Why does fear exist
From the Latin conquirere meaning to ‘gain, or ‘win’; to successfully overcome, take control of.
What would you do if you knew you could not fail? What would you do if you weren’t so afraid? And what would you do if you didn’t care what people thought?
This chapter is all about revealing the fears that are stopping you from living the life of your dreams. You will discover where they come from, the identity of the voice in your head that is sabotaging your dreams, why it is so powerful and how to stop it from holding you back.
You will also uncover your biggest ally against fear: your Future Self – your older, wiser self who is living a life of purpose and fulfilment.
And you will learn how to start using your Future Self as a wise guide that you can use to steer you in the right direction.
Whenever you need to know what your next step should be, you can tap into this inner source of wisdom – something that is especially helpful when facing down your fears and overcoming sabotaging voices.
Sometimes late at night you may think about the life you wish you had – the job that got away (you were too scared to apply); that holiday or trip of a lifetime you haven’t made yet, or those abandoned health kicks, exercise programmes, hobbies and friends. Fear is telling you that if you try to achieve that life, you will lose everything you already have … you can’t … you’ll fail. So, you don’t. Fear can stop you from having a rich, fulfilling life.
We are all hard-wired to feel fear, it is a normal part of brain function and we actually need it to survive. When we face an unknown or a perceived threat, the oldest part of our brain is triggered – the limbic system, most notably the amygdala.
The amygdala is an almond-shaped section of nervous tissue located deep in the temporal lobe of the brain. Research has shown that it performs a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making and emotional responses (including fear, anxiety, and aggression). When triggered by a ‘stressful stimulus’ – an unknown outcome or danger – the amygdala sets off a chain reaction that ends with the release of chemicals that cause a racing heart, fast breathing and primed muscles, among other things.
This is known as the ‘fight-flight-freeze’ response and prepares you to tackle (the predator), run and hide, or play dead. Our fears fall into three main categories:
- Natural instinct These are the natural fears we’re born with and that keep us alive, e.g. fear of heights (so we don’t fall off cliffs), pain (so we don’t hurt or kill ourselves), and loud noises (often a sign of impending danger).
- Learned from experience These are the fears of places, situations or people. For example, I have recently been conquering my fear of being in the sea – a fear I developed after nearly drowning in the sea when I was eight years old.
- Taught by others These are fears of risk, perceived harm and danger, fear of certain people or of things that will cause us to be rejected by others – all taught to us by our parents, teachers, society, religion, and prevailing culture. This is the main source of fear we will be focusing on in this book as it’s the main source I see in people not living their ideal lives. Whatever type of fear it is, all fears are partly imagined. This is because our brains are so hard-wired to protect us from the danger that we may fear things that aren’t actually a threat – and often don’t even exist or haven’t happened yet. We are often imagining things that could happen. And because of this well-developed ability to learn, imagine and even create fear in our own minds, some neuroscientists say that we are the most fearful creatures in the world.
Fear can run your life
Imagining what could happen based on what we have been taught by others (both explicitly and implicitly by how they live their lives), is the real killer of dreams and lives. In my decade of practice, this kind of fear is the single main reason why clients are not living the life they really want, and feel so unhappy. Fear, unfortunately, is much stronger than our desire for fulfilment.
Whether it’s changing careers, leaving a relationship, moving house, changing our lifestyle, even changing our diet or fitness regime, we all have a fear of change. We are all afraid when faced with a situation where we don’t know the outcome, or predict the outcome as presenting a danger to our survival.
I have heard clients say they are not living their ideal life because they are scared: of losing their home; losing whatever else they have built up for themselves; upsetting the status quo; upsetting loved ones; being made fun of or appearing ridiculous; failing; succeeding; making the wrong choices; relinquishing control: not knowing what the outcome might be; being rejected; being seen as a bad mother, bad daughter, or just plain ‘selfish’; being found out as a fraud. All of these fears can have a huge impact on your life and how you live it (or don’t fully live it).
In her book, The Fear Cure, Dr Lissa Rankin lists the 10 signs that fear is running your life as follows:
- You find yourself striving in vain for an impossible-to-achieve standard of perfectionism.
- You settle.
- You say yes when you mean no.
- You say no when you mean yes.
