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Most kids view themselves as invincible. It’s why they climb trees that are a bit too tall, or ride bikes way too fast, or otherwise put themselves in overly risky situations.
Not me. I was an extremely cautious child.
I much preferred the safety of my own imagination over the wild, unpredictable real world. I would cringe when the neighborhood skateboarder tried tricks on his new ramp, or when my friends would suggest a horror movie at a sleepover.
Blame it on my sensitivity, or my old soul, or being an only child (until I was 13, at least) with too much alone time to think … but whatever the reason, my tolerance for risk and fear and the unknown was barely above zero.
This showed up everywhere, including trying new foods.
A lot of kids are picky eaters, but I was pickier than most. And it lasted well beyond my childhood, too. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I assumed I didn’t like all kinds of foods that I now LOVE (salmon, omelets, guacamole — what was I thinking??), when in reality I was just too afraid to try them.
At some point in my 20s, I realized how silly it was to be afraid of trying new foods. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? You have a bad taste in your mouth for a few seconds? In terms of risk-taking, those are pretty much the lowest stakes you can imagine.
When I asked myself why I was afraid of this, I didn’t have a good answer. That’s because I wasn’t actually afraid of it anymore. It was just a holdover fear from my childhood that was now irrelevant. Because I’d lazily never bothered to question it, I was acting like the fear was just as strong as ever.
Once I realized that I didn’t actually fear trying new foods anymore, I opened up a whole new world of deliciousness. I’d been missing out on so much because of my own self-imposed limitations.
In this week’s blog, I’m talking about how fears can become habits. I’ll help you identify fears that you’ve outgrown (so you can let them go for good) and get over fears that are still active more quickly. Keep reading…
FEAR IS JUST A LEARNED BELIEF
Certain basic survival fears are built-in biologically.
There’s a reason why nearly all humans are terrified of snakes — on a base survival level, we know that snakes can be lethal. No one has to teach you to be afraid of a hissing snake; that’s a pre-programmed fear.
Most fears are simply beliefs that you learned at some point and never let go of.
Take my client Sophia, for example. She’s an incredible singer. (Seriously, she sent me a couple of recordings, and her voice is so beautiful it gave me chills.)
But Sophia is terrified of singing in public. That’s because, when she was in 4th grade, she sang in front of her music class and a boy teased her afterward. (Which was probably his 9-year-old way of flirting … but to her, it was crushing.)
As she got older, she joined chorus groups, but she refused to sing solo. That is, until her work hosted a karaoke happy hour a few years ago. She downed a couple glasses of wine, belted her heart out, and loved every minute of it.
She told me that now she loves going to out karaoke with friends, although she always needs a drink first — even if it’s just a sip of a friend’s wine — before going on stage.
I said to her…
“Sophia, you realize that if you’re only having a sip of wine, that’s not actually doing anything to quell your fear. It sounds like you’re not actually afraid of singing in public anymore, but you’ve gotten attached to that old fear. Your fear isn’t real anymore; it’s just a habit.”
She decided to test out this theory and drink nothing but water at the next karaoke night. She felt a few butterflies right before stepping on stage, but as soon as she started singing, she felt pure joy.
Afterward, she felt incredibly empowered. She told me…
“It’s so freeing to realize that I’m not afraid of this anymore! I want to start performing other places, not just on karaoke night, just like I always imagined doing when I was a kid.”
WHAT FEARS HAVE YOU OUTGROWN WITHOUT REALIZING IT?
Fear can be sneaky and manipulative (it wants you to stay afraid, after all), so it can be tough to identify fears that you’ve outgrown.
So here are a few questions to cut through fear’s BS and recognize when you’re fearing something simply out of habit:
- What are you afraid of? And why are you so afraid of it?
- What’s the worst that could happen if you do this scary thing? (Usually the worst-case scenario isn’t nearly as bad as we’re imagining.)
- What are the chances that this will actually happen?
- How capable are you of handling this outcome, on the off-chance that it does happen?
- Where did this fear originally come from?
- How young were you when you can first remember being afraid of this?
- Was there an incident when this fear was created?
- What is this fear trying to protect you from? Do you really need this protection anymore?
- How much energy you still have around this fear?
The more you probe into old fears, the more often you’ll find that there’s not much weight to them anymore.
Sometimes, just the awareness that your fear is nothing more than an old bad habit is enough to vanquish it (like Sophia did).
But other times, your fear can be a bit more stubborn…
WHAT ABOUT FEARS THAT ARE STILL ACTIVE?
If you dig into your fear and realize that yep, you’re still very much afraid of it, you have a couple of options.
First, ask yourself, “Is this a fear that I even care about getting over?”
I’m not of the opinion that all fears need to be overcome. I’m afraid of skydiving, and I’m not particularly concerned with getting over that fear. It has little to no impact on my daily life, and I’m not interested in becoming an adrenaline junkie, so it’s not worth the effort to conquer that fear.
A fear is worth getting over, however, if it …
- Interferes with your everyday life,
- Prevents you from going after something you want,
- Or causes frequent anxiety and low self-esteem.
In those cases, do not try herculean attempts to demolish your fear in one fell swoop. That’s the perfect way to send you into total panic-mode and paralysis.
TAKE MY FRIEND JOSH‘S DOG, AS AN EXAMPLE…
As a puppy, this dog was nervous around water (even though this breed usually loves water), so Josh decided to help her overcome her fear. That summer when his family went out on their boat, he put his puppy in the water to swim with the rest of the family. He figured that once she realized she could swim, she’d be fine with water.
Nope. It was way too much, way too soon, and she went into full-on panic mode. If anything, it amplified her fear, and she wouldn’t even walk near deep puddles for years.
Later on, he tried the incremental approach. Little by little, with lots of encouragement and treats, he eased her into the shallow end of a small, calm, safe pool of water. As she slowly built up her comfort level, her nervousness disappeared and she started to enjoy splashing around and fetching sticks in the water.
Now, you can’t keep that dog away from water. She’s become a fiend for it! All because she got to dip her toe in (err, paw rather) slowly, at her own pace.
You’re no different. Don’t try to metaphorically throw yourself in the deep end. Instead, take the long approach and give yourself small, incremental milestones to reach along the way.
So tell me, what fears of yours do you suspect might just be old bad habits? And how have you overcome old fears? Share with me, in the comments!
Kristen (& Rachel)