Fear doesn't always protect us.
Over the years I have come to the realisation that there are three fears that have held me back and stopped me from realising my full potential.
I suspect we all have such fears - things that stop us from doing what we want to do or what we could do.
Each of these fears are quite closely related. In some ways I think of them as three heads on the same "fear" monster.
My hope is that I can at least tame that monster before I die.
1) Being Too Concerned With What Others Will Think
We are all social beings by our nature. It is what makes us successful and it is a large part of what gives us our success as a species.
We are driven by our need to conform in many situations.
That is not always a bad thing but in some cases it might hold us back by stopping us from thinking differently.
True progress and revolutionary ideas do not come from herd mentality.
There have been many occasions where I have held back on sharing a good idea - perhaps even something that was brilliant because I was afraid what others would think.
Many times I have failed to speak up or to be different for fear of ridicule.
I think it is sad to miss opportunities as a result of social fear.
One of the things I have noticed about successful people is that they are confident enough in their own abilities and opinions to not be swayed by the derision of others.
I think these qualities are strongly tied to self-esteem/self image and may relate to formative incidents in childhood where we felt that our opinions or views were not respected.
2) Taking the Safe Option
Another aspect of human psychology is a general aversion to risk.
This likely extends back to our evolutionary past where taking large risks could have fatal consequences.
In our modern lives most risks are not life threatening and we may exaggerate the threat that they pose.
Taking a new job opportunity, moving to a new city, launching a new product etc may present a risk in terms of financial (and often emotional) capital but I think we often still treat them as if they were life threatening situations.
In this sense our need for safety (hence taking the safe option) can actually hold us back.
I can think of multiple times when I went for the safe option and then wondered what would've happened if I hadn't.
There are many examples where I fell into this trap - such as not going to meet someone who offered me a new job because I was happy and comfortable where I was working, choosing a more boring post because it had greater job security/pay, even choosing to go on holiday to the same place because I already knew I would enjoy it.
It doesn't just apply to work though. How many times have you failed to take a chance in your personal life for fear of embarrassment? In many ways this is where this interfaces with point 1 about fearing what others will think.
The problem is that choosing the safe option can make you feel comfortable in the short term but it can leave you with a lot of "What If?" questions.
I think it would be sad to reach the end of your life and have a lot of such questions - in some ways it means that you haven't lived life to the full.
3) Fear of Failure
There is a strong culture in our society where failure is looked down on to a great degree.
I believe this is in part down to the litigous and blame oriented nature of the modern world.
If something goes wrong or does not work as planned someone MUST be to blame and hence must pay.
The problem with this is that failure is a natural and unavoidable part of life..
Ultimately this kind of fear holds us back from trying new things and reaching our full potential and it doesn't even work because we will still inevitably encounter failures.
The only way to completely avoid failure is to do nothing and that is not possible.
There have been many projects which I kept putting off starting and in many cases never started because of this fear.
In some cases I then watched other people do and succeed at what I should have done.
I now believe that failure is a normal process of challenging yourself and continuing to move forward.
If you have no failures then something is wrong - most likely you are not stretching yourself enough.
So How Did I Change Them?
I could pretend that I never behave in these ways any more and that I'm totally transformed but that would be a lie.
These are the strategies that I have found useful so far. They are not perfect and I can't say they will work for everyone. I also expect that I will continue to modify and evolve them as time goes on.
1) Realise there is a problem
I think with anything like this you need to first realise that there is a problem. Realising it does not instantly change things though.
Real change takes time and effort. You have to overcome your fears to start breaking those habits and that is not always easy.
This is especially true of our social fears where we tend to magnify the significance of things that relate to us.
2) Observe those who are successful and learn from them
One of the things that I have found most effective is to observe and learn from more successful people.
Successful people rarely let these kind of fears hold them back - if at all.
That doesn't mean they are fearless - they just seem to be better at contextualising those fears and balancing them against the positive benefits of success.
They absolutely understand that things can and will go wrong. They just accept that as a necessary price for achieving their goals.
In essence successful people are better at managing their fears.
They can also be useful sources of information and little tips and tricks for improving your own success. Even if you don't talk to them directly, observational learning is a powerful tool.
If there is someone successful that you admire it can sometimes help to envisage how they would deal with a particular situation or opportunity.
Just this simple exercise can be a big help.
3) Take small steps
The other thing to do is to start with little steps.
So to use the example of overcoming the fear of failure - I wouldn't go straight to doing something huge.
If you want to change jobs it might make more sense to do some short courses in that subject area etc before you actually take the plunge.
If you're thinking of writing a novel for example, it might make more sense to start by writing a blog or short stories.
I have always wanted to write a medical textbook someday. As a means to reaching that goal and to improve my writing I started blogging.
Simply by doing that I discovered an entirely new hobby that I love doing. If I had never taken that step I would never have found Steemit.
I think the key to this is that by taking smaller steps you don't overwhelm yourself with fear and you also ensure that when you do inevitably fail, the impact of those failures is smaller.
This gives you more time to get used to them and become more resilient.
4) Review past decisions
This is important so that you can assess if you are actually making changes and handling things differently.
You have to be honest with yourself though.
You also have to be careful particularly if you have obsessive-compulsive tendencies (like me) that you don't ruminate too much over past decisions.
It is important to know what you did wrong so you can reduce the risk of it happening again but it is also important to draw a line under it.
I find mindful meditation helps with this as well as exercise.
I think many people will have particular fears that hold them back and stop them living life to the full.
The specific nature of them will depend very much on your personality type.
The exact strategies that will help to counter them may also vary based on this and I for me at least I suspect this will be a life long effort as it is easy to slip back into old habits.
I could pretend that I now always go for the more exciting options in life but these kind of habits are hard to change (and more risky is not always better).
What do you think?
I would be interested to hear what kind of fears have held you back and how you dealt with them. Let me know in the comments.
Thank you for reading