How to Move Past Fear and Towards Your Purpose
We'd all like to be our most authentic selves every day, to find our purpose in life and take actions that align with that purpose. That is the goal. But often, self-doubt sneaks in disguised as fear and leaves you questioning your competence.
Fear is a necessary emotion. The job of the fear instinct is to keep you safe. Yes, it’s over-reactive, and yes, it’s likely blind to your strengths and capabilities. But it may also be reminding you of important things we can forget when we’re so drawn by our dreams.
But fear can also be the inner voice that blocks your progress and pulls you away from your purpose. That's why it's vital to recognize its whisper and learn how to distance yourself from its influence. The way to do this is not by acting on fear or burying it but by holding it up to the light and examining it closely. That's when it’s time to have a conversation with your fear.
Talking Down Your Fear
We’re not naturally adept at having this conversation because it was awfully disadvantageous to our ancestors. Imagine them thinking: “Hmm, I wonder if that’s a real tiger in the bushes. You know what, let me wait and see. Who knows it may simply be a friendly deer. Actually, so what if it’s a tiger? I’m sure I can shoo it away.” You or I wouldn’t be around today if they had put their thinking caps on.
These days though, we do need our thinking caps because our tigers are mostly paper tigers. Begin by asking your fear “What are you trying to protect me from?” and do not stop at the first answer. It is likely not the truth. Keep asking “and why does that matter?” or “is that a fact?” or “tell me more” until you arrive at something that feels a lot closer to the truth. Depending on the answer, here’s what you can do:
If the fear is a figment of your imagination, you can safely turn a deaf ear by using its own weapon of choice: imagination. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Turn down the volume: Pretend you’re turning the volume dial down on the fear. Notice it becoming a little whimper in the background.
- Walk fear out: Pretend you’re holding it by the arm and walking it out the door. Or that you’ve bought it a ticket halfway around the world.
- Throw it in the worry basket: Pretend you’ve got fear in your hand and are throwing it into a “worry basket” to return to at a later stage. Or you may want to write it out and tear it, burn it, bury it, or watch it float away.
If you think these strategies sound ineffective, think of how powerful the imagination is in creating horrific scenarios of doom and disaster. Why not use it to create something that’s far better aligned with your goals?
Wear Your Parachute
If the fear is real, you’ll need to do something to protect yourself. Think of it like putting on your parachute—you’re still going for the dive, you’re just making sure you don’t land to your death. Here are some questions that can help:
- Who will I reach out to?
- What does plan B look like?
- What have others done that I can learn from?
As you reflect on these, and other similar questions, focus on the absolute minimum safety gear. This is especially important for us perfectionists because we can spend years standing at the edge of the plane and still not feeling ready enough to dive.
If the fear is exaggerated but persistent, you’re going to calm it down by showing it the full story so it has room to transform. Here are ways to do so:
- Think of times in the past when you did well at a similar task.
- Think of the positive things others have said about your capabilities.
- Think of the positive impact it’ll have on the people you want to influence.
- Think of the best that can happen and how you’ll prepare for it.
- Think of the most likely outcome and how you’ll build on it.
- Think of the worst that can possibly happen and how you’ll cope with it.
- Think of times in the past when you failed or when things went badly and how you moved on from it.
Test the Hypothesis
If the fear is based on projected pain from the past, you are going to test its hypothesis so you don’t have to fight with it every time you want to do something. Say you want to take a break but fear tells you that you can’t because you’ll fall miserably behind or people will think you’re lazy. These are rigid internal stories that are past their time. You let go of them is by doing exactly what fear doesn’t want you to do. Take that break! Just don’t snooze off for five hours at a stretch because you may just prove your fear to be right.
Things that you’ve never done are your areas of growth, because you don’t know how to do them well yet. Whether it’s taking breaks, setting boundaries or being less controlling, you have to identify the skills you need to develop, set structures that help you do so, and take one small step at a time.
Adapted from Goodbye, Perfect: How to Stop Pleasing, Proving, and Pushing for Others…and Live for Yourself Copyright © 2023 by Homaira Kabir and published by Sourcebooks, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Homaira Kabir is a confidence coach and author of Goodbye, Perfect based on her research on confidence and a path toward a life of joy, courage and fulfillment.
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