How to Use Fear to Help you Make Decisions

March 18, 2014

Written By Renee Masur

“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”
  ―Ralph Waldo Emerson


So you’re ready to take a step toward a career path. You don’t know what will be ahead but you’re ready to find out. Your purpose it waiting, you just have to make the first move. But something is holding you back. It’s frightening to try something you’ve never done before, quit a job or start over in a new industry. Whether you’re ending a chapter or starting one, shaking the foundation of what you know can be exciting and absolutely terrifying at the same time.

Fear is a very powerful indicator of when you need to recognize that something external is happening to you. In many situations, fear is asking you to run away as fast as you can so that you can survive. The fear I’m speaking of has less to do with an ancestral run-away-from-lions instinct and more to do with fear that occurs when we consider stepping away from our comfort zone.

We all recognize that feeling of rocks plummeting to the bottom of our stomachs. It feels like your heart seizes and shrinks while your breath struggles to stay steady.

One potent example of this feeling is the moment before you speak in front of a crowd of people. This feeling used to be a warning that would have me running away. In order to make that feeling go away, I thought “I’ll remove myself from the situation. Only do things that are pleasant. If I am comfortable I am on the right track. Surely, feeling sick to my stomach is a sign that I should not do something.”

Something wasn’t working with that strategy though. I would run away from the things I was afraid of only to be presented with them later on, and the fear would come back even stronger. Not only was I still not sure how to deal with it, I was even more aware that I still hadn’t figured it out.

If I am in a group of people who are having a serious conversation and I feel that familiar gut-twist, it’s a sign to me that I need to speak up. I noticed that whenever I didn’t give my input in reaction to this feeling, someone else in the group would. Then I would feel disappointment that I didn’t trust my own mind to know what was important to talk about.

Let Fear be the Guide

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to have the opposite reaction to that fear. I listen to my body when it speaks to me. Nothing is as terrifying as the fear of failure.

What if what I say isn’t good enough?

They will laugh at me.

I’ll feel stupid.

I can’t do it.

These thoughts feed the fear; it morphs into a bubbling ball in your gut until your mind believes that whatever is it you’re trying to attempt is making you ill. It’s saying you shouldn’t even try. I didn’t like the idea that fear could have that much power over my mind, so I started using that fear as an alarm to do, and not avoid, what was holding me back. Scared to speak in front of people? Speak. Afraid to try something you’ve never done before? Go for it. Let your fear influence you in a different way. Allow it to show you what you should be doing, not what you should be avoiding.

How to Follow Your Fear

It’s never as easy as just doing it. Making your goal requires easing into it, but with persistence. And it starts with the first step.

1. Find the Fear. There are many people who will rarely experience this kind of anxiety because they have become experts at avoiding fear. They know every border of their comfort zone and they stay well within the walls. Come out. Be in the presence of what makes your heart beat faster. Get used to that feeling again.

2. Take Notice of the Anxiety. Once feeling rocks in your gut is something that regularly happens, begin ranking on a scale of 1 to 5 how stressed out you feel. What makes you feel slightly uncomfortable and what makes you feel sick to your stomach?

3. Push Yourself. As you become familiar with the different “zones” of discomfort, push yourself to do those things you’ve been avoiding. Start with levels 1-2 until your confidence begins to build. If pushing yourself to do a Level 5 challenge is too much, stick with the easier levels. Sing karaoke, try salsa dancing, use social media to meet a new group of people, go on a date.

Soon enough, trying new things will stop scaring you, and you’ll have more confidence to do the big stuff like writing that book, applying for that dream job, or travelling to a different part of the world.

Let fear work for you; not the other way around. Never be afraid of taking a step in the wrong direction, or you may stand still. You should be the last thing that holds you back.


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