Fear can negatively impact every aspect of our lives, from being too afraid to give presentations at work that would benefit our career to being scared to leave ourselves emotionally open to others. Learning how to overcome fear will have an exceptionally beneficial impact on your life.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of fear but only if it doesn’t negatively effect our behaviour; if we carry on regardless of the fact that we’re afraid. But when it starts stopping us from doing the things we should then it’s a problem.
And unfortunately I’d guess that almost all of us have been hindered by it at some point in our lives which is why it’s so important we learn how to overcome fear.
I certainly have, in many different ways. One of the worst was that, due to a set of unfortunate circumstances knocking my confidence, a number of years ago I ended up so insecure that I became afraid of talking. And I don’t just mean talking in front of big groups of people, I mean talking to anyone. All someone had to do was ask me how I was and I would start to sweat with nerves at all the attention that was being put on me (ridiculous I know, but sadly true).
Unsurprisingly, that was kind of a problem for me. Not only was it pretty debilitating for my social life to be unable to have a conversation without bursting into a nervous sweat but it was also a bit of a issue for my career too since it had always involved a lot of presentations. In fact my fear of talking got so bad that at one point I thought I was going to hyperventilate and have to run out of a room mid-presentation to the board of a company. I didn’t (thank god, that would have been bad) but I was very close. I had let the fear get to me so much that I felt like I couldn’t breath. And that was a BIG problem.
Some of you may think that it wasn’t fear I experienced, that it was insecurity but insecurity was just the cause, fear was the resulting emotion. And that’s the problem with fear, it’s an emotion and almost always an irrational one*.
You can’t fight fear with reason since it isn’t born out of reason. To beat fear you have to play it at its own game. You have to recognise that it’s an emotion and then work out how to change that emotion.
It’s not easy, but it is achievable.
I used the below techniques to get over my fear of speaking, as well as many other fears, and they are incredibly effective. So much so that they got me back to not only getting over the fear of talking to others in one-on-one situations but back to actively enjoying giving presentations to large groups again.
How to Overcome Fear – Top 3 Essential Tips
If you only try one of these techniques, make it this one. It works best when combined with the two other techniques below but even on its own you can start to feel the benefits immediately.
This is an idea that comes from Tony Robbins in his book Unlimited Power.
In this he explains that there’s a reason why we use phrases like “blow things out of proportion”; it’s because that’s what we’re literally doing in our mind. We’re focusing on that negative thing, creating a big bright picture of it in our mind and letting it take up all our mental space.
But once we become aware of this we can use it to our advantage. Instead of allowing the fear to take up all our mental space, we can push it away and create a new image to take its place therefore leaving no room for the fear.
To do this first imagine the situation you’re afraid of, including your reaction and how you’d feel at that moment. Then start making the image of that smaller in your mind. Make it darker and observe what’s going on as if you’re watching it on TV rather than as the person in that situation. Then continue making the image smaller and smaller and push it away from you into the distance until it disappears.
Once you’ve done this, create a new image of that situation to replace the old one. But this time imagine that you don’t feel fear but instead react to the situation in the way you would like to. Imagine it as if you’re really there, make the image big and bright and allow yourself to really feel the emotions that you’re imagining.
I know I may be losing some of you here. I used to think that visualisation techniques were a load of rubbish but since fear is just an irrational emotion in our heads, creating new associations in our brain between the situation in question and our response to it has a huge effect on our reaction when that situation occurs.
Using this visualization technique will mean you go into the situation you previously feared with a new found confidence, which will be much harder to shake than if you’d gone into the situation with the fear already built up in your mind.
Try it once and you’ll ever look back.
- Normalise the thing you’re afraid of
Ever wondered how some people manage to look so happy and relaxed whilst giving presentations or the like?
It’s because they do it all the time. Giving a presentation is no longer a big, scary unusual event for them, it’s just part of their day.
Whatever you are afraid of an essential step towards crushing that fear is to make doing that thing feel normal and ordinary.
When I was in the clutches of my fear of talking I took an acting course so I would have to stand up every week and talk in front of people until it became normal for me to do so again.
The reason this works is because, as I mentioned above, almost all fear is irrational. The things we’re afraid of aren’t actually going to harm us and so by doing the thing we’re afraid of repeatedly we get to see first hand that even though we were scared, nothing bad happened.
It will be hard as your fear is of doing that precise thing but if you’ve carried out step 1 you’ll be going into that situation with more confidence than you’ve ever had before in relation to that activity. You can also control the situations in which you practice doing the thing you’re afraid of to reduce the amount of fear you feel whilst normalizing the behaviour. For example, if you have a fear of spiders setting up a situation in which a friend is there who is completely comfortable with spiders and able to remove it from your sight in a second if needed will help a lot.
“When that fear shows up… the answer is to welcome the fear and to dance with it.”
- Fake it till you make it
It’s a cliché but it’s a cliché for a reason; it works.
When in a situation you’re afraid of make yourself act as if you aren’t, even if it’s just for a short amount of time.
What you’ll find if you do is that the fear will dissipate as by pretending that you’re not afraid of that spider or the 50 people staring at you waiting for you to speak you will cause another emotion in your mind. One that isn’t fear.
To pretend you’re not afraid you have to tell your brain to feel something else, whether that be that you’re relaxed and calm or happy it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that your brain then starts thinking about another emotion other than fear.
Your body language will naturally change as you do this as well but to speed the process along purposefully change your posture too. Change it to reflect how you would hold yourself if you were feeling this new emotion and not fear. Untense your body. Breathe deeply. Bring your shoulders back. Relax your face. Even better, smile if you can manage it.
As Amy Cuddy explains in her brilliant TED talk on body language:
“Our bodies change our minds…and our minds change our bodies.”
If you only take one thing out of this post let it be this:
Fear isn’t rational. You can’t fight it with reason, you have to fight it with emotion. Change the emotion and you get rid of the fear, because that’s all it is at the end of the day.
*Footnote: If you have a fear of deadly snakes and only the deadly variety I’ll give you that one as a rational fear and you should probably hold on to it for life preservation purposes but if that fear then translates into a fear of all snakes that is no longer rational. That’s like being afraid of all people because there are some murderers out there.