5 Tips for Transforming Fear into Motivation
“Avoidance is a natural response to fear, but it’s not the one that helps.” – Daniela Schiller, PhD., NYU’s Center for the Neuroscience of Fear and Anxiety
When’s the last time you let fear hold you back? When’s the last time you let anxiety keep you from meeting new people? Or was it doubt that stopped you from signing up for the yoga teacher training you always wanted to do? Maybe it was uncertainty that has prevented you from traveling abroad? Fear is one of our oldest emotions, we have all experienced it, and we all know the feeling. Our ancestors had many things to fear back in the day and a calm, positive reaction to those fears meant carrying on the family name with pride. But in today’s society, more often than not, our fears have become irrational. They can paralyze us, and if we let our fears take control, they can hold us back from truly experiencing the beauty of life.
ScienceDaily.com defines fear as an “unpleasant feeling of perceived risk of danger, whether it be real or imagined.” Real or imagined… Imagined being the key word here. Because most of our fears are just that, illusions of our imagination and stressing over these illusions can be a real waste of energy. Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when experiencing fear is totally rational and totally necessary, remember – fight or flight – it’s a feeling that has kept us and our ancestors alive for thousands and thousands of years, but that’s not the point of this article. What we are tackling here are the fears that are prohibiting us from really getting out and living our lives – fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown – and the clever thing about these fears, they can appear anywhere, whether we are aware of them or not, affecting our relationships, our work, and even showing up on our yoga mat.
Now fear is a very complex emotion and to go in depth on how the brain processes fear would take a while, and by no means am I a scientist, but the good news being that it has been proven that you CAN overcome your fears. It is possible to get through the anxiety, the uncertainty and the doubt, transforming those fears into awareness, and using that awareness as motivation to learn and to grow as a human being. Think about the confidence that comes from conquering a challenge, think about how amazing it feels when you achieve something you never thought you could do. And this not just limited to certain types of people, we can ALL triumph. Below I offer up five suggestions, based on my experiences, for dealing with fear in a more positive way, transforming fear into motivation.
1. Take one small, positive step each day.
Like they say, “do one thing each day that scares you,” but don’t take it to the extreme. Maybe try a different route to work or school. Have lunch with new people, or if being alone is uncomfortable try having lunch with just you. Switch it up and take a new yoga class or go challenge yourself at Cross Fit. For goodness sake, ask the cute guy at the gym for his By taking “baby steps” outside of your comfort zone, you become a little bit more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
2. Mediate more.
Dale Carnegie put it pretty well when he said, “You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.” It’s all in your head. Allow yourself a few minutes each day to just sit and to feel whatever it is you are afraid of. Get to the root of your fear and let that feeling sit with you for a moment. Practice feeling without any judgment or guilt or shame attached. Only when you are able to understand and experience what you are afraid of can you truly begin to let it go. Use this meditative practice whenever you feel fear beginning to take over: Stop. Connect to your breath. Feel the fear. Accept the feeling. Then let it go and move on.
3. Practice Yoga.
Yoga is such a beautiful reminder that nothing is permanent and that living in the present moment is the only way to really experience life. When you are challenged to hold a pose for a long amount of time you are always faced with two choices: (1) keep thinking about the pose, freak out, and throw yourself of the pose, or (2) to stay with your breath and calmly move yourself through the pose. You know that the pose will eventually end, even if at times it feels like it won’t. This is the same in life, especially when it comes to fear and any other negative feeling. Just like the yoga pose, the feeling is temporary, and it too will pass.
4. Confide in someone you trust.
When you openly talk about your fears with someone who is trusting, supportive, and nonjudgmental, it makes your fears seem a little less scary. It is also a nice reminder that the world is not against you. You are not destined to fail. There are people that love you and support you. Harness the power of positive intention. Let your thoughts and your words set you up for success.
5. Most importantly, don’t be so hard on yourself.
You are human. Your feelings and fears are unique to you. Allow your transformation to be a process, let it be a personal journey. Acknowledge yourself when you’ve stepped up boldly and support yourself when you need to retreat and relax. Life can’t always be lived on the edge so remember that it’s important to find balance.
As you continue to move down the road of transformation, learning more about yourself while growing into a more connected, resilient human being, you’ll notice that you will drop old fears and, at times, pick up new ones. And that’s OK. Let it be an adventure. Allow the process to happen. Just as we don’t expect ourselves to get into a challenging arm balance after taking only one class, we can’t possibly expect ourselves to get over a fear in only one day. Push yourself when you are able to, and practice compassion for yourself when you need it the most. And remember, it’s not so much about the final destination, but what you learn along the journey. I’ll leave you with one final quote, my favorite passage from Jaimal Yogis inspirational, narrative/investigative novel, The Fear Project (read it if you haven’t!), where Yogis beautifully flips the perspective of fear, making our most ancient emotion seem not so scary after all.
“I am – as I sensed earlier in this project – now utterly convinced that these fears are merely the necessary biological chatter on the surface of a much deeper ocean. And the fundamental substance of this ocean, its essence, is faith and love… Even our deepest, most monstrous fears are generated by a desire to live – a love of the sweetness of breath and body and taste and touch. Like waves, all these individual fears, small and large, appear to have a unique, intrinsic personality. Some of them can grow quite large and destructive, and if you react to their towering appearance or try to fight them, they can hold you under in darkness. But if you can see that they are actually made of the same substance as the rest of the sea, they lose their monstrous mystique. They become merely water in another form (221).”
Caitlin Lawson is a yoga practicing, wave sliding, positive vibe warrior based out of Rincon, Puerto Rico. Caitlin is a RYT-200, WPA Level 1 Certified, and SUP Yoga Certified. She is the founder of Sunburnt & Salty Yoga Company – sunburntandsalty.com