In my personal experience I’ve found what stops me from living up to my full potential is not a lack of interest or a lack of discipline; I think my biggest obstacle has been fear.
Fear slows me down more than anything.
Before you know it, fear turns into regret. And regret is a million times worse than fear. While I know that I need to keep pushing past the fear I feel, I have always found it difficult to do so. Therefore, I am writing this article as a pledge to be less fearful and to always remember the various fear fighting techniques that I have learned and used in the past.
I’ve explored three situations that trigger a fearful response in me and possibly others as well, and have suggested a few unusual, but easy to implement hacks to that I have personally tested out in my life.
Trigger 1: The crippling fear you feel when you’re about to do something new and something that’s very important.
Think of Interview jitters, stage fright, fear of flying, butterflies in the stomach before that important presentation with the boss, the anxiety of meeting someone new and so on - the deep seated fear, that’s almost like a bad habit and just refuses to go away. When it hits you, you feel paralysed and find yourself spiralling out of control, sinking deeper and deeper into helplessness.
Hack: Paradoxical intention
This technique this involves wishing for the opposite of what you want. To illustrate, let’s consider Mark, who has stage fear and gets extremely nervous when he has to address large crowds. Mark’s fear has held him back from presenting to large groups of people in meetings and other corporate events – he is aware that as he rises up the ranks, he can’t keep avoiding situations where he needs to present to large groups. The very thought makes Mark uncomfortable and he is painfully aware of how every time before a big speech, he ends up sweating excessively and making mistakes while delivering the message.
For Mark, applying Paradoxical intention would involve ‘preparing’ himself before such events to ‘give the worst talk he has ever given in his entire life’. This involves deliberately wishing that he’d sweat badly enough to fill up a whole bucket and make a compete fool of himself while giving this important talk.
Now, since the expectation of the outcome is reversed, the fear is replaced by a paradoxical wish. Your mind can’t fear something and wish for it at the same time ;-)
Initially, when Mark wanted to deliver a good presentation, he did badly. Flipping the objective would result in Mark wishing to do badly but his mind setting him up to do well.
Analysis: I’ll admit this sounded crazy when I first heard of it. But what’s really going on here? When Mark wanted to do well, the mind gave him the opposite of what he desired. Now that Mark aimed for failure, the mind did not give him failure. It ‘betrayed’ him like it was habituated to do. Wacky? Yes. But very effective.
Trigger 2: The fear you feel when something bad happens.
Maybe you’ve been laid off, you’re facing an interview rejection, you’ve failed an important exam, your idea was shot down, or you’ve lost some money, and now you’re left alone to deal with the situation. Something that you’ve always dreaded has come true and you’re standing in the middle of the battlefield, in the line of fire.
Hack: Aurelius’ question
When you’re staring that difficult situation in the eye, ask yourself this:
“Does what happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, humility, straight-forwardness?”
In essence, the question is really asking you to take a step back and see if this awful thing that stands in your way keeps you from being the decent human being that you are?
More often than not, the answer to Marcus’ question will be “No, I can still be a decent human being inspite of all of this”.
There you have it – now remind yourself of who you really are and get back to the drawing board and pick up the pieces. Waste no time in starting over and getting back up again. You will not let this defeat you.
Analysis: What we’re doing here is trying to dull the pain of the incident a little so that the fog can clear and you can see things objectively. Keep asking yourself Aurelius’ question till you can think straight again. Or keep repeating to yourself
I am not going to die from this...
I am not going to die from this...
I am not going to die from this...
The idea is to take the sting out of the wound, and then begin to treat it.
Trigger 3: You’re worrying yourself sick over hypothetical situations, and things over which you have no control, for no real reason.
What if I never get a job? What if I miss that next opportunity? What if I’m not good enough? What if I mess up that important project? What if I fail this exam again?...
And these thoughts just randomly attack you when you’re doing something totally unrelated to the subject of your worry.
Hack: ‘Let the alarm bell ring’
In the building that I work in, every now and then, the fire alarm goes off for about 20 seconds and everyone looks up from their desk to see if there’s an actual fire and if everyone should be evacuating. Most times, the alarm is followed by an announcement clarifying that the alarm we all heard was a false alarm and that we can ignore it and get back to work.
It’s amusing for a few seconds and then the entire office quickly loses interest in it.
The trick with general anxiety and freaking out about something that hasn’t even happened yet is to see it for what it is – a false alarm. What do you do to a false alarm? You ignore it.
Look at it this way, if you can control and do something today that will save you from your worst nightmare from coming true, then GO DO IT!
Study for the exam, apply for new jobs, and start working on that project before deadline arrives. If there is an actual fire, put it out and keep hustling.
If you’re worried about things you can’t control – like the decision of the exam committee, the decision of the interviewer or unforeseen events that may delay completion of your project; remind yourself that none of these things have happened yet. Your worry stems from the ‘anticipation’ of unpleasant events.
Much like the false alarm at work – there is no fire to put out. There is no action that you can take; you’re wasting your effort on worrying and panicking over something that isn’t even real.
What do you do when a fake alarm sounds?
You let it ring.
Analysis: I’ll admit it’s hard to just tell yourself to stop panicking over things, but start small.
Delay your ‘worrying’ exercise; this thing that you’re worried about will come back and haunt you tomorrow as well, so tell yourself you’ll worry about it later. Try saying, “Okay, this is meltdown worthy, but I don’t have to freak out right this second, I will worry about it after an hour”
I used to default to having a nice little emotional freak-out at the first sign of trouble. In fact, I still do every now and then. And every single time, I feel physically tired from all the worrying. And my situation would not have changed at all because of the worrying.
So, while the idea is to stop worrying and use the time to do something else, it is perhaps easier to start with delaying the ‘worry’ reaction and thus loosen yourself from its grip. Break that habit, a little bit at a time.