Overcoming Fear Series – Part 1: What is Fear?

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“Fears are nothing more than a state of mind.” - Napoleon Hill

Note: This is the first of a four part series on overcoming fear and building confidence. 

INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES

Over the next four weeks, I will be posting one post per week on the topic of addressing limiting beliefs and expanding our comfort zones. Specifically, Fear will be the limiting belief I confront, then I will provide some instruction on building confidence.

These are huge concepts to take on, but I do hope that you find these helpful in reshaping how you think about Fear and discover some tools you can apply to help you take control of these thought patterns and build confidence to pursue dreams you never thought possible.

I am directing this largely to entrepreneurs, or those who want to be, but are hesitant due to fear. These steps, however, work regardless of your motivations.

Without further ado, here is Part 1: What is Fear?

DEFINITION OF FEAR

There are a multitude of fears and it is not possible to cover the gamut of them. In this context I am dealing with common fears that take various forms that keep us from pursuing our dreams.

In order to set a baseline, below is a formal description of fear in general:

Fear is our mind's perception of a perceived threat. In a biological sense it is a complex reaction within our nervous system that interprets sensory data, establishes a context within our memories, such as 'has this been a problem previously?', and ultimately triggers the fight or flight mechanism.

From a technical standpoint, first, there is a signal that is sent to the thalamus gland. Think of a window breaking in the middle of the night. The signal is then passed to the amygdala gland.
The amygdala releases several neurotransmitters, including glutamate, which induces the freezing response and the jump reflex. These reactions come from a very ancient part of the brain, which also makes them difficult to control.

Data is also relayed to the hypothalamus, which is responsible for the fight or flight mechanism. This is within the autonomic nervous system, that part which we don't control.

Adrenaline is released from the adrenal glands which gives us an extra boost of energy and increases your heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory function. It also releases cortisol which is responsible for the fight or flight response and gives us a heightened sense of energy and alertness to make decisions quickly.

The stages of the fear response are:

You become vigilant and freeze, which starts at a low fear response. This is a natural response to not draw extra attention to a threat.

When the nervous system determines there really is a threat, you move into flight.

If the threat is so close you can't flee, then you move to fighting.

If the brain determines there really isn't a threat, it will down-regulate the amygdala response. The parasympathetic system then will bring you back down to a resting state.

Essentially, you perceive a threat based on a context within our memory. This threat is processed and translated into a physical response, the response that we feel as being fear. Our bodies go into heightened awareness and a decision is made to freeze, flee or fight.


 

Reference: The above was taken from Bytesize Science, the Chemistry of Fear.


PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING

We all have experienced this process so you know what it feels like, and its unpleasant.

All of this is great if we spot a lion on the prowl; not so much when we need to get up in front of an audience and give a speech.

Fear is a survival instinct, but we are far from the Savannah. We are faced with more esoteric fears today and less threats to our physical being. We don't normally fear lions day to day, but we may fear someone breaking into our home. We fear the possibility our business failing, or giving a speech and forgetting what to say.

Fear has become nothing but a perception, just a thought about a possibility that probably will never happen.

We all have had fear impact us. Maybe we think we have good reason to be afraid, such as having suffered failure previously, for example. If so, you may be afraid to fail again, so you don't try again.

Because of our experiences and the programming we have received over the course of our lives, our minds are being conditioned to potential threats. This changes us, makes us hesitant, guides us to safer waters so we take less risk. The result is that we live life less than optimally to pursue and achieve our dreams. Our confidence is shaken, we question ourselves, and we justify alternate courses of action to avoid what we fear.

Worse, we may not even know why we have the fears that we have!

What is the solution to overcome our fears? It's not to avoid them, or to overcome them, but to change our thinking about them. Instead of our fears controlling us, we take back that control.
Before getting into the processes, imagine for a moment what life would be like without a fear of failure. Take some time to think about that and what that would mean for you.

Why do you want to overcome your fear? What would you believe was possible? What dreams have you had that you have given up on?

