What are you afraid of?
Chances are you probaly have one of the top human phobias. Many of you are afraid of things like public speaking, death, blood, spiders, snakes, heights, darkness, rats, confined spaces, the dentist, thunderstorms, zombies, clowns, needles, and crowds. Needless to say, we have a lot of fears!
While these kind of fears populate Top 10 lists all over the internet, some of the most dangerous fears did not even make the list.
Many of us are terrified of failure. We are so scared what we are working on won’t succeed, we sabotage our efforts or pull back from what we feel called or driven to do.
Some of us are scared of hearing a “no” from someone else. We fail to make a phone call, send an email or take someone to lunch because they could say no to our request.
Even more of us are mortified of being uncomfortable or awkward. We resist new experiences which expose us or make us vulnerable. Instead, we give in to the temptation to stay in the safe, familiar places we know so well.
For years, I’ve been talking about writing a book. Until I began writing in 2014, it was just talk. I could pick up a few compliments by talking about it (which felt good) but actually doing the work and putting myself out there was a terrifying thought. Fear kept the ideas, messages, stories, and themes in my head for far too long.
“Our approach to fear has harmed our lives and enabled a dysfunctional decision-making process. “
I believe our approach to fear has harmed our lives and enabled a dysfunctional decision-making process. We need a radical paradigm shift when it comes to the way we think about fear. As I’ve been working on clarifying what the shift has looked like for me, I have established some rules for defeating fear. These rules can be summarize into 8 statements.
1. Stop seeing fear as a sign to stop; instead, start seeing fear as a sign that you’re going in the right direction.
Think back to that list of phobias we started this post listing. If one of yours was on that list, you do your best to avoid situations that put you in proximity to the fear. Fear is often a “red light” for us, indicating that it is time to stop. Fear can actually be our “green light, telling us to go and move forward. Fear can show us that we are moving in the right direction.
2. Stop fearing failure and start being afraid of succeeding at things that do not matter.
D.L. Moody, the famous preacher of The Second Great Awakening, once said, “my greatest fear is not failing but succeeding at things that do not matter.” This quote is a great reminder for us to make sure our pursuits line up with what is ultimately important.
3. Never say no for other people.
I’ve learned so much on this subject from Ben Arment. Ben is the founder of STORY (an incredible series of gatherings for creatives) and the author of Dream Year. In writing about our fear of failure, Ben writes, “What’s the worst that could happen – they might say no?” Ben challenged me to look at this process as if you’re one “no” closer to hearing a “yes.” In an article I read, Ben wrote, “When it comes to making things happen, everyone has a job. Your job is to dream audaciously, act courageously and make big asks. Their job is to say yes or no. And this is their job alone. Never say no for other people.” Fear would have us pull back from asking because we might get rejected. Stop pulling back and let people do their job (yes or no), while we do ours (dreaming and creating).
“Never say no for other people. -Ben Arment”
4. Keep asking “What’s the worst that could happen?”
I alluded to this question earlier in reference to Ben Arment. However, Steven Furtick played out this concept in great detail in his book, Crash the Chatterbox: Hearing God’s Voice Above All Others.
In the book, he encourages his readers to lean into the question, “what’s the worst that could happen?” After each answer, Furtick encourages asking “and then what?” until we can come to the place where we recognize the realization of many of our wildest fears would still leave us alive and with more in our favor than we might believe. This simple practice of following the “what’s the worst that could happen?” has surprising power to set us free from fear.
“The realization of many of our wildest fears would still leave us alive and with more in our favor than we might believe.”
5. Assume adversity and conflict are a normal part of your road to success.
No matter what you are pursuing in life, you will encounter adversity and conflict. Accepting these as normal helps you prepare for their arrival and the shock they often introduce. As a writer, I expect that I will have much to overcome on the road to publishing my first book. For a long time, I was afraid of getting my book proposal rejected. (I got my first and second rejection this year.) I regularly resisted asking other people to help me achieve my dream because I might get a no and still battle fear when I hit “call” or “send.” As I realized I would need to write at least 50,000 words to finish my book, I wondered how painful it would be to put all this work into a book and not seeing it work out. Again and again, I recognize that writing this book is as much about me changing in the process as it is me getting a final manuscript.
6. Renegotiate your relationship with criticism.
In writing about this subject recently, I raised the importance of discernment when listening to the critical voices around you. At times, we are own worst enemy. Our internal voice and self-critical talk fan the flame of fear that turns us back from path to realizing our dreams and achieving our purpose. Constructive criticism and healthy feedback can be helpful allies, but unrestrained self-criticism will destroy our ambitions and dreams.
7. Study the forces that are fueling your fear, so you can begin starving them of their power.
You are not the alone in experiencing the power of fear. If nothing else, I hope this post helps some of you realize this important truth. I’ve benefited tremendously from the works of Steven Pressfield and Seth Godin in this area. Pressfield’s The War of Art and Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? are must reads for anyone battling fear and pursuing important work. When you begin to understand and identify what Pressfield calls “The Resistance” and what Godin calls your “Lizard Brain”, you will see the weaknesses of these forces and how you can out-maneuver them.
8. Allow God’s love to transform your fear.
In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” When we know that we are unconditionally loved by God (separate from our performance), this sense of identity frees us from fear. Fear does not have to imprison us; instead God’s love can enable us to acknowledge the fear and do what we’re called to do anyway.
I believe you were created on purpose, for a purpose. I believe God has saved you through Jesus from something, for something. The worst part of your life story would be if you did not pursue that purpose, that “something”, because you were afraid.
“The worst part of your life story would be if you did not pursue your purpose because you were afraid.”
Donald Miller wrote about the nature of fear and the consequences of letting it drive our stories in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story. I’ll end with his words, as they sum up this post well.
“The most often repeated commandment in the Bible is ‘Do not fear.’ It’s in there over two hundred times. That means a couple of things, if you think about it. It means we are going to be afraid, and it means we shouldn’t let fear boss us around. Before I realized we were supposed to fight fear, I thought of fear as a subtle suggestion in our subconscious designed to keep us safe, or more important, keep us from getting humiliated. And I guess it serves that purpose. But fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”
If you’d like to learn more about how to overcome fear and other obstacles, check out my ebook, The Greater Than Challenge: A Guide to Reframing Your Life. Grab your free copy here.