Blog Mental

What’s stopping you? Step towards your fears


“Too scared to risk failing at something I loved, so I succeeded at something I had no passion for”

The quote above came from a piece in the Guardian on Regrets where Emma Freud posed the question on Twitter “What’s your greatest regret”.

The piece is a very telling read and this quote really stood out. Read it again and take a moment to think about it.

Does it bring something to mind in your own life?

You may have some ideas knocking around in your head about something you’ve wanted to pursue. Maybe they’ve been there for a few years, but you’ve done nothing about it.

As I’ve thought about taking risks over the past year or so, it always comes back to the same thing. FEAR and BEING SCARED. You can add LOOKING STUPID to that list too.

This is borne out in some of the other regrets in the piece –

“I regret being scared all the time”

“Worrying. About pretty much everything. All the time”

“Being too afraid to live”

In the article, no-one regrets an issue with their physical health from a disease such as cancer. As they never choose it, therefore they cannot regret it. But mental health carries the stigma of a “weakness”. As Freud points out “it would imply these tweeters feel that living in fear is some sort of choice”

I am not going to descend into “10 tips to overcome your fear” (That is probably the most google friendly sentence in this post). You can’t just get rid of fear. You can step into it, acknowledge it and start to feel a little more comfortable with it.

Some of it’s mental and some “just getting on with things”  but there are some things that may help you think differently.

Everyone is winging it

It seems like everything everyone else does is premeditated, they’re soooo switched on and calm and collected. However, even acclaimed writers and brain surgeons feel like they are going to be found out. As Oliver Burkeman of the Guardian puts it “Growing up, I assumed that the newspaper on the breakfast table must be assembled by people who truly knew what they were doing; then I got a job at a newspaper”.

As the Oliver Burkeman piece points out, we “Compare our insides with other people’s outsides”. They’re flapping around inside just like you. They probably think you’re the one that’s got their sh*t together. So remember this and give yourself a break.

Still not convinced? Your Dad is always a rock that knows what’s going on. Ask him what he did. He was probably winging it.

Loss Aversion

As Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky found, people’s tendency is to prefer avoiding losses than to acquiring equivalent gains. Would you rather lose £5 than to find £5? I would definitely rather not lose £5.

We may be hardwired to be loss averse. As Wikipedia points out – Due to asymmetric evolutionary pressure on losses and gains: for an organism operating close to the edge of survival, the loss of a day’s food could cause death, whereas the gain of an extra day’s food would not cause an extra day of life (unless the food could be easily and effectively stored).

This is another thing that can help your awareness of fear. Things might not work and could go wrong. There is always a little gamble involved, but things could work out

Other things can wait

If you want to do something – pay yourself first.

Dinner can wait 30 minutes; those clothes don’t need washing right now, that errand is not always essential. That email will still be there tomorrow.

Spend some time with the family, put your kid to bed. Those are the things you’re going to remember. Not the washing up.

Or do that thing that moves you forward. Work on that application, download that Couch to 5km app, apply to that event.

Stop waiting

It’s easy to take the quote at the top as a call to quit your job and go an find that perfect job. I would say it’s not. Some people have taken their passion, worked hard and turned it into their job. If you have dependents, it is not a feasible prospect to just up and quit.

What you can do is take a step towards your passion. Don’t wait. Take it into your own hands. There’s never going to be the right time; there will always something in the way. Stop waiting!

I recently heard on a video “Stop waiting for permission. Stop waiting for someone to show you how it’s done. Do it yourself”. Personally, I’ve been procrastinating on doing the final tests on getting my website set up to sell some t-shirts I’ve designed. I was planning on waiting until the weekend, for a friend to come and show me how to do it (or do it for me). I heard this video and thought, this is just another reason for me to delay this until the weekend. I did it there and then. A couple of YouTube videos and a bit of concentration and I tested the transition process on my website. (I also found about 10 other things that needed doing).

Get started – you don’t need everything.

You will not have all the answers. There will never be a perfect time. Getting started is hard. It really is. But don’t regret not taking that first step.

You’re scared, but use what you have. Stop hiding behind the gear, the questions and more and more research as an excuse not to begin. You will not cover every perceivable eventuality. Some examples –

Running – no plan, GPS watch or special shoes are required to start. You just open the front door.

Photograph/FilmTangerine (a film that premiered at Sundance) was shot on an iPhone 5s. Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Oceans 11, Magic Mike and a lot more) just shot a film on an iPhone. Extreme examples maybe, but you have the same technology in your pocket.

Writing – This sounds flippant, but you have to just start writing. It’s about reps. Just like running and exercise. The more you do it the better you get. The idiosyncrasies and techniques can be worked out later.

Travelling – Stop researching that trip. Focus on saving your money. You’ll learn more about what to do and where to go once you get there than you can from a guidebook. You don’t need to take a zillion things. Go minimalist and pack simply.

A personal example of this for me was starting this blog. I thought about it forever, and then procrastinated trying to find the perfect name, best domain host, best blogging platform, most elegant WordPress theme. I even bought a new laptop. I wasted months. Who calls their online bookstore – Amazon? It sounded rubbish 20 years ago. Now you don’t even think about what it’s called. Stop wasting time.

Fear is not going to disappear

You’re going to fail or f*ck it (slightly) in some way. As above, no amount of research is going to cover all the bases and make the fear go away.

As Tim Ferriss says

“The hard choices — what we most fear doing, asking, saying — these are very often exactly what we most need to do”.

Personally, I think – If there’s something you want to do and you can’t get it out of your head. You should probably think about doing something about it.

Read the piece below by author Elizabeth Gilbert. I think it really puts fear in perspective. It’s coming with you anyway, just give it some boundaries.

“Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting—and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

Excerpt from Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear

I can’t do that

If you give it a go, you very likely can. Lots of people run marathons; people who hated school go on to be successful business people, first time writers win awards.

I know very little about computers and have zero coding knowledge, but I built two websites. It took me a while and a lot of trial and error, but I did it.

In doing some research for this post I came across this quote from Lauren Ancona on Medium about winging it. In it she said –

“I avoided even admitting I wanted to learn to code, because I didn’t think I could”.

I avoid coding like the plague, and this sums my attitude up completely, but would go one step further and say

“I’ve not even thought about learning to code, it never crossed my mind, because I didn’t think I could”.

I could though. Why not? I already have a head start on most people. A course for a couple of hours may get me moving. Maybe something I can step forward towards.

Give things a go and try them. Starting and pushing the fear gently sideways may lead to other things. Having already taken a step on one thing, this can lead to taking a step on another.

Go back to the quote at the top. Re-read it. What comes to mind? Don’t close this post and think – that’s something other people do. Go and do that thing and do it now.

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