in reinvention

What is Your Strategy for Dealing with Fear?

First, it’s important to note that this is not “What are you afraid of?” I think the strategy question is more useful. At a base level, we are never not going to be afraid. Anything worth doing comes with the fear baked right in. If there’s no fear or risk, how can there be a sense of accomplishment on the other side.

When I came up with this question, I thought my answer was going to make me feel good. I was very wrong. In the “hey-I’m-awesome” column, I do have good strategies for dealing for physical fear, especially of the rough-and-tumble kind. In training, even the biggest, toughest person is really afraid of something. Maybe it’s getting hit. Maybe it’s being in a constricted position on the ground. Everybody has something. It’s not rational, and it’s often not even worth analyzing. But when you approach it gradually, train yourself to be come sensitive to your adrenaline response and learn to use your breath to calm your nervous system, it becomes possible to work with fear. Courage is a skill.

But fear takes many forms. Fear of failure or embarrassment. Fear of success. And when I pointed the Harsh Flashlight of Inquiry at myself, I was embarrassed by my default strategy for dealing with fear.

For most of my life I have started a lot of projects and skipped around between them. Especially when one of them wasn’t going very well. I’d start one thing and if it wasn’t going well, I’d start something else. This business of having a lot of irons in the fire also helped me because I didn’t have to focus on whatever underlying emotional stuff might have been going on in my life. I was just too busy.

I should go without saying that this is not a very productive strategy. At least it has proved less destructive than alcoholism.

So what are some other strategies I (or anybody else) can use to deal with this fear? Here’s what I’ve got right now:

Focus on process rather than result.

For writing, this can be as simple as using the pomodoro method. Or not caring about the quality of what you are writing while you are writing it.

Focusing on process is like this: the first goal for starting a fitness program isn’t a weight lifted or a waist-size reached, it’s showing up at the gym three days a week. And when you think about it. That’s really the primary habit you want to build for anything. Showing up.

Do less to do more.

It might seem paradoxical, but strategically ignoring things is very productive. I’ve hit the pause button on a lot of things. My instinct right now is to throw myself into another book so that I might avoid the anxiety of now being the sole breadwinner and the addition of a second child to the family. But ignoring what what is troubling you is a short term strategy at best.

Also, a bunch of messy projects really drains my energy. Doing a few well, gives me more energy.

Believe in the importance of what you are doing

Many years ago I did Judo. And dojo I trained in had a kids program that was touted for being great for kids with ADD. What was the secret? It’s simple, no one has trouble paying attention when another person is trying to slam them into the mat. (Which reminds me a of a great line for Judo/Jiu-jistsu classes. “Hit them with the biggest thing you can find: The Earth.”

Nobody loses focus when something important is on the line. And I think my difficulty right now is that I don’t have what I’m trying to do defined well enough that it can be important. I’ve lived in this limbo where I’m not building a consultancy and writing novels. Or writing novels and building a consultancy. Or building a coaching business. Or… you get the idea. Whatever it is, one has to have priority. I think a person can do more than one big thing in a lifetime. But nobody can do multiple big thing simultaneously. It is to my embarrassment to write this, but what I’ve been doing is switching back and forth when anything got a little too scary or hard. Thus limiting my efforts in any one direction.

Okay, that’s certainly enough confessional for today. Do you have any strategies for dealing with fear?

  • Belinda Thomas

    I tend to grit my teeth and judiciously take control of whatever it is that makes me fearful. By taking control, I am never over taken. I don’t always succeed but I do my best to turn my fear into energy.

    • PatrickEMcLean

      Yeah, but what about the scary things that you can’t possibly control?

      • Belinda Thomas

        Hmmmm “…can’t possibly control.” I guess that depends on what we’re talking about? Is it the serial offender stalking you, the truck that turns you into a speed bump, the doctor who almost kills you, waking up blind one morning, or the spider crawling across the ceiling? OR. are we talking more about fear derived from some sort of self-doubt? The one that makes us nervous to speak out in a brain-storming session? Makes us doubt our value when dropped into a creative-gaggle of peers? To that type of fear I say, “Hit the earth hard.”

  • Kumbayah

    Depends on the kind of fear. I agree with you–physical confrontation fear is perhaps the easiest for me to manage. More difficult are interpersonal fears, fears that arise in career, relationships and the like.

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