Have you ever taken a ride on a roller coaster? You know that feeling at the beginning, when the cars are still climbing? You feel excitement and fear all mixed together? It’s scary and it’s wonderful, all at the same time.
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A friend of mine shared with me that his mom told him, “Enjoy that feeling, honey. Because it goes away.” Why do we let fear slip away?
Why We Shy Away From Fear
As kids, we are always trying new things – whether it is learning to walk or climbing a tree. The world is our playground and we just can’t grow fast enough to learn and feel and do it all. But as we grow older, we trade our sense of daring for security and safety. The transition happens quietly, as a reaction to pain – either physical or emotional. We learn that pain feels bad. Trying something new opens us up to the possibility of failure.
Failure Is Painful
We all know that failure is part of learning. It is a stepping stone to ultimate success and mastery. But it still hurts. And we learn to avoid hurt.
What Have You Got To Lose?
The answer is … a lot. In his book, Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains that our brains naturally assume “What we see is all there is.” In other words, we are able to see what we are more easily than we can envision who we could be. Couple that with the brain’s innate negativity bias (we are inherently more sensitive to painful events than positive ones), and the result is that we are more likely to avoid the possibility of failure than reach for the opportunity of growth.
The paradox Is: We actually risk more by avoiding failure. We lose out on our very purpose.
In their book The Tools, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels describe 5 tools to help us overcome fear and live towards our potential. My favorite one is jeopardy. Imagine yourself years in the future on your death bed. What would your future self tell you about regrets and what could have been? One thing is for sure, all of us will eventually face our last day. It is easy to choose the safe thing today. But what will that mean for our legacy and the purpose of our life?
3 Reasons To Love Fear
Avoiding fear is a deeply ingrained practice for most of us. So how do we begin to lean in and move towards the things that scare us? We can start by acknowledging how fear can be a good thing.
1. Fear lets us know that we are challenging ourselves.
Just learning to recognize when you are avoiding a task because it scares you can be very liberating. You can use that moment as a signal to unpack that fear response and see if leaning in to it might be an opportunity for growth.
“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.”
~ William G. T. Shedd
2. Leaning in to fear helps us reach our full potential.
Failure is not trying something new that doesn’t work out. Failure is when we stop trying. Every single successful person has a long history of failures in their past that they learned from and leveraged towards their eventual success.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
~ J.K. Rowling
3. Embracing fear means embracing life.
Stepping out and trying new things is scary. But it can also lead us to a more purposeful life. We need to step outside of ourselves and our existing boundaries in order to do the work we love. It is only by turning towards the fear and using those setbacks as stepping stones that we live into our purpose and become who we are meant to be.
“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find I have lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width as well.”
~ Diane Ackerman
When Does It Get Easier?
Leaning in to fear is a practice, like practicing yoga or mediation. There is no mastering it. It’s OK to feel terrible at it. Each time we try, we get just a little more comfortable with stretching our boundaries and getting closer to fulfilling our true potential.