We all get afraid sometimes. It's normal. But fear has a nasty way of closing doors of opportunity on us and limiting what we could be. So when should you face your fear? What are the cues that you need to stare the ugly beast in the face, stop running scared and make real changes in your life?
Why we let fear control us
Ritchie, Hammel, Kornfeld and Fink point to six key barriers that can keep you from facing your fear even when it's relatively mild.
- The risk of losing everything that's familiar
- Worry that change will result in financial loss
- The desire to avoid the shame of not balancing social, family and work obligations
- Lack of social support or exposure to consistent pessimism; desire to avoid judgment and negative reactions
- Irrational expectations that, when not tempered by good information, create unnecessary and excessive pressure
- Being unwilling to be wrong
Overcoming our fear thus requires us to overcome perceived, real or anticipated isolation, and to feel confident that upcoming change won't rob us of stability. It also means staying grounded and realistic while tempering our own egos.
4 signs it's time to tackle your fear
Dealing with a little fear can have benefits. Hammel, for example, says a reasonable level of fear can propel her to think and learn, be more creative, focus, prioritize and even foster some humility and compassion. But the following can be signs that your fear is out of control and deserves to be kicked out of your life.
1. Your body is screaming at you.
Ritchie says it's time to face your fear when you consistently experience physical symptoms of the fight-or-flight stress response. For example, your heart might race or you might start to sweat. If you purposely try to avoid thinking about what frightens you just to avoid the physical uncomfortableness, you've got trouble.
2. Your inner voice keeps telling you that you need a change or different life.
Hammel suggests that you might hear your inner voice naturally trying to convince you to take action in a variety of situations. Some of the most common, she says, are when
- "Your career encounters a bottleneck and does not give you the desired opportunity to grow.
- You do not feel challenged anymore at your current role.
- You feel anxious and unfulfilled and eager for breakthrough.
- Your procrastination results in the loss of opportunities, and you repeatedly tell yourself and others, "This is what I could/should have done."
3. You're always getting the same result--and you're happy about it.
"In my opinion," Kornfeld says, "when you become too complacent and your history keeps repeating itself, it's time for change. We have one life. Embrace it and make the most of it."
4. You feel low or like a grump before you even get out of bed.
"If an individual sleeps poorly or when a person wakes up in the morning and dreads the day ahead," says Fink, "it's time to face the fear that's keeping them from their happiness. Generally, a bad attitude that negatively affects interactions with others or day to day occurrences indicates that it's time to make a change and face our fears."
A challenge that's so, so worth it
Make no mistake--these professionals know that facing your fear takes enormous strength, and that it's not easy to do. But they all agree you shouldn't pass up the benefits.
"Anything worth doing will always inspire fear in an individual," Fink asserts. "What defines us is the manner in which we react to our fear, rationalize or even mitigate our fears."
"You will never know what experiences in life you are missing out on if you don't face your fears," Ritchie adds. "Take the plunge and go for it, as in the end, [...] the reward [almost always] outweighs the risks [...]."
Kornfeld encourages us to trust our instincts. "Use research as your guide," she advises, "and, make sure the opportunity outweighs the risk. Then dive in, realizing how fulfilling it will be to use your energy, your unique personality and strengths to create something new that brings value into the universe."
Hammel points to a Japanese proverb, which says that fear is only as deep as your mind allows.
"Yes, fear does come along when you are going to abolish your comfort zone and security net [...]," she says. "But fear is only a feeling of yours. You are the master of it. Take small but solid steps to face it, question it and, eventually, overcome it. Focus on your goal and go toward it. Something invaluable will be waiting for you along the journey--knowledge, skills, experience, wisdom, compassion, courage and confidence. It is a rewarding journey, and you will have fun."