Do you find that you don’t manage to take more than a few baby steps towards achieving your goal before you fall back into familiar patterns of behavior? If so, you’re not alone. There is a reason that most people never seriously pursue their dreams or aspirations and believe it or not, it’s the same reason every time – fear.
Fear is something which unites us all; it has been experienced in some form or another by every human being since the dawn of our existence, and in modern times it has become our common enemy. It is the barbed wire fence around your comfort zone. It is the voice in your head telling you not to go to the gym because you’ll be laughed at, or not to speak at a work conference because you’ll mess up, or not to try and achieve anything new – in case you fail and feel worthless.
Fear was not always a force for evil; in our early existence it was absolutely vital to avoid extinction. We needed to feel the physical and emotional effects of fear powerfully enough that we would choose not to put ourselves into fear-provoking situations; because in those days, that “situation” might have been stumbling into a mountain lion’s cave, and not running away would have meant certain death.
So, our minds are programmed to experience fear intensely and to evade the cause of that fear at all costs. Unfortunately, we have had little time to evolve beyond this primitive mechanism and mountain lions are not a problem for most of us anymore. Modern man’s every day fears come from threats to our comfort, pride or sense of self-worth, but our minds respond to fear indiscriminately, whether the cause is a life-threatening predator or potential social embarrassment.
We often don’t realize the full extent of fear’s influence on our lives, because we don’t call it fear; instead we refer to it as anxiety, stress, worry, or something else which wrongly identifies the fear at work as being some intrinsic and unavoidable personal trait. Look over the following questions and make a note of your answers:
- Do you have a particular goal, something that you are desperate to achieve, but find that you have never taken serious steps towards achieving it?
- Do you regularly begin projects but never finish them?
- Do you usually expect to fail at what you set out to do?
- Do you suffer from fears or anxieties that prevent you from putting yourself in certain situations? E.g. fear of crowds, social situations or strangers?
- Do you suffer with unfounded fears or phobias? E.g. fear of heights, snakes or small spaces?
- Do you feel your fears get in the way of you leading a fulfilling life?
If you answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions, it is likely that fear is preventing you from achieving your goals.
To put fear in its place, we first need to recognize that most fear is not representative of real-world threats to our well-being. If the fear-provoking situation can’t actually harm you, E. g. public speaking, then the negative emotion you attach to it is irrational – it is a product of your still-ingrained prehistoric survival instinct.
Secondly, we need to embrace the idea that fear can be a fantastic learning tool you can harness for personal growth. Think of your fear as big, flashing signposts that mark the edges of your comfort zone. Knowing where these boundaries are, is the first step in expanding them. When you want to grow, or take your life in a new direction you cannot operate within the same familiar parameters as you always have.
Experiencing discomfort is a vital part of personal growth and the feeling itself is only ever temporary; once you have crossed your comfort zone boundaries a few times the fences will move outwards and you will have claimed that new territory as familiar ground. If you continually let fear restrict you and do not challenge your boundaries you will never truly make progress. Stop playing small; harnessing your fear is the fast track to goal achievement.