“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
If you’re human, you have felt fear: the fear of being alone, the fear of losing your job, the fear of failure, the fear of sickness, the fear of uncertainty, the fear of not being good enough, and on and on.1 While fear has its benefits—it can motivate or tell us something important—more often, it debilitates. We don’t know how to deal with fear; and unbeknownst to us, it runs our lives.
Here are a few things I have learned that have helped me overcome many of my own fears.
1. Fears are stories.
Fears are stories we tell ourselves. They are imagined events about the future. We believe our stories and act as if they are true. And that is why fear feels uncomfortable.
If we are fearful that we will end up alone, we cry now as if we have already ended up alone. If we are fearful of losing our jobs, we panic now as if we have already lost them. If we are fearful of failure, we get depressed now as if we have already failed.
So when you feel fear, ask if you are telling yourself a story. If you are, remind yourself that it is just a story – it isn’t true. Then, stop telling yourself that story and return to the present. There is nothing to fear in the present moment.
2. Most fears never materialize.
Has your every fear materialized? I doubt it.
The truth is that many of our fears never materialize. So when your mind is riddled with fear, remind yourself that your fears may never come true. They are not worth agonizing over. And if they come true, you’ll deal with them then.
3. Confronting fear is better than avoiding it.
We tend to avoid thinking about things that frighten us. When we do that, our fears don’t dissipate. They loom like beasts in the backs of our minds. Beasts with unknown forms. Beasts we don’t understand. And beasts we feel powerless against.
So instead of avoiding your fear, confront it. Imagine the worst that can happen, and figure out what you will do if it does. You may find that your worst fear isn’t as bad as you had imagined – that your beast is actually a puppy. And even if it is, having a plan for what you will do returns power to you.
4. Courage is not what you think it is.
Courage is not a lack of fear. Courage is saying – I am afraid AND I will do it.
Courage is not a character trait. People aren’t courageous in the way that they are ambitious, diligent, or confident. Courage is found in humble moments. You may find it in one moment and lose it in the next. And just because you can’t find it now, it doesn’t mean you won’t find it in the moment you need it most.
5. There is one universal fear.
There is one universal fear: the fear that we will not be loved (“love” is used broadly to include acceptance, respect, approval, etc). If you ask the right questions and are brutally honest with your answers, you can trace almost every fear back to this one.
But we can never be short of love. Because we are complete, perfect, and deserving of love just the way we are. And the greatest love we can ever have – is the love we feel for ourselves.
1. By fear, I am referring only to non-life-threatening fears.