Feeling afraid is part of being human, and everyone experiences it sometimes.  Fear can even save your life: there's a reason you've probably never tried to jump out of a moving car!  

But what can you do when you're afraid of something that you want to do, or even have to do?

1. Identify what scares you

Many people say they're afraid of "speaking in public."  But if you look a little closer, you often find that they're worried about being seen as incompetent, or that they're terrified of losing control of themselves while on stage.  If you're about to fight a pirate, there's no use preparing to battle dragons.  So ask yourself, "what am I really afraid of?"

2. Figure out how much it matters

How bad would it be, really, to touch that cockroach, or stand in that elevator, or admit your mistake to your boss?  Will it kill you?  Will your spouse break up with you because of it?  Will it make the universe implode?  If you can identify what could realistically happen, and define how bad that would really be, you may find that you aren't afraid at all anymore.

3. Try to see the good side

If nothing else, doing what scares you will probably stop you from worrying about what will happen if you do it.  And sometimes, there are excellent reasons to do what you're afraid of doing: enduring a root canal prevents you from losing bone.  You need to be able to balance the good possibilities (and certainties) along with the bad.

4. Remember the past

You're old enough to be reading this article, which means you're also old enough to have done something that scared you before.  Maybe you went to school on a day when you hadn't done the homework, or you asked someone gorgeous to prom, or you tried out for the varsity squad.  How'd that work out for you?  Even if it wasn't perfect, are you glad you tried?  History doesn't necessarily repeat itself, but we can still learn a lot from it.

5. Banish "I can't"

Many times, people are afraid because they keep telling themselves negative things, like "I always fail" or "I can't do this."   Instead, say "I succeed a lot" and "I can try this."  Don't predict a bad outcome before you even start!

6. Take care of yourself

If you're exhausted, starving, or need to go to the bathroom, it's much easier to let your emotions take the wheel.  Breathe deep, eat some crackers, take a nap - whatever it takes to become physically comfortable - and your mind will relax, too.

7. Get a second opinion

You've got friends, coworkers, and family members who are just itching to tell you what they think about something, right?  Confiding in a person you trust can give you strength you never knew you had.

8. Start small

No one starts off by riding a twenty-speed bike up a hill - they use training wheels and ride once around the block.  If you're scared of dogs, you want to start with "looking at pictures of dogs" rather than "visiting the humane society."  If you're scared of speaking in front of crowds, give a few presentations for your work team before going out on the lecture circuit.

9. Practice, practice, practice

Make it a habit to do things that are a little bit scary, or somewhat uncomfortable.  Try wearing unmatched socks, or singing out loud in your car, or babysitting a toddler.  People who do hard things actually do hard things, on a regular basis: we are what we do.

10. Fake it

Who's the bravest person you've ever heard of?  Would they do the thing you're scared of doing?  How would they do it?  What would they look like while they're doing it?  Well, pretend you're them and see what happens.  Trust me, no one can tell.

Remember that fear is supposed to be on your side - it's supposed to help you, not boss you around.  Make it work for you, not against you, and you can conquer anything.

Published on: Jun 20, 2016
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