course of action was right or wrong, you’re sure to have a much better idea after answering the above questions.
- Practice “getting a feel” for your goals and dreams. Take time, once a day, or at a minimum 3-4 times a week, to imagine yourself already having succeeded in reaching your goal. Picture yourself living it as if it were actually true. Imagine yourself surrounded by the people and activities that would be there.
Pay close attention with all of your senses. What does is smell like? What sounds do you hear? What’s the landscape or time of year? Imagine your conversations and interactions. Really get into the feeling you’d have if it were already happening.
Notice the sensations in your body as you lean into the joy of having exactly what you desire. This FEELING is actually what your heart is longing for even more than the situation itself. Bringing this into your conscious awareness on a regular basis will stimulate your senses and help motivate you to take action steps towards creating it.
- Create an action plan and break it down into doable tasks. Sometimes, just imagining the steps required to achieve our goals can be daunting enough to stop us before we even start. Try sitting down and mapping out an action plan for how to reach that goal you have (even if you really don’t know exactly what’s required).
Start with the really big or obvious steps. When you’ve got your first list, try breaking the steps down further and further until they feel like something you could actually do. Keep taking the little steps every day, week, or whatever timeframe works for you.
But DON’T stop! Feeling the satisfaction from even small forward movements can inspire you to keep going. Feel free to celebrate your success with a personal reward after you’ve completed each little step.
- Treat yourself with self-compassion and kindness. Beating yourself up and putting yourself down will rarely keep you motivated or inspired to take action. So stop doing it! What if your child or a best friend was the one struggling with taking action in the face of fear? Would you consider yelling at them or shaming them an effective or loving approach? My guess is probably not.
When fear arises and holds you back, recognize it, take steps to address it and then give yourself a break and move forward. Do something that feels like love every chance you get. Maybe it’s spending time with family, wrapping yourself in a cozy blanket, or curling up with a good book.
Whatever it is for you, take time for yourself and don’t feel guilty about it. It’ll make you feel more grounded, energized and in control in all areas of your life, which will only benefit you in your quest to move forward when confronted with the obstacles created by fear and doubt.
Being able to recognize fear and doubt for what they are, and to move forward despite these feelings, can be one of the most empowering experiences of your life. As you continue to apply these five strategies, you’ll learn to allow them to exist without letting them stop you from taking action towards creating the life of your dreams!