(Dr. Clayton Lawrence, founder and CEO, shares his thoughts in a weekly column focused on community wellness and inspiring others.)
Fear. A powerful four-letter word that, ironically, can cause its own definition to occur: a feeling induced by perceived danger or threat … which causes a change in behavior, such as fleeing, hiding, or freezing from perceived traumatic events (Wikipedia). Oftentimes, when fear is a prominent presence in our everyday lives, we begin to fear the very feelings being afraid can cause. It’s a vicious cycle, but freedom lies in recognizing the key word: “perceived.” All too often, we convince ourselves that a situation will be too much for us to handle – public speaking, visiting the dentist, taking a test – only to find out we are braver, stronger and more capable than we thought.
Overcoming challenging situations begins with gaining enough courage to trust one’s abilities. Consider the following: the physical feelings that occur when faced with a perceived threat such as a snake or a medical procedure are the same sensations that excitement invokes, like just before boarding an amusement park ride or preparing to surprise someone at a party. Next time fear becomes overwhelming, don’t freeze in its grips, change its meaning and take control.
F = Face it. Going head-first at a challenge is one of the best ways to overcome the feelings that could be holding you back. If sensations come, simply float. Feel the feelings, but don’t FEAR the feelings. This exposure technique can build up confidence and help you eliminate your greatest fears.
E = Experience. Life is hands-on. There is too much to discover and it would be a shame to let the years pass by without truly experiencing the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and, yes, sensations, that the world has to offer. Know that the next time you are faced with something that you perceive to be scary, you’re not alone. People have been facing that very same fear for years before you and will continue to face it for years to come. Don’t sit in the house and miss out. Go after life and embrace the sensations. Swap out excitement for fear – you’ll be so glad you did.
A = Affirmation. You know that feeling when someone you admire offers encouraging words or a “job well done”? Don’t wait on someone else to offer it. You’ve probably gotten very good at listening to the negative chatter that follows failure: “What’s wrong with you?” “You could have done better.” “You’ll never get it.” You believe those words enough to allow them to keep you from trying again. But why not try something new? Allow your inner voice to offer words of encouragement instead. Place inspirational words around your living and work space that turn “I can’t” into “I can” and “I’ll never succeed” to “Here’s how I’m going to do better.”
R = Resilience. Never stop trying. If you find yourself in the grips of fear and you simply cannot face the trigger – whether you cancel your dental appointment, back out of the overseas trip or bomb the test because of nerves – don’t give up. Set-backs only make us stronger. There are lessons to be learned in every situation and within those lessons are personal coping skills that allow us to face our fears. They help us dig deep to run the race, present the report and be the best version of ourselves.