- You numb yourself with alcohol, drugs, sex, television, or excessive busy-ness.
- You procrastinate.
- You get paralyzed.
- You become a control freak.
- You don’t speak up for yourself.
- You get ill.
Fearful people are said to be more likely to suffer from heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory disorders, chronic pain, as well as milder symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, obesity, headaches, backaches, decreased libido and gastrointestinal distress. Another sobering list don’t you think? I certainly am prone to perfectionism and the numbing behaviour of ‘busy-ness’.
So, know that you are not alone, we all feel fear. I get so annoyed when I see those ‘be fearless’ images and platitudes on social media. They are dangerous and make us feel worse about ourselves than we already do – because underneath we all feel scared. Those images just pile on the shame for feeling scared, when others seemingly don’t. Whatever anyone tells you, and yes that includes the fearless brigade, they are scared too.
They may pretend they’re not – they may even be fearless about one thing but are actually very scared of another – but trust me, there is no way they are 100 per cent fearless about everything.
There are people who seem to have overcome fear entirely – who do appear ‘fearless’. They have achieved great things, built huge empires, succeeded in their fields, and look like they have it all. I work with these people on a daily basis and I can tell you this: most of them are also driven by fear. This is the fear of not being ‘good enough’ and therefore needing to constantly prove themselves and constantly chase the next big achievement.
Everything they do only provides a temporary sense of satisfaction, until they feel the fear again and off they go to create the next thing that will subdue it – for a while. This is certainly something that has driven my life and that I continue to work on to this day. In the process of proving themselves to be ‘worthy’, these people nearly kill themselves.
Everyone – these people included – would benefit from identifying the fear and living more from a place of choice and true fulfillment. Because there is another way to live.
Fear as protection
This is what fear can feel like – that it is is keeping you safe. It can feel as if fear is protecting us from danger, from losing everything we have, and that it is actually keeping us safe from harm. I’m talking about the voice in your head that says:
‘What if I get rejected?’
‘What if I fail?’
‘What if I don’t get it right/perfect?’
‘What if I do X, and Y happens?’
The problem is that this voice keeps us too safe. It is designed to stop us from doing reckless things. It makes us overcautious and means we don’t take any risks and we never have a fulfilling life. It keeps us small.
How to conquer fear
Fear will never go away. The only way to conquer the fear is to accept it and then do the thing you’re afraid of. Scientists have shown that this is the only way to overcome fear – be proactive and face it – because every time you do and you physically survive, your brain is learning that there is no real threat after all. If you understand and crack this one, trust me, you really will be able to have the life you’ve only ever dreamed about.
What you can learn to do, and what I hugely advocate, is the ‘fake-it-till you-make-it’ approach or ‘feel the fear and do it any way’ – the title of the international bestseller, originally published in 1987 by psychologist Susan Jeffers. In the book, Jeffers talks about how fear limited her life and how the only way to deal with fear is to accept it, and then have the courage to do the thing that scares you. She discusses how fear is based on the uncertainty of change and the lack of a positive self-image.
She explains that the fundamental cause of fear is a lack of trust in oneself, the belief that ‘I can’t handle it!’ As she puts it: ‘We fear beginnings; we fear endings. We fear changing; we fear “staying stuck”.
We fear success; we fear failure. We fear living; we fear dying.’ Her solution is to start learning to trust, replacing the fear of not surviving with the attitude that whatever happens, you can, and will, handle it. You can see that in conquering your fears there is a lot for you to battle against, and it is absolutely possible to do so. As ever, the key is both an awareness of what’s going on, and taking action to start changing things. You can begin right now.
Need help redesigning your life + career? There are a few ways I can do that
- To get clear on what you do and don’t want in your life + career moving forward, get my book Change Your Life in 5 for free now (just pay P+P). Click here
- Ready to get unstuck in just one hour – and moving forward into the next phase of your life? Book a power-hour Reset Session with me now click here
- If you’re ready to do more in-depth or longer-term work on redesigning your life + career, I’ve opened up a few slots for working with me 1-1. Book your free Discovery Call with me by clicking here and find out how I can help.
- If you are interested in Leadership (including remote leadership) + Executive Coaching for you or your team, find out more about my unique Conscious Leader programme by clicking here
Connect with me here!