In my article How to be more productive I talk about how we distract ourselves with addictions from emotions that make us productive. Many people will say that they are not addicted but that they are lazy, bored or unmotivated to do something. However, laziness, being bored and being unmotivated are not emotions. They are the result of an emotion. Fear. In order to be more productive and successful you need to learn how to deal with your fears. In this article I will describe the main fears that stop you from doing the right things and that generally push people towards addictions instead. Although they might not work for everyone I also hope to provide you with some means to cope with these fears.
There are many things people are afraid of. If you had successful parents you might fear to fail, not being good enough or to disappoint them. In your social life you might fear looking stupid in front of your friends, colleagues or class. You might fear being alone, or fear people. Some people are even afraid of success, of the publicity or fear they might not spend the money that comes with success appropriately. Some people fear change and yet other fear they will never change. Some people fear wasting time while other fear they are missing out. In extreme cases one might even fear working because they couldn’t cope with being fired. One in a while people even fear thinking because it is not easy to live life. People fear that their idea’s are rejected or that people reject who they are. Sometimes you might even start fearing fear itself.
It might be a relief to know that everyone fears one thing or another and to various degrees. Fear is part of nature, it has protected us for thousands of years. However, it can also unknowingly block our progress towards a successful or fulfilling life because fear can paralyse us. Let’s summarise the different fears one might encounter on the road to success:
- Fear to disappoint – fear that other people had expectations that you couldn’t meet
- Fear of looking stupid – fear that other people find the end result a failure
- Fear of losing something or someone – fear that other people can’t deal with the consequences of the end result
- Fear of rejection – fear that other people will not accept something you are or do
- Fear of failure – fear that you find the end result a failure
- Fear of not being good enough – fear that you had expectations of yourself that you couldn’t meet
- Fear of success – fear that you can’t deal with the consequences of successful end-result
- Fear of wasting time – fear that you are spending time on something while there are plenty of more important things to do
- Fear of missing out – fear that you will not be present at a rewarding or unique experiences
- Fear of change – fear that you are not able function as well in a different environment
- Fear of money – fear that you will mismanage money or that money brings evil
- Fear of thinking – fear that you will keep thinking about difficult, unresolved problems or challenges
- Fear of being alone – fear that you can’t live without a particular person, live alone
- Fear of work – fear while you are doing manual or non-manual labor or are employed
- Fear of fear – a sudden (physiological) sense of fear that you experience out of nowhere without reason or cause, often also called a a panic attack
Face your fear
First of all, know that there are many people who feel the same. You are not alone. It might also help to know that you, as a human being, are incredibly strong. Humans have evolved over thousands of years and have survived ice ages, droughts, wars and famines. You didn’t have to do any of that and yet that it still part of who you are. You are human, just like everyone around you. Don’t let anyone ever convince you that there is something wrong with you. From the moment you were born until the moment you are here reading this until fair into the future: there is absolutly nothing wrong with you. Don’t you every forget!
So now that we have established there is nothing wrong with who you are, what then is the issue? Why do you feel the way you do? Why do you fear things? Well, we sure as hell didn’t survive all those years a species by being fearless. It is a good idea to run from a hungry tiger and to not step off the edge of a deep cliff. It keeps you safe. Your fears are here to keep you safe. So the first thing to remember is that it is ok to be afraid. Everyone has fears and the fearless don’t live very long (for proof just have a look at this wikipedia page of deadly selfies …). The cliche is true that the first step in dealing with your fears is recognising that you are afraid. More importantly, it is recognising what you are afraid of. So write for each of the mentioned fears down to what extend you are afraid of it. Just copy the list and write down in smiley faces if you never suffer from it :-), sometimes suffer from it 😐 or suffer from it more often :-(.
Many people will have suffered from procrastination at some point during their life. Whether you were supposed to learn for an exam in school or you were supposed to work on that report for your boss, everyone at some point struggled with it. Most people will attribute procrastination to the fear of failure or the fear of not being good enough. What if that is not the only cause? What if procrastination is also caused by the fear of missing out or the fear of wasting time? Or what if procrastination is caused by the fear of success? Then all those upbeat video’s on youtube telling you that you learn from failure and that give you the feeling you are good enough… are not going to help you. The fear of failure is often confused with the fear of success, especially with introverts. Sometimes people don’t finish writing a book not because they are afraid the book will fail, but that the book will not fail and their entire lives will change (fear of change? Fear of money?). So before you face your fears, realise what you are truly afraid of. Have a look again at your list. Are these really the things you are afraid of to that degree? Or are you maybe confusing two fears?
