If you’re experiencing fear does it mean you’re doing something wrong? Does it mean you’re on the wrong course? In the past few weeks I experienced fear that stopped me reaching my goal. Not a life changing goal, but a nice little personal one, a challenge. After all I felt I’ve been through, all the change I’ve experienced. All the fears I’ve stared down. I don’t usually stop, or consciously think about what I’m afraid of. Stop right now and think about what you’re afraid of. You may think of some really terrible things that you’re afraid of, yet are unlikely to happen, like being mauled by a wild animal, a plane crash, sky falling on your head like Chicken Licken.
There are things that I’m afraid of, yet I don’t have a job as bomb disposal technician (imagine that for a job) or any other sort of job that puts me in the way of harm. My fears reveal themselves in a specific moment when something inside me is trying to protect me. Let me give you an example of a fear that I experienced many times over recent weeks – a fear that literally stopped me achieving my goal.
I had the very good fortune to spend 5 days skiing with my family. It was absolutely fantastic. The skiing. The time in the evening after skiing. Meeting people. The whole thing. I badly wanted to keep up with the teenage kids. This was my goal, a personal challenge. I realised I wouldn’t be able to unless I skied faster than I felt comfortable doing. Skiing beyond my comfort zone. When it came to it I was afraid to throw caution to the wind and let the brakes off. I was afraid. This was partly because I hadn’t skied for a few years and I’d lost my confidence a bit, and partly because thoughts flashed into my head about the consequences of falling and injuring myself. Memories of the experience of other falls and injuries came out. I just could not consistently go that bit faster. I experienced fear that slowed me down to ski within my comfort zone. I really do like the thrill of going fast though! (Everything is relative). There were moments that I let go, but then I reigned myself in. Something bad was going to happen – I just knew. I could feel it. A broken body.
The fear made me think that if I fall I would injure myself. If I injure myself I would not be able to go to work. If I am not able to go to work I will not be able to earn the money I need to do the things I want, feed the family, pay the bills. You know the story. The fear literally stopped me – or at least held me back from going all out for long enough to keep up.
I only experienced this fear when I was in the moment. I did not think about it in advance. “Oh I’m not going to ski fast because I’m afraid of falling and injuring myself”. No, it was only as I was going, and thinking about letting go, and accelerating. Wanting to go faster. I did go faster. I pushed myself. But not hard enough. Not fast enough to really keep up. I pushed through some of my fears, but in the end fear held me back from truly keeping up.
So if you look at this a bit more closely, in the context of wanting to change and achieve your goals – the presence of fear is good. I was actually wanting to go faster, but the fear stopped me. I wanted to change, and fear wanted to keep me safe. It’s a natural thing. It isn’t the fact that the fear stopped me, which is good. It is the fact that I recognise that I wanted to change (go faster) and the fear (beliefs and irrational thoughts) were there stopping me. (Maybe not all the thoughts are irrational as I once had the painful experience of a hairline shoulder fracture while skiing, and my shoulder being pinned together from a mountain biking incident. These flashed through my mind as I was thinking about going faster). As other fears will flash through your mind as you embark on change – “I’m not good enough, I’m stupid, a loser, a fake”. Fears come out when you want to do something different. To change something. I believed by going slower I knew I would be safe. Going fast meant a lot of unknowns. A lot of fear.
Just as in skiing, fear does this in life. It challenges you when you want to change. It keeps you safe, often on the wrong path, but safe.
Fear is good, because it means you’re actually trying to move. If you were complacent or indifferent about where you’re at, you avoid the fear. You back down. Stay on the couch. Stay safe.
Your real enemy is not fear. When you experience fear recognise that you’re trying to move from where you are to a new place that you love.
Indifference is your real enemy. Indifference to your situation. If I was indifferent to keeping up with the kids and enjoying my time with them I wouldn’t have pushed myself to keep up and go faster. I would have stayed back and cruised down.
Of course you’re going to feel some fear when you’re going to have that difficult conversation. As you think about having this conversation you’ll be thinking about how it will go. You don’t know. Will it race out of control? How will the other person react? What will the other person say or do? “I’ll mess it up again”. These are all fears. As you prepare to have the conversation you may back out. Memories of the pain of previous difficult conversations will rise, or remain hidden, but present themselves in other ways. You want to have that conversation. You want something to change. Fear is holding you back.
There are beliefs that you hold, painful experiences from your past, a lot of things that have built themselves up, layered themselves, over years. These are the things that suddenly show up in an instant (like when you’re skiing down a mountain). They come into your head. You can’t stop them. You catastrophise.
Fear is neither good nor bad. It is just fear. Feeling fear is good. If you’re not feeling fear maybe you’re not on the path of growing and changing. When you’re carving your own path, there are so many unknowns. And unknown means fear.
The interesting thing is that I did fall while skiing. But every time, they were low speed falls. And when I cracked my shoulder a number of years back, it was actually a low speed fall while teaching the kids to ski!! I just fell badly. So even if you stay within your comfort zone, nice and safe, you can suffer. And in life you are likely to suffer more if you do nothing than if you feel the fear, and make the change.
Fear doesn’t mean you’re heading along the wrong path. It is more likely to mean you’re heading exactly toward what you love, so for the sake of your wellbeing, embrace that fear and push through. Cast away the feelings of complacency and indifference to where you’re at. You deserve the rich rewards you’ll enjoy.