When Fear Renders Making Changes Impossible
Have you recently been thinking about making a career change? Perhaps you've been thinking about becoming pregnant. Maybe you would like to ask out someone that you have liked for a very long time. Fear can interfere with any life goal regardless of age, situation, and strength of desire for the goal. Sometimes the fear can feel so powerful that you end up believing that your goal is impossible and come to accept it as more of a fantasy. But what would it be like to think about the fear itself as the fantasy and the goal as the reality?
What are you actually afraid of? Is it something tangible or is the fear just an abstract feeling? Even if you're afraid of something that could very well be a possible reality, the truth is that all you know is that it is a possibility, and that right now in the present the fear is just a feeling and nothing more. Will this feeling dictate your life choices?
How to Be in Charge of Your Fear!
1. Identify and Name the Fear:
For some people the fear really does feel like an abstract thing. If asked what they are afraid of, some people may literally not know how to answer that question. Others may know exactly what they are afraid of, such as a specific consequence of whatever change they wish to make. Either way, the first step is determining whether or not you know what your fear is about, and then work to label it. For example, "I am afraid of disappointing my partner. I am afraid of not being able to get a job. I am afraid of failing." Sometimes just reflecting on the fear and keeping a list of possible things that you might be afraid of may be enough for you to recognize exactly what the fear is about.
If it feels impossible to identify the fear, then it may be that your feeling is not about something occurring in the present, and it may be more about something that happened in the past. If you find yourself unable to move past your fears without an understanding of where the feeling comes from, then it could be helpful to explore your struggle with a psychotherapist.
When you have an understanding of what your fear is about, you can make a plan for how you are going to handle it. For example, if you are afraid to make a career change because you are afraid that you will not find a job, you can take the steps to do all the job research that you will need to do to maximize your chances of attaining employment, before moving forward with the change itself. Or if your fear is something stemming from the past and not related to anything in the present, then you can work on a plan for how to manage this feeling of fear and recognize it as just a feeling and not as a definitive outcome. These are just two very general examples of how once you identify your fears, you can move towards sorting out the steps for conquering it. Additionally, you can create multiple plans for how to handle different scenarios that you anticipate may emerge after you have made the decision you wished to make. The act of creating these plans in itself can result in a sense of comfort.
2. Acknowledge Your Fear As An Annoying Neighbor:
Oftentimes our tendency is to immediately want to push away our fear, to fight it like an invasive intruder. However, as people know, the more we try to shove something away, the more we tend to think about it. It is also important to avoid obsessing about the fear. This can be challenging but is an important step for helping people move forward even with fear alongside them. People may at times think that they cannot move towards their goal until they stop being afraid. However, if people wait for that to happen they may never move forward. Part of overcoming fear is showing the fear who is boss.
Something that people find helpful at times is to view the fear as an annoying neighbor. They are just there and there is nothing you can do about it. This person (a.k.a. the fear) lives next door and just wants to spend time with you from time to time. They show up at your house uninvited and if you show too much interest in them they tend to overstay their welcome, but if you try to ignore them they tend to become more annoying and show up more often. So you accept that they live there and you acknowledge their existence but nevertheless go about your life, all the while knowing that they might pop up unannounced at any moment. You move towards making the changes you want, striving towards your goal, and if your fear decides to show up for an unannounced visit, you acknowledge its presence and go about your plan. Do not let fear trick you into thinking that you need to take any action other than moving towards the goal.
3. Visualize Yourself Meeting Your Goals:
As cliché as it may sound, it really can be helpful to visualize yourself where you want to be and how you want to be. The intention is not to create a fantasy and get lost in it. The intention must be to realistically see yourself making the change that you want to make, and to connect to the positive feelings that result from seeing yourself in this way. Hold on to the image and the feelings as much as you can when you notice fear beginning to pop up, and remind yourself of how you will feel if you accomplish your goal.
4. Set Small Goals as You Work Towards the Larger Goal:
Sometimes fear can increase when the goal you set for yourself feels too large. A helpful way to move forward can be setting smaller daily goals that move you in the right direction. If fear is getting in the way of making the ultimate change that you wish to make, you can tell yourself that you just have to do this one small thing today, and then take a break. Slowly and consistently you will be taking the steps towards the larger desired goal. If you get off track, just try again the next day.
5. Distinguish Between Fear As a Signal and Fear as a Hindrance:
Fear can be a physiological response meant to signal danger. For example, certain animals fear other animals and will flee in their presence because there is the threat of being eaten. Humans, like animals, have this response. The part of the brain responsible for signaling danger is a very old part of the brain. The human brain has evolved over time and humans now have areas of the brain that are responsible for higher order processing, such as reasoning and even intuition. Although this part of the brain can help us solve problems, it can also paralyze us if we start to get stuck on all of the possible consequences of making certain decisions.
When feeling afraid to take steps towards a goal, ask yourself, is this a fear of preservation or a fear of hindrance? For example, if you see a fire, fight or flight kicks in. That is fear of preservation and the older part of your brain is signaling this. Or if you walk into a bar and witness people fighting, you likely will feel a physiological response signaling a desire to leave and remain safe. These fears are very different from fears about achieving goals and making life changes. If you ask yourself, "is there a physical threat if I take steps to start writing a novel", and your answer is "no", then maybe it will help you recognize that the fear is just a feeling that is hindering your progress. This could be your complex brain making trouble for you. So perhaps you could then use the same areas of your brain to help you move forward. You can try practicing viewing the fear as the unwanted neighbor, visualizing yourself achieving your desired goal, and laying out small steps towards arriving at that goal!
If you find yourself feeling terrified of making important changes in your life and are feeling stuck, then it might be best to reach out for some professional help and support. If you have general questions about therapy, you may find the FAQ page on www.GreenTPsychology.com useful.