Over the next few weeks, we will define these in more detail, but for now, remember that the fear that you have is not rational, but a thought process; it is what we allow our brains to perceive.

WHAT ARE TYPICAL FEARS IN OUR CONTEXT?

To give you a clearer picture of what fears we may have in our daily lives that hold us back from starting a business or pursuing our dreams, I will touch on a few typical fears and how we allow limitations on our lives and how those limitations are excuses to taking action.

Fear of Failure

This is one of the most common fears out there. Failure can happen, and probably will if you become an entrepreneur. Think about where that fear of failure comes from. Why do we even care if we fail? We intellectually know that it is common, even necessary to learning and growth. Why do we fear failure so much?

Is it possible we are insecure? Do we value acceptance so much that we don’t want to embarrass ourselves in front of our peers? Possibly. There could be several reasons, but there is always a reason. For each of us it is different.

By identifying where that fear of failure originates, we can begin to take control over how it affects us.

Fear of Public Speaking

This is another fear that is very common. Some people would rather die than get up in front of a crowd and speak! Seriously!

I have had this fear, being a natural introvert. Introverts are not necessarily shy, but it does take a lot out of us to give so much of ourselves in public. Why do we fear speaking in front of many people, when we talk in front of a few people with no concern?

Do we not want to look foolish? Will we forget what to say? Will we stutter?

What is the worst that can happen? Probably the worst thing would be to not connect well with the audience and not engage them. Really, is that so bad? Who cares if a microphone goes out? That’s not your fault. People aren’t going to laugh unless you tell a joke.

By identifying why we fear public speaking, we can come up with ideas to address those concerns early. Maybe have a backup set of notes in case you lose the first. Have a glass of water on the podium to give yourself a few moments to regain your thought process if you forgot what to say, or you got lost.

I have done public speaking, and I know how nerve wracking it is. I shake and sweat and feel uncomfortable, but I have done well at it, and I have even gotten better.

There are ways to address your concerns if you know what they are.

Fear of Being a Phony

You will naturally have this fear when you start your own business. Maybe we are insecure because we have overestimated our skills and knowledge, or have delusions of grandeur. Maybe we have faked credentials previously, but learned our lesson.

No matter how knowledgeable you are on a topic, there will always be someone who knows more than you do.

Rest assured that even if you know a little bit on a subject, there are always people who know less than you as well. To them, you are an expert. We may know this intellectually, but we still fear.

The above are just examples. You might not have any of these specific fears, you likely have others that affect you personally. The fact that we have fear is not important, but how we deal with it.

Through these examples you have an introduction to how to think about fear in your own context. Over the next few weeks, we will cover in much more detail how to define our individual fears, where they come from and how to shift our thinking.

AN EXAMPLE

Because fear is rooted in perception, we need to be aware of our thoughts. In regards to fear, we not only need to look at fear itself, but also why we fear and where our thoughts come from. To get beyond it, we need to know what our motivations and drives are, and why.

Say that you want more money because you could have a nicer home and car and put your kids through college. Why are those things important to you? Is it because you grew up in need, and want to give your children more opportunity than you had?

Do you want more money because you went through a bankruptcy and now fear losing it all, and believe if you achieved those goals that you would no longer worry about money?

These are fairly superficial examples, but by diving deep on our core motivations, we may find we are controlled by thought processes we aren't even aware of.

To be able to state accurately a) what drives us, b) why we fear and 3) why we want to get beyond it, it will 4) help us achieve success.

Form a clear vision of what your end goal is. Be honest with yourself.

Though fear may have a physiological component, it ultimately comes from perception. By conditioning ourselves to approach and process fear with a different mindset, you can begin to control your fear.

EXERCISE:

Over the next week, begin to think of one fear you have. It may be small, but it may be deep seated. Begin to think of how that fear impacts your life, what is possible without it, and what may be the root cause of that fear. If you can, try to find the cause behind the cause.

I'll see you next week, where we really get into the meat of subject.

 

Continue here: Overcoming Fear Series – Part 2: Defining Our Fear

 

Image Courtesy of Sean MacEntee

 

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