Do you ever notice that feeling fear and doubt brings you out of the moment? We stop focusing on what’s happening around us right now and instead inhabit a scary place that frankly, isn’t real. When that happens, we can’t and don’t do much of anything. Worse still, we forget to be compassionate to ourselves.
We all feel fear, regularly. Certain kinds of fear are valuable and extremely useful. I welcome the fear that makes me quicken my step to avoid the speeding car, the fear of not coming across well in front of a group that makes me practice my presentation, or the fear of a credit card late fee that ensures I pay on-time. Which is why seminar and book titles such as Conquer Your Fear! never quite resonate. How can we conquer something that is part of us, and at times useful? Why would I want to?
There are three sides to fear—fear and courage, when you’re looking at the diving tower and finally decide to jump off the high dive; fear and loss, when life has taken a loved one, job or other valuable from you or you fear you will suffer this kind of loss; and fear and paralysis, when you are so overcome by profound loss that you can’t even move.
What most of us have been taught to do when feeling afraid is either to ignore the thought by pushing it out of the mind or to generate activity. Neither of these work very well, do they? An alternative is to “call out” fear by addressing it directly. I mean literally saying, “Hello, Fear.” This has two important parts. The first is recognizing the feeling of fear. The simple act of naming feelings reduces their power. We simply give up resisting.
The second part is to ground yourself and lend courage by affirming your ability to get through difficulty. This can mean remembering your strengths, those who support and love you or the fact that you’ve come through fearful times before. When you put it all together, the self-talk for soothing fear goes something like this, “Hello Fear. Thanks for pointing out (insert fear here). I know you want to protect me. But I know I will come through this situation and right now I need to get going.”
A short dialogue with fear pulls thoughts and actions back to the present. It is in the present that we can act thoughtfully.