Lessons from a life coach: three steps to conquering your fears

Sometimes the only way to get past your fear is to recognise it, name it and commit to whatever you need to do to get past it

I recently made several big changes to my life. I got married, expanded my business and moved from London to LA. I was excited about all these things, but even when there is an exciting change on the horizon, the little voice at the back of my head kicks in; questioning what I’m doing, doubting whether it will work. I believe that no matter how confident you are in any decision you make, there will always be an element of fear about it, and we need to name it before we can move on from it.

Common fearful phrases I hear from my coaching clients include: I’m scared it’s not going to happen, I’m expecting too much, I’m not good enough, I haven’t got any energy or I feel lost and overwhelmed. What these fearful phrases have in common is that they are all about “me” and “I”. If you’ve uttered any of these recently it might be worth taking a closer look at what is driving that fear.

When we start to believe this voice in our head we can start to feel anxious or untrusting of others, we close down to opportunities and get defensive. We hold ourselves back at work and don’t go after what we want. More worryingly, if these fears go unchecked, we can start to accept them as truth.

Sometimes the only way to get past your fear is to recognise it, name it and then commit to whatever you need to do to get past it. Here are some simple steps to get past the fear hurdle.

Recognise it as fear rather than truth

I work with ambitious women who believe they should be able to do whatever they want to, without fear. However, there is no point trying to be free from fear, fear is part of being human, the trick is in how you manage it.

In Liz Gilbert’s book Big Magic she says: “If I want creativity in my life then I will have to make space for fear too.” Gilbert recognises the first step of getting past your fear is accepting that it’s there, and that it’s all part of the journey. You’re going to have to get comfortable with it whether you like it or not.

A great exercise to help you name your fears is to list them out as though they belong to a third person. For example, I have the “perfectionist, slave driver”. The fear that I won’t do something well enough is hers, not mine. This naming your fear takes the power out of it and you’ll also start to recognise it more easily.

What can this fear teach me?

We are rarely illogically afraid of things. When we have a fear it’s usually driven by our mind’s desire to protect us. To let go of that fear we need to find out what it’s trying to teach us first.

Recently a client had a brilliant new business idea. She wrote her business plan easily, yet something held her back from starting. She worried she couldn’t do it alone, so started looking for a business partner. She approached someone about it, told them her idea but didn’t hear back for two weeks. In that time she convinced herself the reason she hadn’t heard was because the plan was terrible and it wouldn’t work.

In reality when the potential partner did come back to her, they loved the idea but they weren’t in a place where they wanted to start a business. She went back to her original idea of running the company on her own, and loved it. She had let her fear about being rejected by someone she respected cloud her instincts about how she actually wanted to run the business.

Often fear comes up when we don’t recognise the emotion behind it. An example of this is when we lose something important to us – for example, a job or a relationship. The voice in our head may say: “How could you let this happen, you are never going to recover from this.” But when we look at what’s behind this it’s often sadness for the loss. We need to give ourselves time to grieve. Allowing ourselves to sit with the sadness is a more compassionate way to handle this.

What do I do now?

Fear shows up when we are tired and worn down. Getting away from it means taking some time to look after yourself. When you hear that fearful voice, change your environment, stretch your body, get some fresh air. See it as a sign that you need something that will revitalise you, no matter how small.

One tactic, often used in meditation, is to close your eyes, breathe slowly and see the thought like a passing cloud. Watch it come into your vision, and watch it leave. In the end, the one thing we do know about all fearful situations, whether real or imagined, is that they too will pass.

Talk to us on Twitter via @GdnWomenLeaders and sign up to become a member of the Women in Leadership network and receive our newsletter.

Nikki Armytage

The GuardianTramp

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