Setting end of life goals is a very clarifying experience. It allows you to begin paring away things that are stealing your time and focus from what really matters to you. Once we have begun clearing a path to achieving our life goals, we will most likely notice that fear has created obstacles on that pathway.
Understand that fear does have its place in our lives. Healthy fear keeps us from cutting ourselves on sharp knives or coaxing spiders to bite us or inviting that snarling, rabid dog for a play. Unhealthy fears become an entity all on their own and try to take over the show. You’re not trying to rid yourself of healthy fear, but you do need to push unhealthy fear out of the ruling position in your life.
If you have considered your life goals and your initial response was doubt that you could possibly achieve them, it is time to take a good, hard look at what is holding you back.
By far the most sinister, stubborn, shape-shifting obstacle in your way is fear.
The good news is, you can take control of your fear. You have the power to take back the reins of your life and shove fear back into its box. You have to determine that you’re not going to let fear derail your dreams any longer. And then, you have to act.
We tend to get used to our fears and carry them around with us like badly behaved pets. We often do not realise it until we have clarified our goals, but we allow our fears to put a barrier between us and the lives we want. Even those quirky little phobias take energy from us and can add friction to our journey, slowing us down.
When you have a path in front of you and it’s full of roadblocks big or small, you are the only one in the position to decide whether you’re going to dig your way forward or not. Are you truly happy just to sit where you are right now? It may be a harsh reality, but what I’m asking you to consider is this:
If you have a clear and direct pathway to your dreams lying ahead, and you let your fears continue to block your path so you can’t move forward, aren’t you just waiting to die?
Be honest with yourself. You have to decide whether you’re you really going to let fear rob you of your dreams or you’re going to take a stand against it. Are you going to live your life, or just get through it?
Depending on what we can get away with in our circumstances, it’s quite possible to allow fear to disable us to do many normal things. For example, that same social phobia you keep tucked conveniently under your arm is certainly keeping you from making connections, but what might it also be keeping you from?
Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean:
If you have a fear of social interactions and a well-meaning partner, you can probably get him or her to do all the school drop offs and pick ups that you’d normally do. It might sound great, but these avoidance behaviours actually reinforce your fear. Avoiding school interactions and staying huddled up in your little bubble causes your anxiety around this activity to increase.
You also miss out on the positive things you’d have experienced in doing the school pickup yourself. Even if you’ve never considered it before, this is not something to dismiss lightly. Shutting down potential opportunities because of fear robs us of so much! You may miss special bonding time with your children, getting to know their teachers better, meeting another parent that you really relate to, finding out about someone who needs your help, or any other number of possibilities.
When I began planning my own pathway, I noticed several fear hot spots. As a child I struggled with many phobias and the adult social anxiety I live with now began in adolescence. The three biggest fear roadblocks for me in adulthood were a fear of learning to drive, a fear of social interaction and a fear of failure. Obviously, these substantial fears basically dictated the way I lived my life. You can imagine the many, many opportunities I’d missed because of these big roadblocks of fear.
The very first step in overcoming your fears is to recognise them and understand how they’re standing between you and what you want to achieve in life. Is your fear of public speaking keeping you from your dream of running self-help seminars? Do you have an unbalanced fear of flying that is blocking you from air travel? Take the blinders off and take a really good, hard look.
Activity: What are your fears? With your long term goals in mind, make a list of fears you have that are keeping you from moving forward on your path.
Now that you have a better awareness of the fears that are holding you back, it’s time to make a plan. Your action plan will require different techniques for overcoming different fears, and you need to understand how you operate when planning your approach.
With my fear of learning to drive, I decided to hire a professional instructor. I knew that actually booking an appointment would give me accountability and that working with a professional would make me feel like I had to show up or I’d be wasting his time. I knew that a professional instructor would have an extra brake and clutch and that gave me a sense of safety. I also felt better about learning to drive with a stranger as opposed to someone I knew and interacted with regularly. There was a certain feeling of anonymity (although I knew my instructor fairly well by the time I finished!). My decision making process was led by a deep knowledge of how my mind works and how I could bolster myself against my anxieties.
When it came down to actually booking the appointment, I did not allow myself to hesitate. I booked online and clicked send without giving it a second thought. Of course, I experienced a great deal of nervousness and anxiety leading up to each lesson, but I steeled myself to just go to the car and get in it, and after I started the car I was too busy to feel much anxiety any more. Sometimes in dealing with fear you have to work quickly. Allow your will to make a decision before your fear has a chance to catch up.
My social phobia required a different type of approach. I’d had this particular fear since adolescence and it had grown much stronger in recent years simply because I allowed it to. Social phobia kept me from going to church regularly, interacting with other parents at school, and reaching out to others to create and strengthen friendships. I was a closed book, keeping everyone at arms’ length or further away if I could manage it. Because I had allowed this behaviour for decades, and been enabled to do so, the anxiety was always strengthening and deepening. I was living life inside my house and inside my head as much as I could possibly get away with.
Some fears and anxieties take a bit of professional help to overcome and I highly recommend seeking out that help if you need it. I saw a psychologist about my social anxiety on several occasions. What finally helped me the most, however, was a workbook I got out from my local library. There are many such books available. I learned how to relate to my anxiety as an entity separate from myself, and began seeing how it was controlling my life. That little paradigm switch was enough for me to be able to fight my fear. I don’t want to be controlled by anything, least of all the slimy, dirty, desperate little bully called fear.
Promise yourself that you will not make any more fear-based decisions. Remember, fear is trying to control your life! You need to fight to put fear back in its place. Choosing not to make decisions based on fear requires you to remain aware of your decision-making process through each individual circumstance. Be very honest with yourself and make sure that if you’re feeling fear around a decision, you are aware of it.
Feeling fear is not the problem, letting it make your choices for you is!
You will use different approaches to overcoming your fears depending on how you operate and what your fears are. The most important thing is recognising your fears and understanding that anxiety and fear are trying to control your life; you don’t have to let them. Get that fire in your belly to overcome your fears and anxieties, then make a plan and walk yourself through it, seeking help if necessary. Small successes in overcoming fear will give you much confidence to face bigger areas of anxiety. You’ll be amazed at the strength you have. It’s always been there!