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Fear and anxiety; know it, embrace it and beat it.

Published on 11th August 2016

Sweaty palms, stuttering voice, anxiety or full blown panic attacks. These are just a few of the physical manifestations of what we collectively define as fear, but what is fear and why are we so consumed by it?

If you’ve ever participated in any self-development training, attended coaching or simply read a book on success and leadership, you will undoubtedly have come across some explanation of fear. For the uninitiated, it’s essentially a process of our minds, where we create an outcome based on all of the worst case scenarios we can imagine, often without basis and certainly before any have eventuated in reality. It is indeed both a natural and important response, but the disconnect lies in the oftentimes lack of any real risk or danger. In short, we limit ourselves because of our irrationality. 

Now as I watched the first events of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games over the weekend, I imagined the incredible nervous apprehension of the athletes as they prepared to embark upon, what for some, would be the culmination of a lifelong pursuit of sporting success. Closer to home I watched my seven-year-old son compete in a swim meet and his older brother race in a cross-country race, both displaying clear nerves and apprehension before the events commenced despite there being any danger and having no reasons to fear the outcome. 

Whilst by no means having conquered all of my own fears in life, I have learnt over the years both in sport and in business, to control the limiting effects of fear so that I can at least perform to the best of my abilities. Here are my top five suggestions to free yourself from debilitating fear and anxiety. With a little practice you can continue to push yourself to try new things and act upon your potential. 

  1. Fear is self-induced, that is you create it in your mind and therefore you have the singular ability to destroy it too. Start by telling yourself that there is no real danger and put into perspective what you are feeling, in relation to the situation that’s creating this feeling.

  2. Bring yourself back to the moment. Fear lives in the future of what might be or what could happen and a simple way of dispelling this future focus is to concentrate on the here and now. Breathing focus can help, as can reciting a tongue twister or something similar that requires your brain to work in-the-moment. Don’t believe me, give it a try.

  3. Use a reality check to put things into context.  When was the last time a person died whilst public speaking? How many times have you seen someone collapse from the fear of trying something new? You get where I’m going, right?

  4. Practice positive re-enforcement. Humans are the only creature on earth with the power of imagination. The downside is we create these self-limiting fears, the upside is we can imagine ourselves in states that have yet to come to reality. Use your imagination to see yourself in a successful state, overcoming, achieving, being in control!

  5. Be self-critical when it comes to making excuses or procrastinating. If you let fear overcome you once, it will be that much easier to let it happen again in the future. Let your close friends know you’re apprehensive and ask them to support you to say ‘yes’ to opportunities rather than ‘no’.

So the next time you’re feeling apprehensive, nervous or plain scared, don’t run away from that feeling, rather look for the gain to be had from facing it head-on. Try small and try frequent activities to build up your coping skills. Successful habits are built from practice and the more you practice the more your circle of comfort expands. If you’re ever in any doubt that you’re limiting your potential because of fear, then visualise yourself dismissing these negative thoughts and remember, "The Cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek."
- Joseph Campbell