Fear is a broad term and is deeply engrained in us as a protective mechanism. It’s a powerful survival instinct. Its primary purpose is to keep us safe. So it’s not always bad. In some instances it is what saves our life. Such as having the fear of getting hit by a car motivates us to look both ways before crossing the street.
But often fear can show up in our lives stealthily and comes from our subconscious. It comes from our childhood programming and other experiences we have in our adult life. These memories, these programs then hijack and influence our decision making process.
Here are four big fears that stop many of us.
Fear of failure –
Fear of success –
Fear of criticism
Fear of rejection
If fear is something that can protect us and is a powerful, instinctual response for survival then what if we were to use the power of fear to work in our favor? Is there a way to transform the feeling of fear that holds us back into a feeling of fear that moves us forward. Let’s explore this idea.
It seems that the first thing we need to do is to disempower the fears that have held us back in the past. We need to break them down into smaller bites that are more manageable and clearer to access the impact they’ve had on our lives. You can do this with any major fear you have but for our purposes here, I’m going to use the fear of failure.
So to begin the transformational process of any fear that plagues you, start with recalling the earliest memories you have when you experienced the fear and write them down.
Write as much as you can, with as much detail about your memories of your experience. So if we were to work on the fear of failure, what is your earliest recollection of being afraid you were going to fail at something? Was it in school? Did it happen on the playground or while playing a team sport? Do you remember how your parent’s viewed failure or reacted when you failed? Were you allowed to make mistakes without negative repercussions? For example, do you remember being chastised for a making a bad grade on a test or report card? What other feelings do you remember having when you experienced failure? Were you angry at yourself for how you performed? Were you hurt by what was said afterwards? Did the embarrassment of failing take a long time to shake off?
Recall as many memories and other emotions as you can around failure starting in your childhood but also going through your entire life and describe them in as much detail as you can. Now, sit still for a moment with memories you’ve written down and notice the shift you feel in your energy. You probably feel uncomfortable, don’t you? You might have a heavy feeling in your chest or a queasiness in your stomach or just a mild feeling of uneasiness.
What you are feeling are the memories coming from your body’s subconscious. Our subconscious is not in our head as most people assume. Our subconscious is actually located throughout our entire emotional body and we feel the energies of our emotions through our bodily sensations. Consciously you may not be able to exactly remember an event in precise detail and be able to describe everything that happened but you have a subconscious memory of it stored somewhere in your body. Your body keeps the score.
Since these sensations associated with the fear of failure are uncomfortable, we push them away and do things so we don’t feel them. We find ways to distract ourselves. We avoid them. We push them down and resist embracing the experience. This is what is meant when you hear the phrase “suppressed emotions.” But recalling these memories and the feelings you associated with those memories is an important part of the process of transformation because you cannot let go of or change something that you don’t know you’re holding on to. You have to encourage the memory and the feelings to surface so you can release them and reprogram yourself with new emotions.
When we experienced fear of something, such as failure, and then we also experience all the negative ensuing emotions that followed, we formed beliefs about those experiences. We filed failure in our subconscious as bad experience and something to avoid. Even though society might encourage people to “try” and venture outside our comfort zones, if the negative consequences we experienced from trying to succeed at something create a stronger, more dominant memory than the positive feeling we get from having tried in the first place, then what happens is that our subconscious will choose future behaviors that have less resistance.
Think of it like this. A river flows down a path of least resistance. Our emotions are nothing but energy. That’s what emotions are – energy in motion. Our emotions affect every choice we make down to what we’re going to eat for breakfast. We don’t like (resist) experiencing negative feelings such as hurt, embarrassment, and anger that often accompany failure so we subconsciously make choices that protect us from feeling them. If left to our subconscious we will often choose the path of least resistance because it feels safer, more certain, and less painful.
Ok now comes the transforming part of the process. We have to accept and forgive ourselves for having failed in the past. It’s important that we accept that what we felt about failing are normal. Who likes to fail, to lose, to make a mistake? Our instincts protect us from facing those uncomfortable emotions, because failure hurts. But now it’s time to praise ourselves for trying, for putting ourselves out there, for taking the risk. Few things in life are ever achieved without having to go through the experience of failing. We learn from our mistakes. Learning what doesn’t work is part of the process of learning what does. Failure is a necessary ingredient as part of the growing and evolving experience. We need to now accept and forgive ourselves for wanting to protect ourselves from pain. Forgiveness is a critical part of the transformation process.
Now let’s go on to the next phase of transformation. This is the reframing stage. Now that you are older and wiser, let’s reflect back and flush out the misinterpretations and misunderstandings you got from your past failures. For instance, what limiting beliefs and lies did you tell yourself that you need to call yourself on the mat for believing? What were you afraid would happen if you failed and yet that consequence never seem to transpire? How did you turn your experience of failure into something that it wasn’t?
In this present moment, can you reframe your past experiences to be associated with something more positive and something that has made a difference in your life in a positive way? For instance, what did you learn from that failure that has helped you in other similar experiences? What strengths and weaknesses did you learn about yourself? We weren’t made to succeed at everything so knowing what we’re not good at helps guide us to learn more and pursue what we are good at. Go through as many of your memories of experiences when you failed and answer questions like these and choose now to see that failure from a different perspective.
Now that you can recall your failures from a more positive perspective, it’s time to put fear to work in your favor. What new fears could you replace your old fear of failure with? To do this I want you to fast forward to the last days of your life? If you let your fear of failure stop you from even giving yourself the chance at being successful at whatever you say you want, how do you think your soul would feel about the choices you made? Do you think you’d have a sinking feeling of regret? Would you fear that you had put your energy and focus on the wrong things? Would you question your priorities? Would you feel you had run out of time now that you had no time left to choose differently?
There is nothing worse than the feeling of “woulda, shoulda, coulda” that comes over you after the fact. There is nothing that motivates you more than realizing your time is limited to get something done. No one wants to face their higher self and realize they let them down. In a nutshell, if you let your fear of failure get the best of you, would you be left with a feeling of incompleteness?
The term incompleteness is an interesting one. I want to expound on it a bit. Here is a personal story I want to share.
One day as I was having a conversation, so to speak, with my mother who is on the other side, I asked her this poignant question. I said, “If, as I believe, that we all know, and probably get to choose, when we are going to be born and on some level I suspect that we know when we are going to die, then why do people fear death so much?”
Well, the next thought in my head came so instantaneously that I knew it was an answer from Mom, or maybe God, but it certainly didn’t feel like it was from my own wisdom. The answer was this. “We don’t fear death. We fear incompletion.”
That single moment has been one of the most profound moments in my life. I knew from that day forward that my fear of incompletion was what needed to be the driving force in my life. Do I get sidetracked now and then with other fears? Absolutely! But our life’s journey is filled with detours, backtracking, bumps in the road, breakdowns and pullovers to rest stops. In other words it’s not a straight line.
Wrestling with my own fear of failure has been an ongoing challenge but as often as I can I go through this transformational process I’ve laid out here, and let my fear of incompleteness be a stronger and more driving force in my life.
I want to encourage you to work on all your fears, not just your fear of failure. Fears are a normal part of the human experience and we can learn to use this powerful force within us for our benefit and our growth and not allow them to continue to hold us back.