by Ralph Masengill, author of “Conquer Change and Win“
Change can be scary, but you know what’s scarier?
Allowing fear to stop you from growing, evolving, and progressing.
Change creates a feeling of loss, which in turn creates some form of fear or anxiety or both. When any of us go through change, whether positive or negative, we suffer from the pain of fear or anxiety. Let’s explore how fear and anxiety affect our emotions.
First, let’s explore fear. What is fear? From a number of dictionary entries, I’ve put together the following description:
Fear is an emotion induced by a real or perceived threat that causes a change in brain and organ function and ultimately a change in behavior, such as running away, hiding, or freezing in the face of traumatic events — a fight-or-flight response. Fear is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; it is the feeling or condition of being afraid. Synonyms for fear include foreboding, apprehension, consternation, dismay, dread, terror, fright, panic, horror, trepidation, qualm.
Most of us have experienced a fair share of fear in our lives and have a good idea of what it is and how it makes us feel. What we may not be aware of are the best ways to overcome unwanted fear. What are some good ways to approach this painful emotion? Fear causes stress in all of us, and remember that stress can be a killer. We need to take fear for what it is: a serious, unwanted, painful feeling that for all the pain it causes can sometimes keep us out of trouble. We are going to discuss the kind of fear that hinders us rather than the kind of fear that keeps us from a troubling situation or thing. In other worlds fear we do not want in our lives.
You have probably heard it said that if you face your fears, you will have less fear. Well, that is not necessarily true. When you face your fears, you may gain a deeper understanding of the fear you are experiencing, but it does not go away simply because you have recognized and confronted it. Perhaps you may find that it is not as huge as you thought, but on the other hand, it might be larger than you thought. Here’s an example: a true story about an armed jailbreak.
Let me set the scene. The jailbreak had been at about 2:00 p.m., and at about 4:30 p.m., the same afternoon, law officers from several counties, the city police, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol had surrounded a duplex apartment about three blocks away. They were positive they had seen the escaped prisoner head directly for it.
Law enforcement tried for about an hour to get the armed prisoner to give himself up, but he never came out. Then they began to doubt that he was in the duplex. They rushed the door and knocked it down but waited for an additional fifteen minutes to give the prisoner one last chance to come out peacefully. Meanwhile, I was behind a great big shrub with a Tennessee Highway Patrolman, just looking around and waiting for the fifteen minutes to pass by. I don’t know why, but I decided to check my weapon, the 12-gauge shotgun. When I did, I glanced inside the large bush we were standing behind for protection, and I saw a .38 pistol aimed at my head.
When I saw the escaped prisoner, I backed away from the bush and asked the Tennessee trooper to join me. He moved back a little. That’s when I stepped in front of the bush, pointed the shotgun into it, and told the escaped prisoner, who now had his back to me, that I would shoot him if he moved. He turned just enough to see my 12-gauge aimed at his head, and he dropped the .38 and put his hands in the air. The prisoner was taken back to jail. My day of excitement was finally over.
By then it was after six o’clock and I took the rest of the day off. I went home and tried to pour myself a glass of tea, but I was so nervous that I spilled it all over the table. I had faced the fear and won. The cause of the fear was gone. But I was still reacting to that fear that no long existed. The experts tell us that a reaction from a fear that has been eliminated can last for years in some people.
(For the record, back in the seventies in our county, ordinary citizens could become unpaid bonded deputy sheriffs. The sheriff had made me one of those as an additional reward for handling his first successful bid for office, so that is why I could be part of the hunt for the escaped prisoner.)
Please do not misunderstand what I am saying — yes, we do need to face our fears. Until we do, little, if anything, will happen to dissipate them. Face a fear if you want to conquer it. Face your fear if you want to see it eventually go away. There is no other way. Many have tried other ways, but I will bet half the ranch that they did not work. You must face your fear. Getting the fear illuminated does not necessarily make the emotion of the fear go away at the same time.
Ways to Fight Fear and Win.
Overcoming fear is a learned response. If you do not teach yourself to overcome fear using your own mind or with the help of others, you will not be successful. The first goal in conquering your fear is to admit to the fears you have. You should make a list of all the fears you can recognize. Try hard to list as many as possible. We fear some things more than others. Be sure to list even your minor fears also as part of this exercise.
All fear causes a fight-or-flight reaction. You must choose to fight. Get as specific as you can about naming all your fears, both large and small. This may take some discipline to do correctly. Once that is done you are ready to move on to conquering your fears.
Nineteen Facts to Help Win Over the Pain of Fear.
- The more often you purposely face one of your fears, the easier it is to face the next one.
- Take one step at a time. Facing a fear is the first step. If you do not first face your fears, you would not be able to eliminate them at a later stage of the process. Reaching your ultimate goal of eliminating as many fears as possible is the goal. However, remember a fear that has been elimentated is not necessartlly a fear that will not still cause you problems for sometime to come.
