When was the last time you said no to something because you were afraid? Have you ever skipped a trip because you couldn't face getting on a plane? Avoided an excellent speaking opportunity because it meant presenting to a crowd? Missed a promotion because you didn't want to ask your boss? Left unchecked, our fears can control our lives. By facing them, you can tap into your true potential and learn to become truly happy.
In his book Solve for Happy, Mo Gawdat lays out a seven-point approach to facing your fears. Fears are barriers and living a fearless life means you can unlock your true potential. "Fear is often an exaggerated illusion and when you see the illusion, the illusion goes away," says Gawdat.
TODAY’S HAPPINESS TASK
Try Mo's effective 7-step guide to break the fear illusion...
Step 1: Admit that you’re afraid
The first and most crucial step is simply coming clean. You're afraid. We all are. We're often taught to keep a stiff upper lip when it comes to our emotions, but doing so means we often repeat old patterns. Fear has many guises. It shows up as anxiety when we project our fears onto future situations; embarrassment rooted in fear of rejection; pessimism, thinking that the future will be worse than the present; even envy, believing that you are less than others. These emotions that stem from fear have the power to control us, keeping us "safe" in a pattern of behaviour. They keep us firmly in our comfort zones and make it hard for us to take on the unknown. By admitting that you, too, have fears, you're taking the first step towards breaking free and tapping into your true potential.
If you're having trouble admitting your fears, ask yourself this question: Do you feel free?
"If there's something you want to do but aren't able to, then you're not free," says happiness expert Mo Gawdat.
Step 2: Understand what fear is
Fear may be what keeps us "safe", but the reality is that a lot of what we're afraid of isn't as bad as the picture we've built in our heads. Think about the times when you encountered something you were afraid of. Was it as awful as you thought?
The likelihood is that no one has stood up and booed you while you gave a presentation, no matter how much you stuttered. You didn't spontaneously combust when talking to someone you had a crush on when you were a teenager. If you went to a party where you didn't know anybody, you might have walked out with a couple of new friends – or, worst, been a little bored. Even the actual threats are much smaller than you think. Deadly plane crashes? The chance is less than 1 in 3 billion. And most spiders stay safely in their little corner of the room, more scared of you than you are of them. The world we live in, on the whole, is safe.
Ask yourself, when was the last time your biggest fear actually happened. Because in reality, if your biggest fears really happened you wouldn’t be here today.
Step 3: Name your fear
We all have fears. But sometimes, we're afraid to admit them. We let the list of the things we're so scared of lurk in the back of our minds, controlling our actions and opportunities. And by leaving them unnamed, we give them power over us. The next time you're afraid, look your fear in the eye and name it. Fear of public speaking. Sharks. Heights. The number 13. Clowns. Whatever it is, say it out loud.
If this is difficult for you, recognise that you may have another overarching fear: the fear of facing your fears. Be compassionate with yourself and admit that you, too, are a human being who feels fear.
Step 4: Understand your brain’s fear games
On the most basic level, our brain develops fear as its defence mechanism to keep us safe. Think of our ancient ancestors roaming around in prehistoric times. The brain produces the fight or flight response to protect them from predators and other life-threatening dangers. Today, we still have this reaction but for modern-day fears that aren't a threat to our life. Ever felt your heart pounding and shoulders tensing before a big presentation? That's your fight or flight response at work.
Fear was also created to keep us safe from pain, but under some circumstances pain can lead to greatness. Think of a gymnast powering through years of gruelling training to a gold medal. She felt hurt, sure. Sore muscles, strained tendons, blistered hands. But she also knew that the pain was a necessary part of her training, growth and improvement, so she learned to embrace it.
What else is our brain keeping us safe from? The threat of emotional pain lies at the root of many of our fears – heartbreak, disappointment, humiliation. But if physical pain can be overcome, isn't the same true for our emotions? When you learn to ride through fear, how an athlete rides through sore muscles, you begin to unleash your infinite potential.
A simple way to understand your fear is coming from is by questioning it. Drill down deep past your brain's defence mechanism. Let's say you have a fear of speaking to strangers, and let's undress that fear layer by layer. Try this dialogue with yourself:
What are you scared of?
I am afraid of saying something silly in front of a large audience.
Why does this scare you?
I am afraid of being judged and ridiculed.
And why is that scary?
Because I may get rejected as a result.
And why does rejection worry you?
Go deeper and deeper until you find the root cause of your fear. Once you're there, sit with it and feel its power. Then release it. You'll have to do this repeatedly, but every time will bring you closer to being free.
Step 5: Make the vow
Once you know your fear, challenge yourself to look it straight in the eye and take it on. This is the moment when you decide: are you going to allow yourself to be ruled by fear? Or are you going to live life on your terms? If you want to break out of these patterns, you have to commit to facing up to your fears.
Step 6: Take the leap
This step is both the simplest and the hardest. You just have to do it. Scared of heights? Sign up for a rock-climbing lesson. Socially anxious? RSVP yes to the next party you're invited to. And then actually set foot outside of your front door and go. Before you leap, Gawdat has a list of questions he recommends you work through called The Interrogation. Think about your fear and ask these questions:
What's the worst that can happen?
If you're giving a presentation, people might boo.
So what if they boo me off stage? Will I cease to exist?
How likely is it?
How often did you see horrible speakers on stage, and how often did you see them get booed?
Is there anything I can do to prevent this scenario now?
Yes! Get to work and prepare like crazy.
Can I recover?
If the worst happens, it will not end your life! Often the worst-case scenario is an image that's unlikely to come true.
What will happen if I do nothing?
What's the price of the status quo? Putting yourself out there can lead to incredible opportunities.
What is the best-case scenario?
Flip your thoughts instead of thinking of the worst case, and visualise the best case. The cost of doing nothing is often higher than facing your fear.
Step 7: It’s time
Yes, your heart may start to race, and you may get sweaty palms but the more you face your fears, over time, it'll get easier and easier, until you won't remember ever being scared. Congratulations, you've stepped out of your safe zone and are on the path to a fearless life full of potential.
Click here for Day 10 of the Happiness Challenge.