life skills

The Fear Toolbox

The number one obstacle to success? Fear.

Fear of failure, of loss, of ridicule and rejection, of not being good enough … fear comes in many forms, but it is part of the human condition – experienced by everyone who has ever achieved anything.

Fear can function as an early warning system, letting us know when we are about to face risk or danger, but it can also attack our confidence, our sense of worth, and our sense of self-efficacy, leading to paralysis and avoidance.

“If you persuade yourself that you can do a certain thing, provided this thing be possible, you will do it, however difficult it may be. If, on the contrary, you imagine that you cannot do the simplest thing in the world, it is impossible for you to do it, and molehills become for you unscalable mountains.” – Emile Coué

So how do we navigate our way through fear?

There are many tools and techniques for working with fear, however it is useful to have a toolkit that includes a range of cognitive, emotional and physical strategies.

Cognitive

Drawing on teachings on stoicism, Tim Ferriss has developed a simple three-step cognitive process for facing fear.

Step one: write down the goal and make three lists. One column is a DEFINITION of all the possible things that could go wrong – the worst case scenarios. The second column lists what you can do to PREVENT these fears. The third column covers how you could REPAIR the issues should the worst case happen.

Step two: write three paragraphs on WHAT MIGHT BE THE BENEFITS OF AN ATTEMPT OR PARTIAL SUCCESS? Take a conservative look at the upside of attempting the goal – would you at least gain confidence, experience, knowledge?

Step three: clarify the COST OF INACTION. Again, in three columns of six months, one year, and three years, write down the emotional, physical, financial cost of not going for what you want.

Emotional

This cognitive approach can be strengthened through techniques that help to manage our emotional response to fear.

The following basic visualisation techniques allow us to mentally rehearse the difficult situation and defuse any associated negative emotions.

Coping imagery

Picture yourself dealing adequately – not perfectly – with a challenging situation. Visualise yourself identifying ways to overcome difficulties, and coping using the strategies identified. See yourself calmly moving through the issues and doing enough to get you where you want to go.

Repeating this exercise develops the sense of being able to cope adequately with whatever may occur. It also relieves us from the need to be perfect by removing the black and white succeed/fail thinking.

Step-up technique

Visualise the event or situation that provokes the fear, then ‘step-up’ the picture and imagine the worst possible outcome. Then imagine coping and surviving the situation.

This exercise strengthens our belief in our ability to handle failure and affirms our ability to survive and move on no matter the outcome.

Physical

When we feel confident, we expand our bodies – we raise our heads, spread our arms and legs. And when we feel low in confidence we shrink, we physically contract to protect ourselves. These are universal body language signals that indicate power and confidence throughout the human and animal species.

We know that these signals govern how others think and feel about us, but how we carry our bodies affects how we feel about ourselves also. Research  shows that we can change other people’s perceptions – and increase our own sense of confidence – simply by changing body positions.

So, as a low-tech body hack to confidence, we can simply “Stand up straight, and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances” (Maya Angelou).

 

Fear can take over our mental landscape and prevent us from achieving and being all that we can be. By utilising a toolbox of mental, emotional and physical techniques, we can put ourselves in the best position to move past our fears and take on the challenges ahead of us.

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