- Writing down your fears is step two in the process of eventually breaking the hold a fear has on you and eliminating it.
- Trust me when I say that facing your fears is hard. The good news is that you will find it more than worth the effort and the pain once you begin to enjoy your new freedom from emotional fear.
- It is not unusual to become so familiar with living in fear that you are afraid your attempt to eliminate it is a mistake or a negative. You may believe it is normal to have all this fear and even try to convince yourself that most people have this much fear. It is not normal to have a lot of fears. Becoming comfortable with the familiar (living with great fear) is one way you stay in bondage to fear.
- Be as specific as you can in listing your fears. The details count. Being specific will give you a better picture of the fears and the level of bondage they create in your life. It is important to pinpoint exactly what you fear. You must be able to describe accurately what you are afraid of if you are to eventually conquer it.
- An attitude of gratitude is a great way to counter the fear you have. When your fear arises, instead of focusing on it, discipline yourself to focus on something you are truly grateful for. This can be of great help in conquering the pain you are experiencing.
- If perception is reality, then change your perception, and you can change your outlook on reality. When you fear something, replace it with a different perception. When you work on this technique, it can become almost second nature. Use the control you have over your mind to control your fear. Gather all the facts, and use them to change your perception.
- Fear is not only painful in the moment; it can also be detrimental to your health. All fear causes some form of stress (along with other things), and you now know that stress is a killer. You must take your fears seriously.
- Ask yourself why you have a particular fear. Look for the root of it. I have seen that many times, a fear I have is unfounded and makes no logical sense. The discovery allows me to move on to the next fear and my goal of gaining peace, happiness, and joy. Ask yourself the simple question, “Why do I have this fear. See if you can figure out why the fear exist. You can control your fear. Is fear in charge, or are you? You can be in charge of your fear and your life. Why not go for it?
- When it comes to facing your fear, your imagination can be your enemy. Imagination is a wonderful thing to have, except when it exaggerates the negative. Many times, a fear feels larger to us than it really is. Be careful of the exaggeration that your imagination dreams up about some of your fears. See the fear as it is, not as your imagination has presented it. Do a reality check with your feelings of fear and save yourself a lot of pain. Do not go to war with imagination. Keep it in check, and deal only with the facts.
- When you list your fears on paper, you might need just a word or two to express some of them; for others, you may need a paragraph or more. Keep it real. Write down only the reality of the fear, not what your imagination wants to tell you it is. Again, only the facts will do. This can be a real stress reliever.
- Sometimes you cannot get rid of a fear without professional help. This is nothing to be ashamed about. Fear can, without much effort, make you ill. Most of the time, people do not realize how much they may need professional assistance, always keep the option open. If you are committed to a life free from the effects of fear, get help if you need it. It is always worth the effort. As Nike says, “Just do it.”
- Self-talk is a good way to make the correct decisions about your fears. Be sure to keep your conversations with yourself positive. How can you be positive about a negative subject like fear? Address the emotions you allow to affect your attitude toward the fear.
- Keeping a positive attitude will help you deal with fear. Use your discipline to stay positive about the effects of the fear on your attitude. It is often difficult, but it is a choice you have. Choose to walk on the sunny side of the street. It will bring you closer to your goal of peace, happiness, and joy throught the elimanation of fear and the emotions fear causes.
- The food you eat affects your mood and your ability to resist the effects that fear can have. Remind yourself that fear is an emotion. Be careful what you put in your body. Remember the old accounting phrase: garbage in, garbage out. Respect your body, and it will serve you well.
- You do not have to stay in bondage to your fear. Break the chains and live a life of peace, happiness, and joy. Battle your fear with positive thoughts and actions. You will never regret it. President Franklin Roosevelt said it this way: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” All change causes some form of fear or anger. Fear can paralyze you and block your attempts to reach your goal.
- When you have submitted to fear for whatever reason, you must admit that fear has control. You need to admit that you are in bondage to your fear or fears. You goal is to reverse the process. If you can’t eliminate a particular fear, work to be in control of it. The freedom you will experience when you have conquered your fear is wonderful and life changing. You can do it.
- Changing your approach to fear actually causes some form of fear, but it is well worth the pain and effort. It is time to gain control of your fear and begin to live the good life. Instead of worrying about and reacting to the negative emotion of fear, grab life by the horns and make a difference in this world and in your life.
You can change in spite of the fear. As Joyce Myer says, “Just do it anyway!”
These nineteen examples are taken from my new book Conquer Change and Win, an easy-to-read, interesting fun book about the serious subject of change.
Ralph Masengill is one of the original change agents in the United States. Before the quality movement came into vogue, he and his associates were presenting seminars and papers to senior management across the nation on quality and change. His company Masengill Marketing Associates has won over 850 national and regional advertising and marketing awards. Ralph is the author of two books, “Beat the Curve” and “Conquer Change and Win“.