Fear is the biggest barrier preventing us from changing life and pursuing our dreams. Why are afraid of change? Why the unknown seems scarier than staying in an unbearable situation forever? How can you conquer your fears and become the bravest person you know?
Fear is the most common blocker getting in the way of changing life
A brave person is not the one that is not afraid. A brave person is the one that is afraid but does it anyway.
Let’s talk about fear. Fear is a word often associated with obviously scary things. Like the fear of death, losing a loved one or the fear of snakes or spiders. But what about that feeling, when you know you must act, or you know you want to be a certain kind of person acting in a certain way, but you don’t?
If you have a dream that you want to pursue or want to make a change in your life, big or small, fear is one of the most common blockers that get in the way. It is that voice in your head that argues with ‘Yes, but whenever you are contemplating something new and exciting.
You might still be in the career you resent or in an unhelpful relationship or in a city that isn’t right for you out of fear of making a change.
Why do we experience fear when changing life?
I won’t bore you with all the scientific evidence of how fear is an important instrument for survival (Google is your friend). But why do we fear supposedly not so scary things, like quitting a job to go travelling?
As evolved beings as we are, our instincts didn’t quite catch up. Only a few centuries back, if you were excluded from the tribe, it likely meant you’d be dead in a few days. This doesn’t happen anymore, many of us live alone and no one dies.
But what happens is, when you contemplate a contrarian move, something that 90% of the population aren’t doing, your brain presses the ‘alarm button’ and your primal brain comes into action.
Your brain thinks that if you quit your job and go travelling, while everyone else is not doing that, you will be excluded from the tribe and can die.
Now, the tricky bit is to realise that this fear stems from something that is completely unsubstantiated these days. No one will stop liking you and you won’t die.
When I planned my life experiment, I thought it through very carefully and was 100% convinced it was the right thing to do.
When I started socialising my decision, not a single person questioned what I was doing, in contrary, most people were very supportive and enthusiastic. What I found remarkable, however, is that despite that, I felt the need to explain myself.
It appeared to be that exact primal fear – fear of social disapproval and getting rejected from the society that led me to explaining my move to each single person I spoke to.
If you are contemplating a significant change or making an important decision, but are afraid, then you might do the Orthodoxies exercise, which I described in my previous post How to Overcome Fear When Changing Your Life.
But more importantly, try and recognise how much of your fear might be driven by unsubstantiated social rejection concerns. One way to do that is to socialise your decision stating it as a fact (e.g. ‘I decided to quit my job and go travelling for a year’) avoiding attaching any justification to it (‘I’ve been so stressed lately and lost my sleep, I really need a change. I have some savings so I should be ok for a year or two not having a full-time job.’)
Do that and see what happens. Most likely you won’t hear many ‘Yes, but’ and will see people being curious and inquisitive. If that’s the case – your fear is unlikely to have any significant ground and likely driven by your instincts.
Fear of the unknown
Another type of fear associated with change is the fear of the unknown. This is what stops us from getting ourselves out of even the most unpleasant circumstances – at least we know what to expect and how to act in those unpleasant circumstances.
This fear applies to both big life decisions, like getting divorced – ‘What will my life look like if I divorce? Where will I live? Will I have enough money, but also, to smaller things, like when you go travelling and find yourself in a new country surrounded by all the seemingly scary and unknown things.
When I arrived at the tropical island in Thailand, the first few days were terrifying. The island was full of stray dogs running around and barking at me on every corner.
My path to a yoga studio on top of the hill in the middle of the jungle felt like a perfect place for poisonous snakes to hang out.
Staying alone in the house in rural Thailand didn’t feel very safe either. I ended up reading everything I could find on how to behave in case of a dog attack and was stamping my feet to scare the snakes away off my path to the yoga studio.
Maybe I am just not a brave person
While you might think it’s just you, who’s not a very brave person, most people feel vulnerable in new and unknown places.
After one of the nights on the island, when I thought I heard some strange noises outside and couldn’t sleep, I chatted to a male friend about it. I was wondering if he ever feels this way as a guy, being able to physically defend himself a lot better.
Guess what, my very tall and strong German friend who teaches kickboxing, admitted he also feels vulnerable when in a new place.
This made me realise – such fear is normal. Certain situations, like travelling, are inevitably associated with it. All we can do is accept it, recognising the fact that this too shall pass over time.
Research the subject of your fear
I have good news for those, who are like me, struggle to just accept things and feel the need to do something about it. One thing you can do is research everything you can find about the subject of your fear.
Like I did with dogs. Research the likelihood of the event occurring and what to do in the worst-case scenario. This will give you the confidence that what you are afraid of is very unlikely to happen. And even if it will, you will know exactly what to do and will feel armed.
Having spent 2 months on the island, I became familiar and now feel very safe. I don’t stamp my feet to scare the snakes on the way to my yoga class and befriended the local dogs. I even gave one a name – Lenin, and it now comes visiting me regularly sitting on my terrace.
Feel the fear and do it anyway, but be gentle
What I’ve noticed is fearlessness is very similar to willpower, in a sense that you can train both, just like a muscle. The more you conquer you fears, the braver you become.
Three years ago, when I was travelling to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I wasn’t considering diving, thinking I’d be perfectly fine checking out the reefs from the boat with a glass bottom.
Luckily, my Australian friend was firm enough to make me overcome my fear and sign up for a dive. To say I was terrified, is to say the least. I was hoping the weather will be bad and they will cancel the trip, I researched what to do if I see a shark and, on the day, woke up very early for a meditation to calm my nerves down.
It took me over 24 hours to fly to Port Douglas and I paid a lot for a trip, so backing off wasn’t really an option.
On the way to the reef, we were given safety instructions and handed out the diving gear. The fear was becoming stronger and stronger. When we reached our first spot, I went into the water holding on to the instructor like a safety buoy.
As we started the dive, I realised I can’t do it and started to panic. I rushed to the surface; the instructor grabbed me tight to prevent from going too fast leaving a huge bruise on my arm.
I got out of the water feeling completely defeated. I came all this way, to Australia, to the reef and I couldn’t calm my nerves and conquer the fear.
I was thinking that it might be the only opportunity for me to see the reef and became angry with myself. I locked myself in the toilet and cried a little. But then, I decided to change the tactic and be gentle with myself.
I said to myself – ‘you were brave enough to travel to Australia solo, signed up for a dive and gave it a try, well done. You have 2 more reef spots to give it another go, if you feel more confident, great, if not, well this is as far as you can go today.’
I collected myself and asked the instructor if I can try again, she said yes. And so, I tried. And I dove. It was victory!
Twelve meters under the water, swimming in complete silence amongst the fish and the corals. When I got out, not only was I overwhelmed of how amazing the dive was, I was overwhelmed with how proud I was of myself.
That day, a new, brave me, was born. I rewrote who I thought I was.
The lesson is – be gentle with yourself, do it your way and in your own pace. You don’t have to push yourself too hard, just hard enough to get you a little closer to be braver with every little step.
And slowly, you will rewrite your self-image of not being brave and courageous becoming someone who people think of as ‘not afraid of anything’.
The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. Joseph Campbell
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