Lessons learned on the other side of fear

Did you know that 85% of the things we worry about never happen?

University of Cincinnati researchers found that even out of the 15% of the things that do happen, 79% of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or they’ve learned a particular lesson that needed to be taught (Goewey & Jampolsky (2014) in “Four Steps to rewire your brain”)

Despite this, fear has to be the number one thing that is stopping most of us from unlocking our true potential and push past our self imposed limitation. Yet, as Jack Carnfield puts it:

Everything we want is on the other side of fear.  

So where does this whole fear thing come from? According to Smithsonianmag.com, “Fear starts in the brain and spreads through the body to make adjustments for the best defence, or flight reaction. The fear response starts in a region of the brain called the amygdala. This almond-shaped set of nuclei in the temporal lobe of the brain is dedicated to detecting the emotional salience of the stimuli – how much something stands out to us”. However, in our modern world, most times our fears are not related to us running away from danger and yet, the same stress signals are sent to our body. And if we don’t internalise this emotionally and become aware of it, it can be really hard to react in a calm manner during those moments of fear.

It is said that human beings are born with 2 fears: the fear of falling forward and the fear of loud noises. Somehow, throughout life, we acquire so many underlying fears that we’re not even able to clearly identify where exactly they come from. Most of them are being passed on from generation to generation like a family tradition and some are cultivated over time either due to our environment or our own self limiting beliefs.

The list of fears is so long but I’ll attempt to mention a few that I find are most common: fear of public speaking, fear of failure, rejection, not being good enough, loneliness, death, being ridiculed, sickness, flying, and as strange as it might sound, we even fear success.

Fear and I have had a long-lasting relationship and not the great kind, more like an affliction, for lack of a better word. Needless to say, it has stopped me from pursuing a lot of things sooner. Combine that with perfectionism and boom, you have the perfect perfect combo for procrastination! However, as a recovering perfectionist, I discovered that done is better than perfect and that progression beats perfection every day of the week. The fear of not being good enough or feeling like an impostor might creep back from time to time and that’s perfectly normal. But my fear of regretting not having taken opportunities and living my best life, is greater than any other fears and it’s what pushes me forward – go figure the irony!

As a result, overcoming my fears, is what got me to where I am today and will, undoubtedly, be what will propel things further. My hope is that by sharing my experience, some things will resonate with you and will, hopefully, inspire you to take action, particularly if you want to change things in your life right now and not quite sure where to start. 

For as long as I remember I wanted to start my own business but couldn’t define exactly what I wanted to do. If you’d asked me when I was 14: What do you want to be when you grow up? (a better question might be “who do you want to be?“ – but that’s another topic for another day), I’d tell you I want to travel and run my own business. My spiel would sound like this: I’ll study in Bucharest (I am originally from a small town in the south of Romania), go for a study exchange in the UK for 6 months, finish my degree and return to the UK for a Masters degree and carry on living there. Needless to say, most people would smile politely once they’ve heard my well rehearsed spiel and I am pretty sure some of them thought I was delusional. Yet, this is exactly what I did. I didn’t know how that was going to happen but I knew it was what I wanted.

But for some reason, we go through life losing this child-like naivety. I know I did once I reached this milestone and started a new life in the UK. Fast forward to the last few years, though I had a great job, plenty of freedom and autonomy, something was missing. And especially last year this nagging feeling that I could do so much more and that I am not actually living my most authentic life (I know, could it get more corny than this?) was becoming stronger and stronger.

The natural next step was, of course, to quit work so I can finally get started on this journey of entrepreneurship (typing this makes me cringe a little as I don’t consider myself an entrepreneur, or at least not yet!). Spoiler alert: it is not as glamorous as people make it sound. It’s more like a rollercoaster of emotions: some days you might be super hyped whereas others you feel like you’re plodding along trying to take at least one productive action step so you can cross off your endless to do list at least one thing. And other days you might go back into what I call “procastilearning” (you research and read and read some more as you go down the rabbit hole of reading just one more article) – I’d have to tell you I am a master at that!

In the course of preparing for this journey, my long lasting lover, fear, was saying: Who do you think you are? You need to learn more, you need some certificates to qualify you, you might read a lot and you’ve grown a lot but maybe you’re not enough right now? What are people who know you going to say? Everyone is going to look at you and think you’re mad etc. And after a few dialogues, it dawned on me that the key is to start before you’re ready, as so many people who have attempted and succeeded at great things have done. Action is motivating; small successes are encouraging and usually bring new opportunities. 

