Why Fear Is a Terrible Friend … and How to Crush It

Today’s guest post is by Nicki Howell.

“I’m scared.”

That’s what my four-year-old said, squeezing my hand tight as we cranked our heads upward at the towering waterslide. People screamed. Water slushed over the side. He wasn’t wrong … it was a little terrifying.

Fear was speaking to him.

“Don’t do it—it’s too dangerous,” it whispered.

Of course, that’s fear’s job. It wants to keep you safely tucked inside your comfort zone, far away from any risks or (gasp!) danger.

The problem is that fear is overambitious in its quest to keep you safe. And, at times, a little toxic too.

It whispers things like:

Don’t send your book proposal. It’s not ready.

Your writing isn’t good enough.

Who do you think you are?

Other writers are so much better, why even try?

Fear pretends to be your friend, but really it’s just wedging itself between you and everything you want.

If it were a real friend, what would you do?

Probably stop taking its calls.

So are you ready to break up with fear? Here are a few practical tips to give it the boot.

Choose Consistency over Sprints

“It’s not working.”

That’s what my friend who was trying to build a freelance business said.

She was marketing to new prospects but wasn’t getting any results—and she was frustrated and on the verge of giving up.

Fear was telling her to admit defeat.

But here’s what I learned: She was not taking  consistent action. She’d get super ambitious and make a ton of effort one week and then set the task down for a month.

She needed a system.

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, wrote “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

So whether you’re working to write a book or, really, achieve anything, consistent action is the ticket to reaching your goal—and crushing the voice of fear. So, yes, set that goal, but follow up with a system for achieving it, and execute that plan.

Take Your Eye “Off the Ball”

I’m failing.

That’s how I felt in 2017 when I wrote blog post after blog post and hardly got any website traffic. It feels the same way for other goals too—like that book you’ve been secretly writing in your head for years. At first, the progress is frustratingly slow. And that’s when fear starts whispering again:

You’re wasting your time.

It will never work.

Shouldn’t you be spending more time with your kids instead of doing this?

Wow, fear, that was a low blow! But, remember: fear will say ANYTHING to bring you to heel.

Here’s the thing: If you listen, there’s a price for that too. Sure, you got rid of the immediate discomfort, but that dream is still nagging you, saying that you gave up too soon.

Or as John Greenleaf Whittier said, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”

Try this instead. At first, don’t focus on the result you want; just show up. Focus on the action instead of the final result. Every time you complete that action, give yourself permission to celebrate that success.

Did you write 500 words today? Yay! Good job. You kept your promise to yourself. Did your book proposal get rejected again? Hey, no worries. Just do that next action. Maybe you need to pivot and work with an editor to get a fresh new perspective. Focus on that next action, and don’t get hung up on results. You’ve got this.

And, remember: You are pushing a boulder up a hill. You don’t know for how long, but once it reaches the top, that boulder will fly down the hill and things will get easier.

Prepare for the Obstacles—They Will Come, and That’s Okay

In his book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, Jon Acuff reveals the most common day that people give up on a new goal.

What do you think? Day 15? Day 30? Or Day 90?

Nope. It was day 2. Yep, the day right after they first set the goal.

Crazy, right?

After a little digging, he found out why. Giving up was rooted in perfectionism (fear’s rotten cousin).

I messed up once, so what’s the point of trying again?

It’s probably why 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail.

But do you know what you can do instead?

Make peace with the mess-ups. They’re going to happen. So acknowledge that they’re coming and plan for them. And, whatever you do, don’t let them shame you. Obstacles are part of the journey, and they are perfectly normal.

In her book Tranquility by Tuesday, author Laura Vanderkam suggests carving out time each week for your goals. And then adding a “backup slot.”

Did your kid get sick and throw up all night, and now you can’t drag yourself out of bed at five a.m. to write? Ugh. I’ve been there too. No problem! Use that backup slot.

Often you need to move through the obstacle to get to your destination—it’s part of the process. Or, as Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle Is the Way, says, “The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”

Overriding the Fear That Creeps Up

That day at the water park, my four-year-old stood, deciding whether he was going to listen to his fear. And, if I’m being honest, my fear had an opinion about that waterslide too.

But do you know what he did?

He climbed the towering stairs. Stood at the top, frozen. And then looked up at me, as if asking a question.

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

“I can do it,” he said.

And that’s what he did—he broke up with fear.

So the next time fear starts whispering in your ear, attempting to edge its way back into your life, remember the wise words of Mark Twain: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, most of which never happened.”

Yes, Mr. Twain … me too.

Nicki Howell is a freelance writer and marketing strategist who helps writers master the art of marketing their work. Visit Nicki at her website to learn more.

Featured Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

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