FEAR is the one emotion all living things experience in some form. From an evolutionary point of view, a sense for danger is necessary for a species to survive.
As humans, there are legitimate things to fear in the world. However, most of what plagues us on a daily basis cannot be defined as a true threat to our existence.
In fact, most things humans fear in modern life are 100% learned.
Think about it – the top phobia in America is the fear of public speaking. Rationally, we know getting on stage isn’t going to kill us. However, as we begin to worry about being judged or making a mistake, our brain interprets this as “danger.”
Since the primary function of our primitive brain is to constantly scan our environments for danger, when there isn’t a true threat present, it learns to substitute real dangers with imagined ones.
Instinctively, our body reacts by going into “fight or flight” mode. We start to sweat and feel our hearts pounding as we walk in front of the audience.
But we’re not born fearing judgment. After all, if babies worried about being laughed at when falling, they’d never learn to walk.
The bottom line is, for most things, we LEARN fear.
We fear losing what we’ve earned – our reputation, a relationship, or our jobs. We fear failure. We fear how we’ll be judged if we go against social norms. This not only robs us of our happiness, but also hampers our career success.
But, in the same way we learn fear, we can also UNLEARN it. Here’s how:
- Prepare. Despite being age-old advice, in a multimedia world that’s pulling our attention in 100 directions, many skip this step. While interviewing or public speaking may never be on your “fun” list, the more you’re able to reduce ambiguity for what’s controllable” (e.g., planning what you’ll wear, arriving early, researching your audience), the less “noise” there will be inside your head to create anxiety.
- Rename fear. Anxiety and excitement have similar physical effects (e.g., increased heart rate and respiration). It’s our mind that labelsanxiety as negative and excitement as positive. Why not choose a different interpretation? Instead of worrying about the interview, be curious and excited for the opportunity to share your experiences.
- Stop comparing. If you look for someone who’s better than you, you’ll find him. If you look for someone who isn’t as good as you, you’ll find him, too. Comparing ourselves to others may be the top reason people stop pursuing their career dreams. Eventually we believe the “I’m not good enough….” mantra we unconsciously repeat in our heads. But you have the ability to rework the neural connections to strengthen more positive messages – why not try it for a week and see what happens?
- Practice facing fear. Taking small risks daily desensitizes you to the fear response. Exposing yourself to novel situations (e.g., trying Zumba) or small challenges (e.g., posting a blog online) causes your body and mind to acclimate and raise the bar on what level of stress you’re able to handle (similar to how running regularly increases your body’s cardio efficiency). In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “do one thing each day that scares you” and strengthen that coping muscle!
- Get perspective. There are 7 billion people in the world, mostly worrying about how THEY’RE being perceived. Fredric Neuman points out, “The world is not full of people waiting to pounce if you make a mistake. The tragedy of life is no one is paying any attention!” Research shows we’re bombarded daily by the equivalent of 174 newspapers of data (The Telegraph). The chance of someone dwelling on our performance at the same level of scrutiny by which we judge ourselves is zero.
So, why not “practice 20 seconds of insane courage” (We Bought a Zoo) today and see how things change in your favor?