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Issue 59

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In this issue ~~

* Handling Fear

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf

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Handling Fear

You've come up with a new project or life path. You're psyched. You dream about what it's going to be like when it happens. You talk about it with your friends. It looks great. Life looks great.

Then you have to actually do something about it. And reality comes crashing in.

Whenever we do something new in life, we enter unknown territory. All our life experience may not tell us exactly how this situation needs to be handled. The strategies we used in the past may no longer work for us, for one reason or another. We're pioneers on the path of discovery of our own lives, and one of our companions is fear.

Fear is a natural response to real and imagined danger. It's an important survival mechanism. The problem comes when we allow our imagination to run away with us, showing us all the disastrous things that could happen if we follow this path, and we give our power away to the fear.

Our impulse is to avoid fear or make it go away, but the only way to do that (if it's possible at all) is to also give up your dreams and live a safe, bland life. The only way through fear is to go through it. Thinking it through helps, but eventually, you need to take action and confront it head on. Otherwise, you may find yourself living in a fantasy world filled with great triumphs, while your real life is tedious and devoid of any excitement.

While you'll never eliminate fear entirely, you can develop strategies and tools for dealing with it, so it doesn't stop you from pursuing your goals and dreams.

~ First, congratulate yourself for having the courage to try something new. Doing something you've never done before is challenging and scary, but if you kept doing the same things over and over, you'd be bored and frustrated. Facing the new and unknown is a life-affirming choice.

~ Get more information. A lot of fear comes from speculating on things we know very little about. We base our decisions on limited information or hearsay and fill in the gaps with usually negative imaginings. Instead, get the facts. Find out what's really so; don't make it up from what you've heard or imagined. Then, you can plan your actions based on real information, which will allay some of your fear.

~ As you're planning your next steps, think ahead. Think of it as a chess game, where you anticipate the probable consequences of your next move several steps forward. By doing that, you can anticipate problems and prepare for them, perhaps even choosing a different plan of action that avoids those problems altogether.

~ If you can't avoid problems completely, have backup plans. If you have some idea of what you'll do should a certain obstacle occur, you can face your new challenge more confidently.

~ Define the fear. Often, fear is nebulous, and we feel engulfed by it. We fear the fear itself, afraid to look at what it is. Instead, grit your teeth and figure out what exactly you're afraid of. Then, do a reality check. Is it likely that it will actually happen? Very often, our fears are irrational and, when we expose them to the light of day, we realize that the possibility of their really manifesting is minute. If your fear is a real possibility, how can you prepare for it? Or how can you rework your plan to avoid the problem or danger altogether?

~ Sometimes, fear grips us because we try to avoid feeling it by pushing it down or away. You've probably heard the expression, "What you resist persists." The more you try to suppress or numb your fear, the stronger its hold on you. Even if you're not consciously feeling it, you may find yourself rationalizing that your dream isn't worth the effort or isn't what you really want anymore anyway.

Instead, take some time to feel the fear with intensity. Put aside half an hour, perhaps with a buddy to support you, and let yourself feel the fear fully. Cry, scream, carry on, whatever you need to do. Use your creative outlets – writing, creating art or music, performing – to express and release the fear. Chances are, once you do that, the intensity of the fear will diminish significantly and you'll be able to start taking action.

~ Challenge yourself to face the fear. Facing fears is one of the ways we develop our strength and character. Every time you give in to a fear, fear gets stronger. Every time you face a fear, you get stronger. You build your courage and your coping mechanisms, and the next time you face another fear, you have greater resources that you can count on. You know that you've faced fear before and triumphed, and you know you can do it again.

~ Take small steps toward what you're afraid of; you don't have to do it all at once. Each of us has a different level of risk tolerance. You need to honor that and, at the same time, push yourself slowly out of your comfort zone. Each step you take will prepare you for the next.

~ Monitor your self-talk. Are you focusing on all the reasons you're going to fail or on how you can succeed? Speak to yourself as you would a child you were encouraging to do something new. Even if you don't believe it at first, keep going. As you start to experience small successes, you'll begin to believe you can do it.

~ Use your imagination in a positive way. When we're afraid, we use our imaginations negatively, to frighten ourselves by imagining how everything can go wrong. Use your imagination to envision a positive outcome, as well as thinking through the steps that will get you there. Visualization is a very powerful tool that can ease your path and help you avoid the pitfalls.

~ Act "as if" you weren't afraid. Do the thing you're afraid to do. The cosmic joke is, everyone else "out there" is doing exactly that! We've all learned to hide our fear and act as if we have everything under control, but I guarantee you, many of the people who seem most self-assured are just as scared as you are. They've just learned that they are stronger than their fear.

~ Give yourself permission to be less than perfect. Several years ago, when I went to Italy, I learned a few phrases of Italian and decided that I would attempt to use them even if I felt foolish. I took the chance, and it was so gratifying to be able to communicate with people, who were kind and even helped me learn some new words.

~ Keep in mind that fear and excitement have a similar "vibration." What you're calling fear may very well be excitement about your new opportunity! It may be a combination of fear and excitement. Take a moment to tune into your feelings and see what it really is.

Finally, know that you're not alone. Everyone is afraid of something. Find others who are on a similar path. Help and support each other through your fear, and celebrate your successes along the way. As you face your fears, you'll build your courage, as well as your self-esteem. Each time you overcome a fear, you'll feel better about yourself and have greater faith in your ability to cope and triumph.

Don't wait for the fear to go away and lose precious opportunities. Instead, face and move through the fear, using your tools and strategies, and climb the ladder toward greater successes and fulfillment one step at a time.

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Creative Tip

Think of someone you admire, who you see as powerful and courageous. When you feel frightened, think, How would that person handle this? Then, do that.

 

Wise Words

"When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."

~ Audre Lorde

"Imaginary obstacles are insurmountable. Real ones aren't. But you can't tell the difference when you have no real information. Fear can create even more imaginary obstacles than ignorance can. That's why the smallest step away from speculation and into reality can be an amazing relief."

~ Barbara Sher, I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was

"You may feel like dwelling on your limits or your fears. Don't do it . . . A perfect prescription for a squandered, unfulfilled life is to accommodate self-defeating feelings while undercutting your finest, most productive ones."

~ Marsha Sinetar, To Build the Life You Want, Create the Work You Love

"Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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Bookshelf

(click on the book or CD graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

Feel the Fear . . . and Beyond: Mastering the Techniques for Doing It Anyway . . . Susan Jeffers

From Panic to Power: Proven Techniques to Calm Your Anxieties, Conquer Your Fears, and Put You in Control of Your Life . . . Lucinda Bassett

The Monster in the Cave: How to Face Your Fear and Anxiety and Live Your Life . . . David Mellinger, Steven Jay Lynn

Play to Win!: Choosing Growth over Fear in Work and Life . . . Larry Wilson, Hersch Wilson

Overcome Fears & Phobias . . . Glenn Harrold (audio CD)

Beyond Fear: A Toltec Guide to Freedom and Joy: The Teachings of Don Miguel Ruiz . . . don Miguel Ruiz, Mary Carroll Nelson

The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things . . . Barry Glassner

 

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© 2003 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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