What if I was to tell you that the single largest barrier to achieving Personal Growth in your life is FEAR. Would you make it a priority to understand it and break down that barrier? Yes?
Then why is it so common for people to be enslaved for life by their fears? Is it that we are so easily defeated by the very thought of the task; or is it that we really don’t understand the insidious ways in which our fears manipulate our thoughts and responses consciously and unconsciously.
My aim in this article is to break down the barriers to understanding how fear operates in our lives. I will focus on the two primary areas; External (sociological) and Internal (self-talk) where fears tend to incubate and if left unchecked will exert control our lives. I will finish up with some tips on how we can unmask the enemy and remove its negative influence.
Fear is an instinct. Its purpose is to inform us about our actions. Is something a danger to us? A threat that we need to flee from? In physically threatening situations, fear is there to alert us to the potential for danger. Fear is doing its job. It’s assisting our survival as a species.
However, what happens when we experience fear on steroids? When the threat is not physical in nature. It may be a threat to our Ego; a threat to our Capabilities; a threat to expose some weakness we want to keep hidden; and the big one… a threat to losing something we value, a job, a relationship, a reputation.
The different forms potential threats can take can be almost endless! So, why are these ‘non life-threatening’ events triggering such outsized amounts of fear?
I have heard it said that Fear is the assassin of our dreams. When fear wins, its because we have avoided being bold. We have kept our mouth shut when we should have spoken up; we have not asked for the pay rise we deserve; we have not allowed ourselves to be genuine and vulnerable; we have not allowed ourselves to fail;
For the most part we are protecting our ego from being hurt. No blood. No broken bones. Just our self-esteem!
Since childhood, social conditioning helps us to ‘fit in’ to the culture around us. Tradition, culture, religion and everyday habits are taught from one generation to the next without any real questioning. This is a common process in most cultures.
The unfortunate aspect of this is that it often serves as a hindrance to critical thinking. Society wants and needs conformity to operate effectively, so too often, critical freethinking is considered a threat, and discouraged.
Beliefs and assumptions are learned from an early age and internalized without much conscious effort to distinguish between what may be logical and worthwhile, and what may be illogical and flawed. Our attitudes to money are also learned during our early years.
So now we are adults. Our minds should be fertile gardens to explore new ideas and express our view of the world around us. But the garden in our mind contains quite a few ‘fear’ weeds.
They strangle our free thoughts and inhibit our instinct to explore. We dare not remove them as we have been conditioned to believe the garden will die without them. These fears speak to us about the dire consequences of following our free spirit.
We need to counter this internal dialogue of doubt and fear with the logic and rational that may have been missing in our early years. We are adults now and we do not need permission to re-examine our thoughts. Our mind is a beautiful learning mechanism. Just as it learnt to fear, it can relearn and replace thoughts that don’t serve our higher purpose.
Here is a great article on the importance of personal development you might enjoy.
Retraining Our Mind
Here are some ways we can ‘move the needle’ to diminish our fears.
• One of the best ways to start to reclaim the agenda in our mind is to transform negative self-talk with positive affirmations. By repeating affirmations, we retrain our mind to replace an old ‘reality’ with a new and better one. There are many affirmations you can find to suit your needs, or you can create your own.
• Acknowledge the negative self-talk. But treat it as if it was a separate person to you. For example, like a friend or colleague talking in your ear so as to save you from failure and embarrassment. Thank the friend for their advice. Its appreciated, but you have a better idea! This strategy is a very effective form of psychology.
• Put time aside to actively visualize your goals. Try to block out any negative self-talk and just focus on ‘seeing’ yourself achieving your goal. You can even break down the visualizing into small parts where you ‘roll play’ the image of yourself. We can role-play ourselves successfully achieving something as many times as we like. The great thing is, your mind responds the same way to role-play as it does to reality!
• Ask yourself some challenging questions. This is great way to check out whether your self-talk is reasonable or if your logic is baseless. I’m sure you have heard the phrase “Let’s do a reality check on that..” We are really performing the same test on our thoughts.
Look for ways to test your assumptions to see if they stand up to scrutiny. We can also look for alternative explanations for the situation we are thinking about. The best questions are often those that just try to apply some perspective to the situation. “What is the worst that could happen here?” “How likely is it to happen anyway?”.
With a bit of effort many of our worst fears can be unmasked and diminished. We just need to develop the habit (through practice) to stop, take a breath, and start to challenge ourselves. In time, it will become so automatic that your mind will be attuned to look for positive outcomes in everything you do. Then we can release our egos and just be ourselves.