Working Woman's Guide to Fear
Whenever we start something new, create something new, step into our goals and dreams, whenever we even think about starting something new, we experience resistance inside ourselves. We play out the worst case scenario, we tell ourselves all the reasons why something can’t possibly work. Sometimes we can be ‘gripped’ by a strong feeling of overwhelm that can stop us moving forwards.
This fear and overwhelm can lead to a sense of stagnation or numbness … all of which leads to us losing momentum, shelving or narrowing down our plans, constraining ourselves and ultimately playing smaller than we could.
Imagine how much talent, new ideas, innovation, and opportunity is contained and constrained in this way!
Our fear can diminish our potential, our fear can dull our brilliance, our fear can hold us back and stop us sharing our great ideas, and taking bold action to go for our dreams.
So what is Fear?
Fear is the body’s response to the presence of an actual or perceived threat or danger. The body reacts to fear with a set of biological responses that prepare us to fight, flight, freeze or flock. However, our fear responses aren’t sophisticated and don’t distinguish between physical threat (such as being attacked) and social threat (such as embarrassment, failure or rejection). Regardless of what type of fear it is, the brain responds in pretty much the same way.
Fear’s intention is to keep you safe.
When it comes to social threats there are two types of fear:
1. Real fear that we need to act on. (Like the fear associated with knowing we’re in danger of breaking a rule that has big consequences).
2. Fear that is a sign that we are standing on the edge of our own greatness. This can feel like a sense of expansive excited-ness in your body, a butterflies-in-your-tummy nervousness. (Like the way we feel when we press send on an email that is risky yet could positively change the course of a major project).
It is so important to distinguish between fear that is about a threat, and fear that is a sign that you are standing on the edge of your greatness. How do you distinguish the two? Perhaps you feel them in different places in your body, or perhaps they have a different quality about them? Perhaps you experience them as the same? How can you build your capacity to discern the difference, so you are less caught up in your brain’s hard-wired flight / flight / freeze/ flock response?
Experiencing fear is a normal part of being a human and it’s not a sign that you are making wrong choices or that you should stop your new thing. When the fear that we are experiencing is about standing at the edge our greatness, then stepping up means pressing in to that thing and not running from it! It’s so important that we know what kind of fear we are dealing with, so we can respond in ways that allow us to step up and EXPAND who we are in the world.
Once we reframe fear in this way we may decide we need more of it in our life! Standing-at-the-edge-of-our-greatness kind of fear is an indicator that we are connected to our deeper purpose and stretching into the more fully expansive version of ourselves.
If you are not feeling the standing-on-the-edge-of-greatness fear then it's an indicator that you are in your comfort zone... you can ask yourself what am I doing? do I need to get out of my comfort zone and s-t-r-e-t-c-h myself?! What would a stretch look like for me today? Where can I tune into my expansive sense of fear and then do that thing!
NOTE: We’ve talked about how it feels to experience the standing-on-the-edge-of-our greatness fear in your body. If you notice that you are also experiencing the other type of fear, then pay close attention to this too. Tune into what is causing the sense of fear. This ‘real’ fear can come from historic ways of talking to ourselves (like experiencing a genuine rush of child-like fear if we feel we’ve done something wrong). And it can come from people around us whose behaviour creates a fear response for us. Both need exploring and acting on.
How do we move through our fear?
Acknowledge the fear: When you notice your fear, and notice its intention is to keep you safe, you can say to your fear: ‘Thank you, I hear you and I’ve got this’.
Breathe: Try 4-7-8 breathing. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Release your breath from your mouth for a count of 8. Repeat for 4 – 6 rounds.
Connect with your inner mentor: Ask her what the most courageous and wise version of you would say to yourself right now.
Connect with your sense of purpose: Connecting with our sense of purpose can increase our ability to lean into fear, by connecting us to a greater sense of who we are in the world.
Tune into your deeper sense of purpose and calling – your bigger ‘why’ (we’ll be giving you tips on this in a future blog) and allow that to guide you to your best next step. Don’t get caught up trying to work out the what or the how of that bigger picture – when we have a higher sense of something we want to do we are not given all the mapped out details – we can just get a sense of the next best step.
Name the emotions that present: Accurately naming difficult emotions and acknowledging that they are present can reduce their intensity.
Ground yourself: Breath in: Look around and connect with things that you can see – observe them and give them attention. Next connect with things that you can touch – touch them and notice how they feel. Next connect with the different noises that are around you – tune into and fully hear each different noise.
What if / so what: Where you are feeling fearful about an imagined future state, connect with your inner mentor. Use her to help you explore the ‘so what’s’ associated with each fear. When we get caught up in fearfulness about things that have not yet happened we can generate lots of ‘what if’ thoughts (‘what if I can’t do the work’, ‘what if the project fails’). By exploring the ‘so what’s’ associated with each fear we can often reduce its impact on us. You can write these down
Write it down: Writing out our fears can help us get out of our own head and see our fears from a different perspective. What’s the worst that could happen if you do this thing. What’s the worst that could happen if you don’t do that thing. What benefit do you miss if you do nothing. Write it down. Look at it. Face that fear. Then decide what your best next step is.
Move through overwhelm: When you have a huge to-do list and overwhelm can kick in, ask yourself: ‘what is the 1 thing I can do today that will have the biggest impact towards me achieving my most important goals?’ Notice what on your list stretches you and scares you a little bit? Then do that! Choose to say ‘I do not need to stay in overwhelm. I choose courage and I choose momentum.’
Exposure to your fear over time: As you take your best next step, as you choose courage and momentum, we learn that our amygdala is not stronger than our pre frontal cortex! Ie that we can overcome our fears!!
Use affirmations: as you take your best next step and commit to bold action, you can use affirmations (belief statements) to ‘reset’ your brain. Try: ‘This feels scary right now and this will get easier over time’. ‘When I learn new things, it can be bumpy. I am ok. I am courageous. I can take the next step’.
Find a cheerleader: Find a colleague or friend who will support you and encourage you as you are facing your fears and taking bold action.
Think about a specific area where you are holding back…..
- What are the ways in which fear is holding you back? Write down your fears. What do you notice? What are you curious about?
- What is the worst that could happen? Explore the ‘so what’s’ and ‘what if’s’ associated with each fear. Write it down.
- What do you miss if you don’t do this thing? Write it down. What do you notice? What are you curious about?
- If you are not feeling the standing-on-the-edge-of-greatness fear then do you want to? do you need to get out of your comfort zone and s-t-r-e-t-c-h yourself! Ask yourself - what would a stretch look like for me today? Where can I tune into my expansive sense of fear and do that thing!
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway - How to Turn Your Fear and Indecision into Confidence and Action Susan Jeffers
Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
Playing Big, Tara Mohr
Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You From Your Inner Critic, Mark Coleman
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