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 a great 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. Keep reading 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 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 a 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, start by asking 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, a lot of what we’re afraid of isn’t actually as bad as the picture we’ve built in our heads. Think about the times when you actually encountered something you were afraid of. Was it really 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 that person 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, at the worst, been a little bored. Even the true 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 afraid of lurk in the back of our minds, controlling our actions and our 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 developed fear as its defence mechanism to keep us safe. Think of our ancient ancestors roaming around in prehistoric times. The brain developed the fight or flight response as a way to keep them safe from predators and other such 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 pain, sure. Sore muscles, strained tendons, blistered hands. But she also knew that the pain was a necessary part of her training, growth and improves, 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, the way that an athlete rides through sore muscles, you begin to unleash your own infinite potential.
A simple way to understand where 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, 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 over and over, but every time will bring you closer to being free.
Step 5: Make the vow
Once you know what your fear is, 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 by your own terms? If you want to break out of these patterns, you have to commit to face 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 take the 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 oten 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 really happens, it’s not going to end your life! Often the worst-case scenario is an imagination 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, visualise the best-case. The cost of doing nothing is often higher than the cost of facing your fear.
Step 7: It’s time
Yes, your heart may start to race, 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 you’re on the path to a fearless life full of potential.
Interested in learning more about how happiness can come from facing your fears? Join the Rituals Happiness Challenge, with Mo Gawdat, former Chief Business Officer at Google [X] and author of Solve for Happy. It’s a 14-day interactive journey that will transform your life and help you find true, long-lasting happiness.
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