4 Fear-Taming Techniques (Personally Tested, No Less!)


What do you do when fear reaches out from our midsection and takes over your entire being? If you're anything like me, what you want to do is curl up in a ball, watch marathon sessions of New Girl, and not talk to a single soul. For days.

(Hence why this site has been so quiet this week...Putting my safe-haven of a house on the market is apparently not good for my writer's soul.)

What we have to do, though, is tame the fear. And keep walking on.

As we've discussed in the past, there is no such thing as "conquering fear" or being "fearless." Ha, if only.

In reality, people who look fearless simply live with the fears and act despite them...which means their fears are tame enough to allow them to function! (That "I can't even think about what I want for dinner because scary thoughts are consuming me" feeling doesn't cut it.)

So here's what I do - and am very much currently doing - when fear and worry get the best of me. I call it the "EFWA strategy." (Doesn't quite roll off the tongue, does it?!)

1.  Go EASY On Yourself - for a Day or Two

While the New Girl marathon may not be all that productive in the long haul, it's important to quiet the drill sargeant within us the first couple of days after fear strikes.

Instead of berating ourselves - "What do you think you're doing? You're going to give up? Just like that? What kind of pansy are you?" - we need to take a different tack during our early days in Fear Central.

Think about it:  when we were kids and had scary things happening in our life - like getting on the school bus for the first time or going to our first sleepover - how did we want our parents to react?

Did we want them to immediately start telling us "get over yourself and just do it!" I sure didn't.

What we wanted first was a hug and some affirmation that fear is normal in those situations.

We wanted to feel comforted first and foremost. THEN we could move on to bucking up and doing the activity despite the fear.

Bottomline:  Don't shortchange the scared child that's inside each of us. Give her or him the comfort deserved, while trusting that the will to move forward will follow closely behind.

2.  Put the FEARS In Writing

After we've felt comforted, it's time to face the fear head on.

We need to ask the questions:  Why am I afraid?  What are the components that are freaking me out?

Then we need to write those suckers down.

For instance, if you're thinking about leaving your job, the component fears may be:

  • FEAR:  I won't find anything else I like.
  • FEAR:  My family will think I'm crazy.
  • FEAR:  I won't have enough money.

I use this "fear-writing" technique with my coaching clients all the time - and at first it freaks them out.

"You want me to tell you exactly what I'm afraid of when I say I'm afraid of starting a business?" one client asked.

"Yes," I said. "As fully and concretely as you can."

She paused. "But I don't want to know that."

This (very common) response makes me want to chuckle - even when it's me thinking it (and believe me, I was thinking it all last week). We are in such denial! How come we think that fears that remain inchoate and unclear are better than those written down on paper in front of us?

Here's how I see it:  fears we haven't put into words are like a virus that can infiltrate every cell of our body. They take over our existence, and we can't even tell exactly where or what they are.

Fears we fully process by putting them in black-and-white, however, are like a localized wound. Sure they hurt like crazy and dealing with them might not be easy, but at least we can identify their location. That's more than half the challenge.

So do the painful act of writing the fears out. As fully as you can muster.

Trust me:  you'll feel better for it.

3. Lay Out WORST CASE Scenarios

Now that we know exactly what we're fearing, we can take it one (scary) step further and write down the worst thing that can happen related to each fear.

Take it to an extreme - I seriously mean worst case.

Why? Because your mind is thinking about these worst cases even if you're consciously trying to ignoring them. The worst cases are what are waking you up at 3am and making you pop Tums like they're Jolly Ranchers.

The worst cases are there, even if you don't want to see them.

It's time to let 'em loose.

Continuing the example of leaving a job:

  • FEAR:  I won't find anything else I like.
    • WORST CASE:  I'll be miserable for the rest of my life and feel like nothing I did was worthwhile.
  • FEAR:  My family will think I'm crazy.
    • WORST CASE:  They'll disown me and never speak to me again.
  • FEAR:  I won't have enough money.
    • WORST CASE:  I end up homeless and without food, and will wither away and die.

I told you they were extreme!

Notice that the worst cases tend to look quite laughable once we put them in writing. What are the odds that any of these worst case scenarios will happen? For most of us fortunate souls living in developed nations, about the same as being struck by lightning.

When we realize that each worst case is highly unlikely - and that you could even survive many of them, regardless of their extreme nature - the power of the fear has been sapped.

4.  Determine an ANTIDOTE for Each Fear

Now that the fear is on its knees, it's time to deliver the knock-out punch:  articulating a concrete plan for working through each fear.

It usually helps to have a friend or coach walk us through "antidote-finding" because sometimes the strategies that are right in front of us tend to impossible to see ourselves.

Here's a generic example, for which the antidotes could vary greatly depending on the person's personality and details of the job change situation:

  • FEAR:  I won't find anything else I like.
    • WORST CASE:  I'll be miserable for the rest of my life and feel like nothing I did was worthwhile.
      • ANTIDOTE:  Identify 10 things I currently do that feel worthwhile, such as running, spending time with my grandma, and talking to my childhood best friend on the phone. I'll then create a plan for doing these things on a regular basis. That way even if my work life doesn't pan out for a while, I'll be actively creating life satisfaction in other areas of my life.
  • FEAR:  My family will think I'm crazy
    • WORST CASE:  They'll disown me and never speak to me again.
      • ANTIDOTE:  Sit down with each family member individually and ask about his or her path to today's career. Talk about fears and big changes that person made related to work, and then begin to discuss how my feelings relate to their past. It may only be the start of a dialogue, but it'll be a good start.
  • FEAR:  I won't have enough money.
    • WORST CASE:  I end up homeless and without food, and will wither away and die.
      • ANTIDOTE:  Get 100% clear on my budget:  precisely how much do I need each month to cover costs? Are there places I can shave expenses? How much money do I have in savings, and how many months worth of shaved expenses would that cover? Do I need to stay in the job a bit longer to provide the sort of savings cushion that would cover enough months to make me feel comfortable?

Does it take work to tame fears using EFWA? Absolutely.

But I'll tell you this from the fear-wracked place I currently sit:  it takes a whole lot less energy than letting fears run their course.

Now I want to hear from you:  What strategies keep you moving when fear threatens to paralyze you?

Photo Credit: BombDog