Ever heard the phrase ‘feel the fear and do it anyway?’

Brave people aren’t stronger or better than the rest of us, they are just the ones who don’t let fear stop them doing things.  So how can we embrace our fear and use it to propel us forwards instead of stopping us in our tracks?  The answer lies in re-framing our mindset, understanding our physiology and developing practices that move us from being at the mercy of our reactions to being proactive about how we respond.  

We’ll start with mindset. Our mindset is our often unconscious, deep-seated belief system, that left unchecked can trip us up.  The psychologist Carl Jung said, ‘until we make the unconscious conscious it will control our life and we’ll call it fate’.   So we want to become really aware of what we are assuming and our belief systems if we want to transform how we respond to things.  We need to start noticing our mindset, and what lies underneath it.  

When we are fearful, we are coming from what I call a scarcity mindset.  We believe that we lack something, that we don’t or won’t have enough of what we need to meet the demands that face us. This mindset fuels a sense of inadequacy that somehow we lack what it takes to be successful, or have to prove ourselves in order to convince others that we are good enough.  This is where imposter syndrome lurks, accompanied by its toxic friend perfectionism.  When we feel that we lack something we are often driven to over-compensate – compelled to prove to our own inner voice that we are good enough.  This in turn flips us into another fear based way of thinking – that we can never do enough.  

If we are able to catch ourselves coming from this place – notice our thinking, reactions and assumptions are scarcity based, then we can start to make a choice to replace it with what I call an ‘enough mindset’ where we focus on what we have, not what we lack.  An enough mindset is based on the belief that we are loveable exactly as we are – with all our flaws and talents.  Of course, we can change and grow, but as a starting point, we are simply who we are and that is enough, in and of itself.  For many of us, this is the work – to spend time learning to accept ourselves exactly as we are.  The move from fear to acceptance is useful because, we can replace a critical voice with an appreciative one.  

The practice that really helps transform our mindset from scarcity to enough is learning to focus on appreciation and gratitude. Focus on what we have not what we lack.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of dwelling on what we don’t have enough of, or what we do wrong or lack somehow – and when we’re down, sometimes that’s the only voice we hear.  So get yourself into the daily habit of thinking of one thing every morning that you DO HAVE, that you appreciate, that you’re grateful for.  Don’t look for big things – seek out the small moments.  Notice what you have that you are glad about.  Think of something about yourself that you appreciate.  This change in focus each day can slowly transform our fear about what we lack into energy for what we have.  It’s an internal confidence transformation, and the more you do it, the more it grows.  Confidence is contagious – the more we practice it, the more it spreads.   

The second focus for us to turn our fear into an energy boost lies in learning to understand how our bodies and brains work.  This is especially the case when our fear manifests as nervousness.   The surprising truth about the impact of feeling nervous on our bodies is that the physiology of fear is remarkably similar to that of excitement.  

Think back to a time when you were really nervous about doing something.  Perhaps your heart started to beat faster, your mouth went dry, you felt hotter or got butterflies in your tummy.  Now think of when you were last really excited about something – it’s a very similar feeling right?  So when we notice the physical feelings – we can replace our narrative of being scared, with one of being excited.  The physiology is identical, and instead of it getting in our way, we can harness it to perform even better. 

The key here is that it is how we interpret our feelings that determines how we respond.  When you’re nervous about something it’s likely that you’ll be tentative, reluctant, closed off and feel negative. Whereas if you are excited about something instead, you’ll respond in a really different way; perhaps you’ll be more open, curious, energized and positive.  Once again, attitude really does have a big impact on our ability to face our fears.  

The next time you are fearful about something, see if you can replace the fear words like ‘nervous’ and ‘scared’, with their positive cousins – like ‘excited’ or ‘looking forward’.  The more you repeat this pattern of thinking, the stronger it becomes.  It’s forming a new neural pathway in our brain which gets stronger with use.  

Once you’ve started to re-set the thinking patterns in your mind, the next thing is to focus on how you can stay coherent in the present moment, even when your heart is pounding.  The key to that is regular, steady breathing.  When we are breathing deeply into our abdomen – to an even count (say each inhale and exhale to the count of five) we are telling our nervous system that we are not in danger.  This sends a message to the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ part of our brain called the amygdala, that is triggered when it perceives danger to say “it’s ok, we’ve got this”.  When we can control this re-active part of our systems, it means that we can start to harness our adrenalin and the physiology of excitement instead of getting tripped up by it.  

So the next time you feel a nervous about something, imagine that you are exited, practice good breathing and embrace the challenge.   Harnessing your energy will help you to stay in the present moment and find flow.  Then notice how good you feel afterwards so that you can remember that for next time.  Once again, the more you do it, the easier it gets.  

The key to transforming fear into an energy boost is getting really good at noticing what’s going on for us.  Start noticing what you are assuming when you are fearful.  And notice what’s going on in your body.  Once you’ve brought this into awareness, take a moment to pause and reflect; choose what response you want and then re-set your mindset, your breath and your attitude.  It really does turn fear on its head and turns it instead into energy that can enhance our day to day lives for the better.  

Related articles