The Fear Toolbox

Getting to Know Your Fear

“Fearlessness requires attention and receptivity–it takes focus to stand in the still eye of a tornado and not be swept away by it.” – Susan Piver

 

What did you used to be afraid of but aren’t now? How did you overcome it? At some point, you were educated, through learning or experience, about the non-fearful parts of the thing you feared. You rewrote the fear story.
The best mental tool when facing fear is curiosity. Learn to ask questions of fear and make it accountable:
Fear says: “I am in danger.”
Here are some possible ways to respond (with nonjudgmental questions, not through interrogations):

How do I know that?
Who says so?
Is that true?
Is that my real experience or is it a belief?
What’s the best thing that could happen?
What’s the worst thing that could happen?
What’s the most likely thing that could happen?

Get to know the structure and process of fear in your mind, beyond the content. Sitting in nonjudgmental observation of your fear (or whatever emotion is staging a riot in your heart and guts at the moment) is the surest way to understand its motives and be the coach it needs to feel loved and understood. When you sit with your fear of the unknown, loneliness, or that big career change, you get to know the unknown, the loneliness, and the change. You get to know all the voices in the story, and you get to pick which ones are giving valuable information to you.

Ways to meet your fear:

Write answers to the questions above
Go for a walk
Talk it out with a friend
Draw/doodle
Talk aloud to yourself
Place your fear in an empty chair, talk to it
Sitting meditation

When you address your fear, you do it not to “get over” it, nor to change or fix yourself.
You are doing it to bring the light of conscious awareness to the subject of fear.

F.E.A.R. - Four Steps to Get to Know Your Fear

F.E.A.R. is a nonlinear process of renewal and reflection. These steps could be used to varying degrees and varying speeds – from reevaluating your patterns in relationships to riding a zip line for the first time. If it feels daunting, it is! Like any skill, it takes practice.

F = Feedback
When you feel the familiar markers of fear – increased heart rate, nervous stomach, tense muscles, hesitant or avoidant behavior – recognize that fear is signaling attention. You are receiving feedback about your environment.

E = Explore
Explore what other information is available to you. Search for the true value of this fear – is it worth listening to? Is it natural or conditioned? Which fear category does it fall into? Has it served you in the past? Has it contributed to a narrowing or expanding of your world?

A = Address
Address the fear and be its mentor. ​Dance with it. ​Answer its questions as best you can. Let it know that you appreciate its input, but you are considering other information as well. Sit in nonjudgmental silence with it, and recognize how your fears are shared by many others across the world; it is a part of being human. Inquire within about how fear has shaped your stories thus far, and question whether that’s the path you want to stay on.

R = Reflect
Reflect on your new relationship to fear and own that choice. Whether you acted or didn’t act, note where you treated fear as a block or a launchpad in the process. Reflect on your needs and strategies. Where is fear acting as a guide, and where are you justifying its presence needlessly? Shine the light of curiosity on yourself. F​earlessness is not the absence or denial of fear, it is intimacy with fear.

Be gentle with yourself as you get to know fear. Do not expect yourself to vanquish fear constantly and efficiently after
reading this document (which doesn’t advise conquering fear, by the way!). You have been listening to fear for a long time. It will take time to develop and amplify the other internal voices that speak the language of love and curiosity.

BYOM: Be Your Own Mentor

Over the years, you have internalized the voices of fear and caution into an inner monologue that guides your behavior. Why not internalize positive self-talk too? Be the mentor who wishes positive vibes to the fear-being within you. Get to know this fear and be the empathic, compassionate mentor it needs. As always, be wary of using communication that cuts off connection to your Self.​ ​If it sounds trite, off-base, demeaning, or a bumper sticker you’d scoff at, then it is likely one of the 12 ways to cut off connection.

What fear (depression, anger, sadness) says
What the mentor says
You’re not good enough.
You are stronger than you think.
They will laugh at your suggestion.
You have something important to say.
You are not strong enough to handle that burden.
You have skills and you can learn more. You’ve survived everything up until this point.
You will do it wrong.
Give it your best shot and trust the process.
You are alone.
You are never alone. I am always with you.

When you engage with fear, start a dialogue rather than a negotiation. Let “I’m afraid” be the beginning of a conversation.

7 Fear Stories

Old Story

In Every-Day Life

New Story

New Thought

Fear means I’m in danger. Something’s wrong. I must escape and seek safety.

My heart races when I think about speaking up to my coworkers, so I won’t.”

I get scared when a friend comes to me drama, so I avoid putting them in emotional situations.”

Fear is pure energy. It’s a signal. It might not mean stop, it could mean go!

Speaking up can be scary but also worthwhile. There is no better way to express my thoughts.”

My fear about emotional upset matches the distress this person is experiencing; I can empathize.”

If I stop what I’m doing, I’ll lose my way and never start again.

I only know how to do my job; I can’t learn new responsibilities.”

If I accept my manager’s invitation for evaluation of my fit here, I’ll get fired and won’t be able to work in the industry again. I won’t know who I am.”

Sometimes we have to take a step back in order to find our path.

I want to know how I’ll do in high-stress situations. Maybe I will learn something.”

A reflective conversation about my fit here will give me valuable feedback to understand what I want and can offer.”

I have to figure it all out before I can do anything.

I can’t hand in my essay until it is 100% perfect.”

I should have developed my skills more before coming to this job.”

We don’t have to believe we can do it to do it; the very act of showing up, even with our fear, has power.

I’ve done my best so far and I know I’ll think of even better things as I continue.”

There are so many opportunities to learn here! I’ll break down the learning process and start with simple writing skills.”

If I act on what I believe, I fear conflict will break out. I’ll be humiliated, ineffective, and rejected.

