So you have some fears about your life? Great. Welcome to the club.
Seriously, it’s kind of silly (and dare I say borderline narcissistic) to think that you might be the only one who has ever been afraid of __X__. There are over 7 billion people on the planet— how likely is it that no one has ever felt the same way that you do? And yet, most people operate from this exact mindset, getting so isolated in their fears that they wind up completely paralyzed and stuck.
To give you some perspective, I’ve logged nearly 10,000 client coaching hours and I can honestly say that I’ve yet to hear a fear that is truly unique. A fear that is so unusual that there is absolutely no way that someone else has felt the same way, let alone figured out how to forge ahead anyway.
The reality is that we all feel fear, and I’ve noticed some pervasive and consistent themes.
I’m afraid I:
- Won’t become financially independent/stable
- Won’t find my dream job
- Won’t find “the one”
- Won’t find my crew/tribe/friends for life
- Won’t ever be able to afford the lifestyle I want
- Will disappoint my loved ones
- Will choose the wrong partner/career path/major
- Will sabotage my own happiness
- Will publicly embarrass myself
- Will do/say the wrong thing
Any of these sound familiar? I would bet my entire bank account that you’ve been afraid of one of these things at one time or another. We all have.
The question is, what separates those who feel the fear, punch it in the face and forge ahead anyway from those who simply shut down?
The answer: psychological mastery.
When there is genuine fear present, it tends to stem from three specific kinds of pain. Below I unpack each pain point and offer a high performance tactic for overcoming these hurdles.
Paint Point 1: Loss Pain
We feel fear when we anticipate or predict a loss as a consequence to taking action: Loss of life, loss of reputation, loss of relationships, loss of control, etc. Consider the person who won’t:
- Leave a toxic relationship because they’re afraid of losing connection
- Give up cigarettes because they’re afraid of losing the social aspect of smoking or the nicotine high
- Change their diet because they’re afraid of losing the comfort of their favorite foods
In theory this makes sense. Research on loss aversion, the idea that “losses loom larger than gains,” suggests that the pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). BUT, the same researchers also found that humans consistently overestimate the pain or loss of losing something they already have (1984). When we hyper-focus on what we could lose, we convince ourselves the pain of a loss isn’t worth forging ahead.
High Performance Tactic: Obsess About What You Will Gain
Where focus goes, energy flows! Re-direct your attention to all of the positive benefits of facing your fear.
- If I leave my toxic relationship I will gain greater amounts of love and fulfillment from a different partner, and most importantly, self-respect
- If I give up cigarettes I will literally gain years of my life back
- If I change my diet I will have more energy to bring to my work, my spouse and my kids
Pain Point 2: Process Pain
We fear the hardship or powerlessness we will endure while facing our fear. For example,
In the process of overcoming my fear, I will:
- Feel scared, overwhelmed and anxious
- Buckle under the pressure to perform
- Meltdown from stress
- Question myself and my abilities
- Have to learn a lot of new skills/information
These are reasonable concerns. But, we must accept that discomfort and uncertainty are unavoidable parts of life and lean into them. Resisting is what keeps us stuck. In the wise words of Jimmy Dugan, the comeback coach in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”
High Performance Tactic: Bring the Joy
Make the difficult challenges of life FUN! Identifying how you can enjoy the process raises your consciousness and puts you back in control.
- I can have fun with my weight loss goal by walking outside in the sunshine and listening to my favorite podcast, and attending a healthy cooking class with my best friend to learn about new foods and exciting recipes
- I can enjoy the career change process by pursuing work that I actually care about and exercising my natural strengths to excel
Pain Point 3: Outcome Pain
We fear that we’ll put forth the effort to forge ahead but wind up disappointed with the result.
- What if the grass isn’t greener on the other side?
- What if it turns out that the struggle wasn’t worth it?
- What if I fail?
Again, reasonable concerns. But at some point, we must relinquish control and trust the process. Otherwise, our brains will always generate potential hurdles that keep us from getting started.
High Performance Tactic: Detach from the outcome.
All we can do is work diligently towards our goals, keep in mind what we can gain, bring joy to the process and call on our best self to rise to the occasion. Regardless of what happens in the end, it is the process of challenging yourself to rise up that results in deep personal fulfillment.
- No matter what happens, I will learn invaluable lessons along the way
- Even if I don’t succeed, the growth that results from pushing myself out of my comfort zone will be worth it
- Regardless of the outcome, I will feel deep pride for tackling my fear
High performers aren’t immune to fear. They punch it in the face by making conscious choices to focus on what they will gain, bringing joy to the process, and detaching from the outcome.