I recently had a talk with one of my friends about fear and she told me a fabulous story about how every time she goes skiing and gets on top of a big slope, she stops, slides her skis backwards a bit and feels very afraid. The only way that she can move forward down that slope is to begin talking to herself and to her fear. She says things like, “You know that you can do this! You’ve done it time and time again! You’ve had fun doing this!” And soon enough after the mental pep talk, she moves forward and skis successfully down the slope.
I thought that this was a powerful example of how talking to yourself and talking back to fear can work. I actually thought about this for a while in the days after I heard her tell this story and I realized that this method can be applied to many situations where you feel paralyzed with fear.
When facing an action step towards a goal that scares us, it’s easy to develop selective amnesia. We completely forget our power or past situations that would prove to ourselves how capable we are to the task.
Even before hearing my friend’s story, I realized that I was not making the most of the accomplishments I had in the past to help me move forward in the present. I am in the process of changing some pretty integral parts of my life and feeling terrified about taking any action steps forward. I still struggle with letting fear convince me that I’m not up to the task, but speaking back to it and using examples has helped diffuse those fears tremendously.
Here are some more specific things I’ve learned and am still learning (it’s a work in progress):
The tone you use can help. Speaking to yourself in a serious and authoritative tone sometimes gets through clearer than being more gentle. I don’t mean being abusive or calling yourself names, but speaking with authority about why you can do something now given what you’ve seen yourself do before.
Say it loud. Talking back to fear out loud is something I’m trying and it has the unintended (or intended) benefit of making me giggle, mostly because I feel silly. The benefit comes from the not really scientific “fact” that giggling and fear cannot be in the same place at the same time. This makes me remember an acceptance and commitment therapy exercise author Russ Harris shared in his book The Happiness Trap. In the exercise, you give your thoughts a funny voice (ex. Mickey Mouse) and it takes some of the sting out of them (and tends to make you giggle). Go ahead and talk back to your fear as Mickey Mouse and see what happens and then let me know because I’m sure it’ll be a good story). This could be used with the authoritative tone or as an alternative. Go for whichever works best at the time.
Remind yourself of the benefits. I really like how my friend told herself, “You’ve had fun doing this.” In times of fear, it’s easy to be hyper focused on the “bad” things that might happen. Why not try reminding yourself in your “talk back” session about the good things that will likely happen when you take this step based on your experiences moving forward when afraid. Even if it’s only that you’ll feel proud of yourself for taking that step. A feeling of pride at your accomplishments can feel pretty good.
You don’t need the same past experience for it to help. If I was reading instead of writing this, one question I would ask is “But what if I don’t have any past examples of me doing what I’m afraid to do? I really haven’t done this before!” My answer for this is to get creative. One of the fears that comes up most often lately is that I can’t take steps towards this online business idea that I have because I don’t know what to do and haven’t ever done it before. To that objection my responses have been “There have been plenty of times when you’ve figured out how to do something you once didn’t know how to do. You’re life is filled with examples: walking, using a computer, learning WordPress, getting proficient at a new job, etc. You are perfectly capable of learning how to do this online business and you don’t have to be perfect at it. So just take a step, any step! And do it right now!”
Old habits die hard. You will have to talk back to fear again and again and again and again. This is normal and should be expected. Middle note: I still have to remind myself daily that it is normal and to be expected. My friend has to give herself “the talk” each and every time she gets up on that slope and she is not a new skier. As much as it sounds good to think we can get to a point where we are no longer afraid of anything (that sounds nice, right?), it’s just not going to happen. And I say this to remind myself as much as to remind you.
Have you ever tried talking back to your fear? Has it worked for you? Do you do something else? I’d love to hear in the comments. The more we share with each other, the more we all can learn and grow!
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