As you might have notices, most fear are about how you think about yourself. When people say they don’t like other people, what they are often saying is that they fear part of themselves and prefer to not let other people know about it. They are not afraid of other people, they are afraid of themselves. Other people can only confirm or deny your own believes about yourself. If you have black here and someone tells you you are blond, you will call that person crazy without a second thought. Believes are not facts, they can change. They can be confirmed or rejected by others and as a result your own believes can change. However, the opposite can also happen! You can confirm your own beliefs or you can ask other people to confirm your own beliefs and as a result make the belief stronger. Tell a child a thousand times that he is a genius and that one person that says he isn’t will be ignored.
The second step in facing our fears is therefore to change our own believes. Just as in recognising what you are afraid of, you need to know the believes you hold about yourself. Write them down. They are not silly believes, they are believes you hold that are causing you fear and therefore they valid and true. Do you think you are a poor dancer? Write it down! For example, next to fear of looking stupid. Do you think you are not good enough? What or who made you think that that you started to belief it, was it your parents or a friend or maybe a teacher? Write it down! Are you afraid you are wasting time? What is so important to you that you are not doing that is making you belief you are wasting time? Write it down again! Go past every fear you have and write down a word, or a sentence or an entire page about why you belief that about yourself or why others belief that about you. Look at the piece of paper (digital or print!), you are now looking directly at your fears. You are looking fear in the eyes. So? How does it feel? Not such a scary monster anymore now is it? Not the big bad wolf with sharp teeth anymore huh? Suddenly that little piece of paper looks like a little puppy or kitty, it looks a bit scary because it has teeth but it also has those cute big eyes that want attention. Now give it some attention!
Of course you can consider paying a thousand people to cheer you on everyday and to for example tell you that you are good enough. Although I am sure it will have some effect I doubt it will help in the long run (and if you have enough money to pay them…). So instead I suggest you focus on small victories first. For example, if you are afraid of failure and you want to write a book. How about you start by writing down a sentence or even a word. It can be the name of your character or the place the character lives or the job of the character, it doesn’t matter! Then the next day write down another word and the day after another. All the way until you have made a sentence. Then the next day write down another sentence, and the day after another all the way until you have written a page. Then write another page, and the day or week after another all the way until you have written a chapter! You guessed it, then start writing a chapter and the day or week after another chapter all the way until you have finished a book! Remember that it is about small steps. If you are feeling like your fear of failure is blocking you again, scale down from chapter to page and from page to sentence. Just like writing a book one can learn to manage small bits of money and build it bigger. Start by saving a euro a month, then 5 then 10 etc. Fear of thinking? Start mediating or thinking for just 10 seconds a day then 30 then 1 minute, set a timer if you have to! Facing your fears and changing your beliefs requires practice just as much as practicing a sport of learning to play an instrument!
Let’s now look at the fears that deal with other people. These fears are often related to believes we have of ourself but let’s focus on the other people now. A simple solution is, before completing any task, to confirm if the beliefs you attribute to the other people are actually right. Very often we put much higher standards on ourselves than other people do. If we are right about other people’s beliefs about us we can at least be sure that we are not afraid without reason. We should then objectively analyse if that expectation is fair. Asking someone to write a book in a day is not feasible, neither is asking someone in a wheelchair to walk or a spouse to love you unconditionally. If the expectation is fair, we know we can try to reach it because we are capable human beings. If the expectation is not fair, we need to work on changing someone else’s beliefs. The best way to do that is by starting to say no more often.
If you have trouble saying no, try giving the other person a choice. For example, if someone unreasonable wants you to write a book in a day you can give them a choice: you can write a book in a day as they asked that is 10 pages and of low quality or you can write a book of 100 pages with high quality in a month. You are not saying no, you are asking them to change their expectations according to what they really need.
In the end, fear is an ugly beast with scary teeth that shows up when we least expect it and scares the hell out of us. We made it into a puppy by defining it so we can train ourselves, so we can train that beast so it behaves. It is good to realise that that fear does not go away completely, but you can learn to deal with the fears you have. To make it so you can grow as a person and have a successful and fulfilling life. To help other people deal with their fears. Everyone has them, everyone is fighting that battle so lend a hand once in a while to someone in need. You will see the gratitude in their eyes, you did that. You alone. You are good enough.