If you find yourself at this crossroad, whatever is that you want to achieve is important to ask these simple questions:

If I don’t take action now will I regret it? And if I don’t take action now will I be happy doing what I do for another year? If you answer no to the latter, then it’s time you come up with a contingency plan (I will explain below)

And perhaps some follow up questions can be:

Why not you and why not now? And what if this is the greatest opportunity you will get?

These questions as simple as they might sound as are the some of the most powerful ones we can ask in moments like this.

But before you do anything and take any decisions, you have to take a super important first step:

Define your values

What I mean by that is take some time to consider: What’s important to you? Do you value family time, time with friends, travelling, how do you think about money? Being super clear on your values will come in particularly helpful especially during times of struggle. As soon as you do that, it will be so much easier to block the outside noise and focus on what’s really important to you. Don’t let other people’s values dictate yours too, because yours might be completely different than theirs. 

And yes, we all want material things so, no you can’t choose money as your value.

Once you’ve done that, you might find helpful to do the following:

Create a fear list

The concept of “fear setting“ which I’ve learned from Tim Ferriss is a lot better than any goal setting exercise you might go through. In his Ted talk , Tim shares how thinking of worst case scenarios and coming up with a contingency plan has been one of the exercises that has helped him overcome some of the hardest challenges he’s faced in business and life. And it has been by far one of the best lessons for me. I tend to use “What’s the worst case scenario?“ as one of my mantras now whenever fear creeps in.

Finances are super important

You need to know what’s the minimum you can live off so you know what you’re cutting out – Give yourself a cushion of at least 5 months – so if you’re unable to find work for 5 months you still have money to pay bills etc because nothing good comes out when you’re stressing about the essentials.

Do the regret test

As I mentioned earlier to me regret is a killer. The fear of not living my best life and missing out on opportunities is greater than all other fears together. A few years ago, I discovered a woman called Bronnie Ware who worked with people in palliative care and had a access first hand to the regrets of the dying. I find it powerful and a real eye opener!

Realise everyone has fears & take action anyway 

As Jeff Haden puts it in the “Motivation myth”

Anyone hoping to achieve great things gets nervous. Anyone trying to achieve great things gets scared. To succeed, you don’t have to be braver than other people; you just need to find the strength to keep moving forward. Fear is paralysing, but action creates confidence and self-assurance.”

And finally I want to share my most important learnings from these last few months. 

It’s all about mindset and perspective

It sounds simple but I have a theory that we overlook the simple things because we expect a magic pill, we want someone to tell us how to do it, to give us all the tricks and hacks but in reality it’s just a lot of hard work, trying things out, failing, failing some more, getting back up, iterating your ideas and being resilient. And the hardest thing is to believe that things will work out, especially when it seems unlikely…. I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with this quote by Henry Ford “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.“

It all comes down to the way you choose to see life. Every morning we wake up we have two options: 1) You wake up with a grateful heart, put a smile on your face and spread out positive vibes or 2) You are negative and choose to see the wrong in the world and act like life owes you something. In both cases, you influence yourself and those around you with your energy. Last time I checked, no one wants to be around someone negative for a long time. It is as simple as that!

Focus on giving rather than receiving

If you focus on how you can help other people everyone else will want to help you, opportunities come your way as reciprocity law applies. Too many times we’re so focused on our own agendas but when you switch your focus to helping others, opportunities will follow suit. Don’t take my word for it as I realise it sounds like a fluffy concept. Test it for yourself!

Learn to say no

Oh the joys of shinny new object syndrome! Saying NO to opportunities that are not aligned with your goals and values it’s one of the best things you can do. This will allow space and energy for the opportunities and things that really matter to you – yes you might lose people along the way and that’s absolutely fine. At the same time, it will also save you a lot of energy for the projects that are important and relevant to you. 

Block the noise and do you

As Nike famously says: Just do it! There’s no magic pixie fairy dust you need to sprinkle on, you just need to have a killer work ethic and be prepared to work with no complaints. At the same time, realise people will always have opinions but in this case is particularly good if you don’t listen to what everyone says – especially if they have values that are completely different than yours.

I absolutely love constructive criticism – I mean no one likes to be criticised – but if you don’t get that you don’t progress. So, as a general rule of thumb, listen to the people who have also gone through the same process or are going through the same process or achieving big things, people who are also in the arena because it’s easy to give advice when you sit on the other side of the fence whereas it’s a completely different game when you’re in the arena. 

I want to end this by leaving you with one of my favourite paragraphs of all times. I came across it by listening to Brene Brown but it’s actually from a Theodore Roosevelt speech “Man in the arena” 

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Would love to hear from YOU! leave a comment below

What’s one action step you can start taking today to help you move forward? Small steps forward are better than no steps forward 😉

Author: Ionela Spinu

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