Ever heard the advice that only when you get over your fears do you actually stand a chance at accomplishing much of anything in your life? While I believe that the advice is well intended, my own experience suggests otherwise. Rather than rid ourselves of fear we actually need to face them full on. This means naming them, accepting them and getting to know what's the worst that could happen because of them.
Name your fears: so many of us are ruled by fears without even knowing what they are. Especially when faced with a personal challenge or aspiration we would like to reach, without identifying our fears we find ourselves stumbling across the same trip-ups and coming up against the same walls. If you notice this pattern taking place, try taking a step back and understanding what is keeping you from reaching the next level. What are you afraid of that holds you back from really taking a leap of faith, trying something entirely new or investing in a risk? Like meeting someone for the first time, once fear has a name it is no longer a complete stranger to us.
Accept your fears: while fears may prevent us from attaining some dreams, they may also be protecting us and keeping us alive. Rooting back to our hunter-gatherer days, the survival mechanism that is fear functions as a checks and balance of sorts, making sure that we double and triple think about our goals and plans before we pursue them. Accepting and even appreciating the benefits that fears can have for us begin to change our relationships with our fears altogether. Perhaps we can view them as guides or even friends, helping us navigate our dreams while still looking out for us and our safety. Sometimes, our fears served an important role when we were younger in protecting us. These same fears may still be around today even though the dangers no longer are. Understanding our fears in this way also allows us to begin changing the relationship we have with them.
What's the worst that can happen? While some fears consume us like a bottomless pit, the truth is that even our deepest fears at some point come to a dead end. Although it's not easy, try a game of engaging with your fear. Ask your fear, "What's the worst that can happen if I do ____?" When you find the answer, then ask, "And then what would happen?" Keep asking the "And then?" question until you arrive at the very end of the absolute worst chain of events that could happen if you pursued whatever it is that is provoking the fear. Perhaps you now have a written list of 10, 20 or even more events in this chain. Now take a step back and look at how many things would need to happen before that very worst fear-based scenario came true. Consider how much is in your control to actually turn things around for each of those events. Reflect on how many safety measures are most likely already in place that would prevent you from even moving through the first 3 or 4 events. For many of us, it can be empowering just seeing this and realizing how far away the worst reality is from our current reality.
Once you've gone through these three steps, sense into whether the fear still has as much of a dominant a grip on you as before. The fear may not need to disappear at all for you to have developed a much friendlier and more self-aware approach for how to manage it. In fact, it might even make you stronger.