To experience all of life’s great adventures, you must be prepared to leave your comfort zone.
Sometimes, we face opportunities that frighten us. Maybe you are public speaking in front of your friends and family, asking your boss for a raise, or telling someone you love them.
When faced with daunting and risky challenges like these, we often experience physiological arousal. Our heart rate increases, our breathing intensifies, and our palms become sweaty.
Psychologists call this The Fight or Flight response (coined in the 1920s by physiologist Walter Cannon). It’s an evolutionary response to danger that our ancestors developed to protect them from harm — as cavemen, for example, only those that ran or fought their way out of danger survived.
In 2020, we still experience that evolutionary response — but most of the time we do, it’s not because some external danger is present. Instead, it’s because we’re afraid of the outcome of that event; even when the outcome is harmless. And, in our heightened state of arousal, we tend to favor the easiest choice available to us. Running from our fears is easier than pursuing them, so we regularly choose flight over fight.
But, as cliche as it sounds — nothing good comes easy. You can’t run from life’s challenges forever, and the rewards are much greater if you take difficult tasks in your stride, rather than avoid them altogether. Rather than letting your fears control you, there are some things you can do to help you take risks and reap the rewards of difficult challenges.
Recognize That Your Fear Is Common
When we encounter a fear obstacle that’s holding us back, it’s easy to mark it as irrational and stupid. We tell ourselves we know nothing bad can come from asking our boss for a raise, so we’re being silly when we feel butterflies and fear in our stomach. And, when we’re in that state of mind, we tend to suppress and keep things to ourselves — in an attempt to hide our fear. “We’re just being silly,” we tell ourselves, before we give up on the task altogether.
But, according to award-winning Physician Susan Biali, when you’re faced with a task you’re afraid of — the best thing you can do is recognize that the physiological arousal you’re experiencing is completely normal.
We all get nervous when doing something new for the first time. All our heart rates increase when we’re doing something we care about that could go wrong. We all sweat when we think our lives are in danger.
People expect to be able to navigate their lives easily and without challenges, and think they're doing something wrong when they feel afraid and shy away from obstacles. The reality, however, is that everyone experiences fear and worry when undergoing new experiences or radical change in their life. Normalizing your behavior, according to Biali, puts things into perspective. It helps us overcome the shame and embarrassment of being an anxious person (which tends to make things worse, not better).
Rather than judging yourself as weak, normalizing your fear leaves you more inclined to ask for help, rather than putting yourself down and suffering in silence. And that’s the first step to successfully navigating the stressful situation.
“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” — Nelson Mandela
A Helping Hand
We all experience events differently. When the pressure’s on, it’s very easy to over amplify the severity of an event in an attempt to justify fleeing the scene. Getting a different view on the situation allows you to get objective truths about the topic. And hearing those truths helps you see much clearer the risks involved, which inevitably makes the task easier to undergo.
- Things are never as bad as we think they are.
- The worst-case scenarios we fixate on are less likely than we think.
- The rewards, and chances of success are much greater than our worried self can comprehend.
Reaffirm Reasons for Action by Asking Questions
Why do you want to tell someone you love them? What’s the worst thing that could happen if you do? What will happen if you don’t? According to Entrepreneur Samira Far, whenever we’re feeling anxious and doubting whether we should perform a task, to get yourself back on track, we should ask ourselves questions about the task. Because questions like:
- What am I afraid of?
- Are you really at risk? What’s the worst-case scenario?
- Why do you care about this task? What would happen if you don’t try?
Reaffirm and bring to the forefront of your mind the reasons why you care so much. And it’s clear that you do care, because you wouldn’t be thinking or worrying about it as much as you are otherwise. You can use that to fuel your motivation to continue, despite your natural hesitation and fear.
Asking these questions will make you realize that walking away and opting for flight over fight will leave you experiencing regret, and wondering “what if.” Especially if the rewards are great, and the risks are minimal — so it’s clear that asking them is a more rational way of deciding whether to chase your dreams, and whether it’s wise to shy away from them.
Change the Narrative
A lot of the time, our worries and fear are brought about by the narrative we tell ourselves — because we make assumptions and engage in negative self-talk based on our past experiences. That is, because we’ve tried and failed at something in the past, we assume that every time we undergo that task we will fail.
According to lifestyle writer Tess Marshall the easiest way for us to take the leap and perform the actions we’re afraid of, is to avoid negative self-talk, and change our own narrative. According to Marshall, most of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are based on the pain of the past or fear of the future. But, by taking control and responsibility of your life, you’re able to live in the present moment — and allow yourself to create new stories filled with positive experiences.
Just because something went wrong in the past doesn’t mean it will in the future. Stop allowing your past failures to define your future. Instead, take control and define your own story. As Dale Carnegie said — “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
Nothing good comes easy. But, faced with the fear of failure and the physiological arousal it comes with, we often choose flight over fight, and run from what we’re scared of. But you can’t run from your fears forever. Instead, to achieve a life that you want, you’ll need to do things you’re afraid of from time to time.
- Recognize that your fear is common. Rather than feeling embarrassed, ask for help.
- Ask questions, and remind yourself of why you care, and why you are considering the action in the first place. Come to realize that the rewards are huge, and the risk involved is minimal.
- Change the narrative. Instead of telling yourself that, because you failed at something in the past, you will (by default) do the same now. Instead, take control of your life, live in the present moment rather than letting your past define you, and allow yourself room to create your own story.
“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” — Louisa May Alcott
I write about Self-Improvement, Life Lessons, Philosophy, Psychology & Business — to help you reach your full potential.
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