I’m not fearless.
I’m willing to bet you’re not either.
Why? Because fearlessness is nothing more than a myth. It doesn’t serve any of us to pretend that the goal is to crush a vulnerable and human part of ourselves.
About 15 years ago, I sat through a full-day retreat on fear at my local meditation center, hoping that it would teach me how to be fearless. I was sure there was a way to erase that pesky little emotion, so that I could get on with the grand visions for my life.
What I learned was life-changing, and far more valuable: fear is a natural, human response to the unknown. It’s useful, as long as you take the time to understand how it works. And fear was coming up for me for the simple reason that I was tackling some new, unexplored territory.
Along with some handy tips for how to identify, physically interact and co-exist with fear, there was something else that stuck with me that day.
Perpetuating the crazy idea that we’re supposed to remove fear from our lives can often do more harm than good.
Fear can be many things — a physically felt sensation, a warning signal, an overdeveloped response to stress, an old friend we’re used to relying on. Some of these are more useful than others, but they all (ALL) come up when we’re making changes in our lives or careers that involve a bit of uncertainty.
Which is most of them.
There is nothing wrong with feeling afraid.
There is nothing wrong with listening to what scares you, and evaluating the truth of it.
There is nothing wrong with admitting aloud that you are not, in reality, without fear.
We can work with all of that.
Imagine how much would go undone if we all waited to feel fearless before we did anything brave in our lives?
One of my favorite ways to look at how we deal with fear comes straight from that retreat day 15 years ago:
Imagine that managing your fear is like letting a dog into your car. You know you wouldn’t let the dog drive. You’re the one behind the wheel. And you know that you wouldn’t hide the dog in the trunk and pretend it’s not there, either. You’d give the dog a safe and secure spot, where you can see it and it can see what is happening.
Courage is all about knowing our fear, putting it in an appropriate role and increasing our capability to act at the same time.
Far more nourishing than trying to crush it. Far more doable.
The next time fear stops you in your tracks, try a couple of these strategies:
Be brave elsewhere. Exercise the muscle of courage by trying new things in areas that are less charged for you. Think just on the edge of your comfort zone.
Stop pretending you know the result. Being focused in the present gets good press for a reason. Many fears come from predicting what could happen down the road, not what is happening right this minute.
Increase your odds. Get the knowledge you need to feel more confident and less uncertain in the situation.
Put yourself on the line. Talk openly about your fear and your decision to act anyway. Enlist friends and supporters to your cause.
Make room. Instead of demonizing your fears, just allow them to be. Make friends.
Look for the lesson. Maybe you have a fear of failing or not making the right decision. What might that teach you?
Physically surf it. Tracking the physical feelings of fear in your body (tight neck muscles, a sick stomach, etc.) can help you identify what you’re feeling, and work with it.
Over to you: What are you learning from your fears lately? How are you stretching your courage muscles?