If I challenge my coworker’s proposal, my office will not support me and there will be an un-healable rift in the workplace that I caused.”

Conflict means engagement. Something real is in motion. It’s an opening, not a closing.

I have a responsibility to communicate my thoughts. If there are disagreements, I will practice empathy and openness and seek to understand before being understood.”

Our greatest fears are our worst enemies; they drag us down and hold us back.

My fears are the thing keeping me from having a good semester. I must get rid of them.”

I’m a fundamentally scared person and I’ll never amount to much because of it.”

Our worst fears can be our greatest teachers.

If I got rid of my fears, I would be without the excitement that makes the unknown so appealing.”

Changing careers and having a child? I’m nervous but the challenge is welcome..”

If I’m really myself, I’ll be excluded. If I break connection, I’ll be alone forever.

I need to go out with friends on Saturday because that’s what a ‘good’ friend does even though what I want to do is call my family.”

To find genuine connection, we must risk disconnection. The new light we shine draws others toward us, and we become conscious choosers.

Sharing my true nature and what I’ve been struggling with could bring me closer to those experiencing the same thing.”

I’m just a drop in the bucket. My effort might make me feel better, but it can’t do much.

This idea has never worked for anyone else, so why should I try? I’ll never make a difference.”  

Every time we act, even with our fear, we make room for others to do the same. Courage is contagious.

I will never know if I can make a difference unless I try.”

Out of Your Head and Into Your Body

Paraphrased from Gail Larson’s Blog ‘The Five Fears’ – October 2014

Step one – Ground yourself: Focus on the connection of your feet to the ground. Once you feel the energy in your feet, envision it moving slowly up through your core. Pull it up through your body until it reaches the crown of your head, then extend that energy towards the sky.

Step two – Breathe into your core: Contract your lower abdominal muscles and imagine grounding into this area of your body. Focus on your upper body, dropping your shoulders back and down giving space across your chest and collar bone. Breathing in this space allows you to remain anchored and centered.

Step three – Reflect on how you want to feel: Once you have taken the time to ground yourself and feel your center, ask yourself: How do I want to feel? Present? Connected? Alive? You are only as strong as your internal state and you choose that.

Fear Setting

“Work out what you can control and what you can’t control, then focus on the former. Where, in your life, is defining your fears going to be more important than defining your goals?” – Tim Ferriss

The below is a neat exercise called ‘Fear Setting’ which was introduced by Tim Ferriss in a TedTalk. The idea is to map out something that we are scared to do, looking at all the possible scenarios (as well as how to avoid/what to do in those scenarios), and focus on what the cost of not doing that is rather than worrying about the cost of attempting it. Though some feels are well founded, Ferris argues that we shouldn’t conclude that until we have first put those fears under a microscope.

STEP 1: Write down what it is you want to do but are scared of.  Then draw up three columns:

    1. One column for ‘Define’ – All of the worst things that can happen (10-15 of your ‘what if’ fears).
    2. One column for ‘Prevent’ – What you can do to prevent each one of those scenarios.
    3. One column for ‘Repair’ – What you can do if those scenarios becomes reality.

STEP 2: Think about what might be the benefit of attempting this? Write down all the benefits (or ‘pros’) of going ahead with what you want.

  • Even if you fail, what are some of the positives of trying?

STEP 3: Think about the Cost of Inaction (Emotionally, Physically, Financially). Write down how these costs might be felt in:

  1. Six Months
  2. One Year
  3. Three Yeas

Humans are very good at focusing on the cost of attempted something, rather than the cost of not.

“Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life” – Jerzy Gregorek

Reflections to Mitigate Fear

Be Willing to Fail

A hallmark of successful people is their willingness to fail. Did you know that in addition to having the highest career scoring average, Michael Jordan also holds the record for most missed shots? Babe Ruth: Home run king, AND strikeout king – he led the league in strikeouts 5 times. Lincoln: failed businesses had nervous breakdown at 27 and lost many elections.

You are not Alone

It’s easy to think we’re the only ones who get nervous/feel fear/have anxiety about certain things. But that’s not true. We all experience fear in varying degrees in various situations.

The Heartbeat of Areté

Did you know the word courage comes from the Latin word for “heart”? And, just as your heart pumps blood to your arms and legs and vital organs, courage vitalizes your virtues. Without it, none of this stuff matters.

The Magic Shield

In the old-school fable Pilgrim’s Progress, the hero has a shield that makes him invincible as long as he heads straight at his challenges. If he runs away? Then he’s vulnerable.

Stretch Don’t Snap

Comfort vs. Growth vs. Panic zones. We want to go out of our comfort zone and stretch by setting challenging and possible goals for growth. But we don’t want to set unreasonable “snap” goals that put us in the panic zone.

Trusting vs. Training Mindset

Jon Eliot tells us we want to learn to eat stress like an energy bar. We want to learn to shift from our “training mindset” to our “trusting mindset.” It’s what all great performers do. 

Breathe

Fritz Perls tells us that “Fear is excitement without the breath.” Feeling scared? You’ve probably stopped breathing. Take a deep breath in and alchemize your fear to excitement! 

Fear and Expectations

If you have fear you can be certain that you also have a negative expectation. We want to check in on that and move from a negative expectation (which creates fear) to a positive expectation (which creates excitement).

Reversal of Desire

Infinite potential exists on the other side of our fears.  Reverse our desire so that, when we feel fear, we get EXCITED and know we’re about ready to grow. Then we go from trying to avoid those situations to embracing them and silently saying to ourselves: “Bring it on!”

A Fear Toolbox for Your Pocket

The following two images succinctly summarize some our tips in dealing with fear.

You can save and print each image, glue them together, and have a handy card as a reminder for these techniques. Carry it around with you or tack it to your wall! 🙂