This post was written by Leo Babauta, originally for Zen Habits. Republished here with permission.
Fear of something bad happening in the future is one of the things that make us human. Animals might fear an immediate danger, that is happening right now, but only we fear something that might happen, that isn’t happening now, that isn’t even showing its ugly face at the moment. Here’s a guide to beating the fears that are holding you back.
A Guide to Beating the Fears That Are Holding You Back
This fear, some might say, is necessary … it stops us from doing something stupid. But I’ve found most of these fears to be unnecessary, to be baseless, to be holding us back from achieving something.
I recently asked my Twitter friends: “What fear is holding you back?” Their responses included:
- being broke
- not being good enough
I think the last one — not being good enough — is actually at the root of all the others. We fear we’ll fail because we’re not good enough. We fear we’ll lose our relationships, that we’ll be abandoned, that we’ll be rejected … because we’re not good enough. We fear intimacy for the very same reason — we might get rejected because we’re not good enough. Even the fear of success is based on the worry that we’re not good enough.
Do you have this fear? That you’re not good enough? I have, for all my life, and I still have it today.
But here’s the thing: having the fear is natural. Letting it stop you from going after your dreams is a tragedy.
I did this, for well over a decade of my adult life. I let the fear of not being good enough stop me from even trying, from even daring to dream.
It turned out that my fears were baseless. I am good enough. I’m not perfect, but who is?
When I was able to overcome this fear of not being good enough, this fear of failure and rejection, and put myself out there in the world, I succeeded. I found out that I was good enough.
And I still have this same fear — I still worry that I’m not good enough, that I’ll fail and flop on my face in front of 100,000 people … but I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. Even the most successful people — Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Paul McCartney, J.K. Rowling, et al — they have this fear, even if they don’t show it. But they don’t let it hold them back.
How can you do this? Let’s look into it.
“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.” – Sven Goran Eriksson
How to Beat Your Fears
There is no step-by-step program to beating your fears, but here’s what I’ve learned, first-hand and from others.
- First, acknowledge your fear. This is a huge first step. If you do just this today, you’ve done something great. Many of us have these fears, but they are at the back of our mind, unnoticed, unacknowledged, as we try to ignore them and pretend they’re not there. But they are there. And they affect us, every day, all our lives. So acknowledge the fear.
- Write it down. What’s your fear? Write it on a piece of paper. Writing it down not only acknowledges that you have it — bringing it out into the light — but it externalizes the fear. It takes the fear from the dark lurking places in the back of your mind, where it has power over you, out into the light of day, outside of you, where you have power over the fear. Take control over it by writing it down. It is now outside you. You can do something about it. I personally like to crumple it up and stomp on it, but you can do whatever you like. Post it on your fridge as a reminder of your enemy.
- Feel the fear. You’ve acknowledged it, but you’re still afraid of it. You’re reluctant to even have this fear, perhaps even embarrassed about it. Well, no more. Recognize that you’re not alone, that we ALL have these fears, that we all think we might not be good enough. Yes, even the amazing Barack Obama, the amazing Jessica Alba, the amazing Al Pacino. They have the same fears as you do. I sure do. Repeat after me: there’s nothing wrong with having this fear. Now allow yourself to feel it. Experience it fully. Bask in this fear. It isn’t as bad as you think. It’s a part of you, but it doesn’t control you.
- Ask yourself: what’s the worst thing that can happen? Often it’s not as bad as we think. Do you fear failing in a new career? What would happen if you did? You’d get another job. You’d move on. You’d live. Do you fear being rejected by someone? What would happen if you were? You’d lick your wounds, you’d find someone else who is more suited for you, you’d live. Do you fear being broke? What would happen if you were? You’d cut back on your expenses, perhaps ask family or friends to help you out for a little bit. You’d find a way to make money. You’d live.
- Just do it. To repeat: feel the fear and do it anyway. To beat the fear, you have to just do it. See below for some tips on doing this, but what works for me is not thinking, just acting. Like when you want to jump off a waterfall into the pool below: don’t think about it. Just jump! It’s an exhilarating feeling. I fear public speaking, but when I get up and just do it, I feel great.
- Prepare yourself for battle. When you’re going to take on an adversary, you prepare yourself. You arm yourself, and have a battle plan, and train yourself. Do this in your battle against your fear: arm yourself, have a battle plan, train yourself. If you want to be a musician but you fear failure … practice, practice, practice, then come up with a plan to succeed, then get all the skills and info you need to implement the plan, then practice some more. Then go out and implement the plan!
- Be in the moment. Fear of failure (and other similar fears) are fears of the future. We get caught up in worrying about what might happen. Instead, banish all thoughts of the future. Banish even thoughts of past mistakes and failures. Now focus on right now. Do something right now to beat your fears, to pursue your dreams, and forget about what might happen. Just do it, now, in the moment. When you find yourself thinking about the past or future, bring yourself back in the moment and focus on what you’re doing right at this moment.
- Small steps. Conquering fear and pursuing a life goal can be overwhelming, intimidating. So start small. Just take one little baby step. Something you know you can do. Something you’re sure to succeed at. Then feel good about that (see below) and take another small baby step. Keep doing this, and soon you’ll have conquered a mountain.
- Celebrate every success! Every single thing you do right, celebrate! Even the smallest little thing. And use this feeling of success, of victory, to propel yourself forward and take the next step. Bill Gates describes a “spiral of success” that he used to build Microsoft up from its early success of MS-DOS, to its success with Windows and Word and Excel and Internet Explorer and all that. Use this idea of a spiral of success in your life — build upon each success, use it as a stepping stone to the next victory.
“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” – Bertrand Russell
If you’d like ways to let go of the negativity in your life, check out our 30 Day Negativity Detox.