It's Time to Face Your Fear!

Steven Gaffney Fear is a normal and appropriate response to many of the challenges we face in life. In fact, people often cite fear as a reason they can't accomplish something. However, the reality is that we often do things in spite of our fears. Example: a scary ride, meeting future in-laws, a job interview, or sky-diving. So fear is not the reason why we don't do something. Fear is usually just an excuse.

Fear of public speaking is the #1 fear listed by most people, yet realistically, few of us never speak in public! We may dislike speaking in front of large audiences, but we can learn to control the fear. Johnny Carson, Carly Simon, Carol Burnett and Barbra Streisand all have fears of performing in public, yet their professions require it. They learned techniques to overcome their fears because they love what they do.

The truth is: Fear doesn't stop us from doing anything; we stop ourselves.

You might say, "It would make my life easier, and at the very least less stressful, if I weren't so afraid." Agreed. Here are five tips to help you gain control and overcome your fear.

    1. Channel your fear into useful energy and actions. Instead of bottling up that nervous energy, channel it into actions to improve the chance of success – such as preparation or planning. Walter Cronkite said, "It is natural to have butterflies. The secret is to have them fly in formation." For example, if you are nervous about a job interview, take that nervousness and direct it into action: Write down interview questions and answers you are worried about, then practice them out loud; take a practice ride to the interview site, then mentally visualize the location and time the commute; prepare your interview outfit the day before.

    2. Share fears out loud and then say positive affirmations. This may feel odd at first, but try it. Say out loud all your concerns and fears about a situation. You will want to do this alone; in your car on the way to work; before you have to make a stressful call; or prior to attending a tough meeting. For example, say out loud, "I am concerned I am going to make a mistake." "I am worried you are going to leave me." "I am afraid they are going to get upset." You'll know when you are done because you will begin to feel a sense of relief -- and may even start to smile. Once you get the concerns and fears out of your mind, then start verbalizing the positive statements. For example, say out loud, "I am smart enough to correct a mistake." "I can use my self-control to stay away from the cookie jar!" or "I will feel better once I complete this report on time." Remember, it is impossible to think positive and negative thoughts at the same time!

    3. Visualize and/or use third party visualization. Visualization is a powerful tool. Do you ever catch yourself "day dreaming?" Day dreaming is simply visualization. Let's apply the same concept to facing fear. If you can't visualize yourself successfully facing a fearful situation, imagine you are in a movie theatre and you are watching someone who looks like you, acts like you, and talks like you conducting the situation successfully. Run that picture 5 to 10 times in your head – put yourself in a quiet place, with no distractions, and with your eyes closed. After you complete this, then re-associate yourself back into the movie and run the through the scene another 5 to 10 times, ultimately achieving the desired results.

    4. Memorize the beginning and end of "the plan". When confronting our fears, we tend to either plunge right in or carefully plan out the details. Either way, we tend to be the most nervous at the beginning and don't know how to end the situation. If you memorize these two parts then you can always fall back on "autopilot" if you forget what to do or say. But when we get nervous, sometimes we get forgetful. So, write it down. This helps you in two ways: It helps organize your thoughts so you are certain to capture all the points you want to make; and it helps you get back on track if the situation gets derailed.

    5. Play through the worst-case scenario and then the best-case scenario. Most people think that by going through a "worst-case scenario" they will become more stressed and afraid about a situation. The solution is to play out the worst-case scenario all the way to the end by continually asking yourself, "And then what would happen?" Unfortunately, many of us stop this mental worst-case scenario "movie" as soon as we think of our fear. Instead, play out that movie in your head all the way to the end -- just like you are watching a movie. You would not stop the movie as soon as the main character got in trouble or assume the character was doomed. Instead, you would watch the movie until the end to determine what happened. So just like watching a movie, play the movie of, "the worst that could happen" until the end by repeatedly asking yourself, "And then what would happen?" at every juncture.

For example, you are afraid to have a conversation with someone for fear that the conversation will go badly. Don't stop the movie there; play out the movie with, "And then what would happen?" Some possibilities are: If the conversation went badly, then you would think about what you could have done differently; then approach the conversation again with an apology; (hopefully using the strategies we teach). Keep in mind that even if we face a fear and parts of the worst-case scenarios come true, most of us learn from things that don't work – as long as we are committed to growing from the situation. That is, of course, if the worst-case scenario actually happens – which usually doesn't.

Next, play out the best-case scenario movie and notice how you feel. If you are like most people who have gone through this exercise, you will deduce that the worst-case scenario will probably not happen, and you will find yourself more willing to tackle the fear because you have a clearer picture of possible outcomes…and can prepare for them!

Norman Pritchard said, "Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed." Don't stop yourself from doing and saying things you want and need to. Don't get to the end of your life and wonder, "what would have happened if…." Take action, whether or not you are afraid, and don't allow fear to stop you. Now is the time!

"Steven Gaffney is a professional speaker and author in the area of communication, motivation and leadership. For more information call (703) 243-7994 or 1-877-6Honest or e-mail Steven directly at Steven@StevenGaffney.com. Copyright ©2004 by Steven Gaffney and The Steven Gaffney Company."

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Copyright 2004 by Steven Gaffney and the Steven Gaffney Company.

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