"Run to the fire" is one of many mantras I encourage people to start using. Why, because fear is often what holds us back from reaching our true potential.
To show you how fear works, let's look at the simple example of workplace change, when we are told that there is going to be a few changes at work. Most of us have common fears such as - fear of the unknown, fear of not coping, fear of losing our job, fear of losing colleagues, fear of no control over the process, fear of being uncomfortable - the list goes on.
Another example might be where we see an expression on someone’s face and we are unsure of the expression so try to work out the reason for the expression - did I say the wrong thing, were they laughing at me, did they understand what I said - and we continue to try and figure out the cause of the expression.
When we hold on to the unknown, our brain will tend to make things up, and most often it will turn to the negative. It's all part of the worry spiral that we know so well, if we worry about something for too long our brain will exaggerate the negative, catastrophisation is the term to describe this process.
Fear is designed to keep us safe, and like most things is part genetic and mostly learned. Research conducted at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the University of Greifswald in Germany examined the effect of polymorphisms (variations in genes which changes the way a particular gene functions) on what causes fear (and anxiety) is it genetic or learned and how that fear can be subsequently overcome.
Their findings show that fear can be overcome, mostly. However, this depends on, in part, to our genetics.
All of us have fears and most of our fears are learned from events that have occurred across our lives. Therefore, it is natural to assume that all fears can be overcome. Not necessarily so, the good news though is that there are ways to reduce our fears if we can't overcome them.
Here are five ways to reduce or overcome fears that have a solid scientific base;
- Take a tactical breath - stop, take a long slow deep breath, hold your breath while counting inside your head, then slowly breathe out.
- Face your fears - 'run to the fire', the more that you do something that you fear the easier it becomes. Immersion therapy in a controlled fashion allows us to unlearn what has become instinctive responses.
- Feel the fear - don't be afraid of the feeling of fear because that is all it is, a feeling. Basic physics tells us that the harder we push on something the likely greater the resistance. Feel fear, embrace it, get accustomed to the feeling. (A cautionary note, if the feelings of fear continue then stop this method)
- Think about fear differently - fear, and the accompanying feeling of nervousness, is designed to keep us safe by increasing our focus. Knowing that fear is merely designed to enhance our abilities, and nothing more, gives us comfort.
- What were the positives - once you have faced your fears, focus on the positives and celebrate your success. This will produce positive chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin as well as increase your desire to face more of what you fear.
Each of us have fears, some are rational while others not so. Nevertheless, your fear is very real to you and that must be acknowledged. Know that fear is mostly learned therefore can be unlearned over time. Whenever our amygdala fires up it scars our hippocampus, our memory bank, so that we will always be alert to the same danger should we have to face it again. That's the reason why it can take some time to smooth out the scar, to repair it.
Run to the fire, or perhaps walk first until running becomes much easier.