It is so easy to get stuck in fear.
I have been there many times in my life.
The fear has held me back from trying new things and improving my life in both small and bigger ways.
It has held me back from trying something new for lunch or a new hobby because I feared I would have a bad experience or fail. And so I stuck to my usual routine and choices.
It has held me back from asking someone for a date because I didn’t want to risk being rejected or looking like a fool in eyes of other people.
It has held me in its grip and calmly explained to me that it would be best and most comfortable for me to stay where I am and to do nothing new. And many times I have sadly believed the fear and gotten myself stuck in a place where I honestly deep down didn’t want to be.
I have made quite a few thought mistakes and they have contributed to a lot of the fear.
But in recent years I have also discovered effective ways to replace those thought mistakes with more helpful habits.
In this article I will share 6 such mistakes and what to do instead.
1. You keep the fear foggy and undefined.
As long as your fear of doing something is foggy and undefined and just floating around in your head it will hold you back and often grow stronger with time.
What to do instead: Ask yourself this question: what is the worst that could realistically happen?
And don’t just take a second or two to answer it.
Sit down with a pen and piece of paper. Take time to really think about it and to write out the realistic worst-case scenario.
This will bring a lot of clarity to what you truly fear. It will defuse quite a bit of fuzzy fears or disaster scenarios that may have been bouncing around in your mind.
And it will help you to realize that you can often bounce back pretty quickly even if the worst-case scenario somehow becomes reality.
2. You keep the fear to yourself.
When you keep the fear to yourself then in my experience it can easily take charge of your imagination and build a horrific and paralyzing nightmare in your mind.
Just being alone with the fear makes it is easy to lose touch with reality.
What to do instead: Writing it out as mentioned above can certainly help. Another step you can take is to share your fear with someone else.
By sharing and getting some level-headed input from a friend or family member that nightmare can often be quickly deflated and seen for what it really is.
And just talking about it to someone who truly listens will release a lot of your inner tensions.
3. You focus on aspects that will keep you stuck.
If you just focus on the negative things that could happen if you face your fear then it will be very hard to start moving forward.
What to do instead: A change in perspective is needed.
You can get it by talking to your friend or family member and by exchanging ideas and experiences about what opportunities lie ahead if you move forward.
You do it by focusing on the positive and on why you want to move towards what you fear.
A few questions that have helped me to find the more constructive and positive perspective when I have faced a fear are:
- What is one opportunity in this situation?
- What are the potential upsides that I want and can have by taking these actions?
- What are the potential upsides in one year if I start moving on this path? And in five years?
- And how will my life be in five years if I continue on the fearful path that I am on today?
Talk these questions over with someone. Or take out your paper and write down the answers. Or do both.
4. You misinterpret the often little information you have.
It is easy to take very few experiences – maybe just one – and start seeing them as evidence of something permanent and frightening in your life.
What to do instead: Question your fears and what they are based upon.
Again, sit down with a pen and a piece of paper. Think back to what evidence you have in your memories for a fear and a belief of yours.
Try to see the situation(s) that created your fear with fresh eyes today. Instead of the way you may usually see them.
Doing this helped me to for example reduce my fear of social rejection.
I looked back at a few situations from my past that formed and fueled that fear.
And I realized that I may have just misinterpreted being rejected in some of those situations.
And I realized that in some of those situations I wasn’t rejected because it was something wrong with me but simply because we weren’t realistically a good match for each other. Or because the other person had a bad day or because he or she simply wanted to push me down to feel better about himself or herself in that moment.
This was an eye-opening experience and also helped me to understand that our memories can often be pretty inaccurate and unhelpful if not reexamined later on. And that our minds love to create patterns and conclusions based on very little evidence or few experiences.
5. You try to push the fear away.
When you try to deny a fear in your life, when you try to push it away or not think about it then it can often grow stronger.
What to do instead: I have found in recent years that pushing the fear away can certainly work and help you to not be paralyzed from taking action. But I have also discovered that it can sometimes be more helpful to accept the fear.
To accept that it is there instead of for example trying to tell yourself to focus on the positive like a laser-beam.
By accepting the fear I mean to tell yourself something like: Yes, the fear is here. It is.
And to then take that uncomfortable feeling in and just letting it be there in your body and mind.
Because if you do then after a while – often just after a few minutes of discomfort in my experience – the fear starts to lose steam. It becomes a lot smaller or just seems to float away.
And it becomes a lot easier to think clear and constructive thoughts again.
6. You make it harder than it needs to be to take action.
If you think that you have to take action in a big, heroic and risky leap to overcome your fear then that may often lead to more fear and to not taking any action at all.
What to do instead: A more helpful way to go about things is to not go all in at once. But to instead just dip your toes in. To take a small step forward but to do it today or as soon as you can.
And to take that first step slowly if you like.
The most important thing is that you start moving. That you start building momentum forward so that you can take more small and perhaps slow steps forward.
Doing things this way will not only build momentum but also self-confidence and expand you comfort zone. And all of this will make it a lot easier to take a bit bigger steps later on too if you’d like.