What stops people from making the best possible decisions for themselves often isn't the deciding. Many times we know what we should do -- for our businesses or to improve our lives generally -- but we're simply too scared to do it. Leaving a comfortable but uninspiring job can be terrifying, so can a move to a new city, or entering a new market.

So if you know you need to do something, but so far you just haven't been able to take the plunge, is there anything you can do to screw up a little bit more courage? Yes, answers Christine Carter, a sociologist, author, and positive psychology expert at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, in a recent Washington Post op-ed.

"If we are to live and work from our sweet spot--that place of great strength, but also great ease--we need courage to be authentic, to take risks, to be different," she writes, before offering concrete strategies for battling your fear.

1. Reprogram your thoughts

Just telling yourself not to be afraid is unlikely to be effective (try telling yourself not to think of a white bear and see how well that works, Carter suggests). Instead, she advises a two-pronged technique: simply notice and label fearful thoughts to sap them of some of their power, then actively cultivate braver ones. How do you do that?

"Consider times when you've been brave before. Focus on how people just like you have done what you are mustering the courage to do. Think about how the last time you did it, it wasn't that hard. Think about how you'll regret it if you don't do it. Think about how the worst-case scenario is something you can deal with. Remind yourself of your long-term goals," she suggests.

2. Remind yourself: stress can be good

It's counterintuitive but stress and fear aren't all bad. As other researchers besides Carter have pointed out, stress is simply excitement -- our body readying itself to tackle a hard (but quite possibly necessary) task. Keeping in mind that fact can drastically change how stress affects our bodies for the better.

Carter offers advice in this vein, reminding readers that while it's always smart to listen to your gut when you feel real fear, hesitating and waffling is generally a sign that's it time to embrace whatever you're worried about.

"Do you have the desire to get the heck out of whatever situation is making you fearful? If so, your fear is likely legitimate. Run like the wind, my friend," she instructs, "but if your fear is making you hesitate, consider that your fear is unfounded. Take a deep breath, and make the leap."

3. Plan for the worst

Pessimism is underrated. Sunny thoughts are nice (and often useful), but thinking about the planning for the worst is a great way to tame fear. "Ask yourself: What obstacles are you likely to encounter? People who plan for how they're going to react to different obstacles tend to be able to meet their goals more successfully; in other words, scary challenges don't stop them, especially when they formulate 'If X, then Y' plans for each potential difficulty," she writes.

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What's your top technique for being more fearless?

Published on: Jun 4, 2015
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