A photographer friend of mine recently published a thought-provoking article asking how well we know ourselves, following an experience which pitted his professional and personal instincts against each other. Apart from the impact of the dramatic picture, I was moved to comment on one of the most limiting elements of our nature: fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of looking stupid.
Fear can paralyse us, preventing us from having new and rewarding experiences and taking advantage of new opportunities. Whether we are asking for a pay rise, a date or even just a helping hand – not to mention the “really big” decisions like giving up your day job to pursue your dream or taking up skydiving. I put “really big” in quotation marks because the truth is, all decisions are affected by the same limiting factors and while clearly some decisions have a bigger impact on your life than others, if you can remove that fear, the decision itself is as easy to make. It’s the impact that makes them feel bigger. And of course, the bigger the risk, the bigger the fear but also the bigger the reward if you succeed. Psychologists have a neat way of describing fear:
This results in physical and emotional reactions designed, millions of years of evolution ago, to prepare us for “fight or flight”. We’ve all heard this, yet we fail to take action to deal with it in our own lives or often even realise or accept we have fear. Step back now and have a think about the times in your life when you have not done or said something you wanted to. Why was that? Instead of blaming circumstances or other people and complaining about it (I’ll deal with that in a future post!) recognise what it was you were afraid of. As with all progress, from recovering from alcoholism to fixing or ending a relationship, half the battle is recognising you have a problem. Only when you do that can you deal with it and grow.
Jack Canfield, my “new best friend” from whom I’m learning a huge amount from his 40 years researching and training people in how to succeed, suggests that in order to understand how we create fear, first make a list of all the things you are afraid to do. Next, go back and restate each fear by adding the key words “I scare my self by imagining”. So “I am afraid to ask for a pay rise” would become “I want to ask for a pay rise and I scare myself by imagining he would say no and be angry with me for asking.” Put like this it becomes clear it is us creating the fear. By doing so we are actually rejecting ourselves before giving others the chance to!
I have lived a long life and had many troubles, most of which never happened.
Probably the biggest impact on my life over the last two years or so has been my ability to recognise that what was stopping me doing or saying things were my own fears. I was painfully shy as a child and into my teens. Now, by learning to be myself – and be happy about it (I’m ecstatic!) – I have the confidence to talk and act in a way which is consistent with my character and the fulfilment of my dreams. I was not born an extrovert and still have self-conscious moments – mainly stemming from my wanting not to appear arrogant – so I was still surprised to see the reaction of a student recently who was herself surprised when I told her I was not a natural extrovert!
What happened was that I realised that I wasn’t allowing people to say yes to me! And that even if the answer was no, I would be no worse off than I was before asking. We all know the sayings “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and “nothing to lose, everything to gain”, and when we eliminate that fear, we can truly apply the advice. With remarkable effects. At first, it was definitely a big step outside my comfort zone. But the more I did it, the more I found that people actually said yes! Which itself gave and continues to give me the courage to carry on asking.
Of course there will be rejections along the way. Plenty of them. But don’t start out by assuming it will be a no. Assume it will be a yes and go for it! If someone says no, move onto the next person! When you do so, you find more and more people saying yes or reacting in a way you were hoping. And the more you get a positive reaction the more you come to expect it, which increases confidence which directly affects people’s reaction to you, increasing your chances of success.
My student’s reaction to how I perceive my character was a reminder I still have a way to go until I truly know who I am and act completely consistently with it. But it was also a major ratification of the progress I have made in my journey of personal growth. It makes me even more determined to try to help others achieve more by first looking inside, not outside, for answers.
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Ok, time for a disclaimer! I don’t actually know the co-author of the best-selling of Chicken Soup for the Soul® series and The Success Principles (which I am reading now). Yet. I will, though, because I know this will help catapult my success and am not afraid to ask anyone and everyone until I get to meet the man.