Overcoming Doubt and Facing Fear Head On

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines doubt as follows:

“a feeling of not knowing what to believe or what to do, or the condition of being uncertain.”

Doubt itself is a byproduct of fear.  Fear of failure, fear of losing, fear of falling short of goals, etc.   Every individual has a different capacity for risk taking, but at some point, everyone needs to take off the proverbial training wheels and just ride the darn bike.  Sadly, not everyone will.

Just to clarify, before I get into things, I am talking about the kind of doubt or fear that is stopping you from taking a leap into uncertainty, but toward an ultimately positive change in your life.  I am NOT talking about a gut feeling or intuition.  The difference is key and the best explanation I have found on determining which is which can be found in this video by Marie Forleo

Fear and doubt are perfectly natural if what we are trying to accomplish or achieve is something in line with our passion or purpose in life.  It is natural to fear life changes that make us step outside what we have always known and/or push ourselves beyond our familiar comfort zone.  A lot of ‘what ifs’ may enter your stream of consciousness.  In the shower, in the car, as you fall asleep, etc.  It mostly happens during what I call ‘mental downtime’.   Those times when you are doing something relatively inane and your mind has a chance to wander off on its own without supervision.

I read a fantastic article recently that said whenever we’re scared about making a change, it’s usually because the steps we’re taking are big, and these leaps of faith trigger a ‘life-saving’ biological response.  AKA fear.  The article went on to explain all this fear and doubt is caused by a region of our brain called the amygdala.  This area of the brain is responsible for the fight or flight response, and when you have a big life altering goal, your amygdala will literally stop your brain from thinking.  This is the same thing that causes writers block, but at its core, it is just good old fashioned fear.   The suggestion for overcoming this is to ask yourself ‘tiny questions.’  Instead of the big daunting and overwhelming questions, break it down into smaller manageable parts of the ‘big’ question.  (I’ve listed my questions further down in this post if you are interested.) This is just one of the practices I’ve implemented after reading the article and I can’t recommend it enough for anyone who has even the briefest moments of doubt and fear.  The article is titled How to Overcome Fear and Live Your Dream by Changing Your Brain.

How This Relates To Me and Where I Am In This Process 

Oh, look!  I’m human.  Imagine that.

doubtA few weeks ago, as I woke up to my alarm and hopped in the shower to get ready for work, I found my mind wandering.  My alarm had caused me to wake suddenly from a bad dream and I was still feeling the unresolved emotion from that dream as I stood in the shower.  I remember having a sudden and overwhelming sense of doubt that I could pull off my plans to live this new lifestyle.  I felt a very real sense that I was going to be ‘stuck’ living a life that I have been trying to free myself from.  Furthermore, when I tried to push that emotion out, I was hit with the feeling that even if I did pull it off, I would still somehow be left unfulfilled.

As I got out of the shower and cleared the steam from the glass on the bathroom mirror,  I saw the scowl that covered my face.  I looked worried and unhappy.  I realized at that moment I had a choice to live in the atmosphere of fear and doubt or to plaster a smile on my face and get with the game.   I decided to get with the game so I flashed my cheesiest smile at myself in the mirror. I looked so ridiculous that I began to laugh out loud at myself.

As idealistic as it may sound, the optimist in me tries to catch those doubts and fears before they fester, turning them into opportunities to resolve problems before they occur.  Not always simple and easy, but doable. It’s definitely a mindset and not one that always kicks in automatically.  There are occasions that I wallow in fear and self-doubt for a minute before I put on my big girl pants and kick some butt.  In the end, much the same as someone telling me I can’t do something just makes me determined to do it that much more, my doubts and fears become a game that I refuse to give in to.

Whenever those feelings of fear or doubt creep in now, I ask myself these three simple ‘tiny’ questions:

  1. Why do I want to make this change?
  2. Am I ready and willing to do what it takes?
  3. Can I handle the worst case scenario?

Answering those questions forces me to remember why I have made the choices I have made and re-energizes my determination to pull off this grand plan of mine.  I realize anything can happen, but there isn’t anything blocking my success but me.  Will things go exactly as planned?  Hopefully, but if not, I am willing to do what it takes and I can handle the worst case scenario.  Ultimately, once you reach the realization about the kind of life you want to be living going forward, nothing less will do.  It becomes your new reality, your new normal.  To deny yourself that life or that opportunity is to allow your spirit to die a little every day.

Bertrand Rusell once said: “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”  I intend to be very wise.

On a final note, my parents came to visit me this week.  We have had hours upon hours of conversation that have only served to strengthen my confidence.  These two incredible people encourage me, support me, believe in me, and as it turns out, know me better than I know myself!   More on that later though…

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