How to Face and Overcome your Fears

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How to Face and Overcome your Fears

“Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.”

Ted Lasso – UK TV series
Fear definition

This week we stayed in a heavenly off-grid spot north of Lisbon in Portugal. São Julião beach gave us a mixture of pine-clad hills and giant sized sandstone cliffs knitted with spring flowers. The beautiful sandy beach was battered by the Atlantic’s perpetual crashing waves, which made it ideal for the surfer dudes out on their watery playground. It was a nourishing environment that was hard to leave.

With a few walks in the area, I spotted a cliff hike on my app whilst we were sat at the café indulging in a Portuguese Nata. The gradient of the cliff was extreme, or so it seemed from our vantage point. With a sandy base, my heart raced at the thought of hiking up there; even worse coming down. My knees much prefer walking up than down. I think it was too much Step-Aerobics in my 20’s.

The walk that created my fear

Look at that gradient; almost vertical right? And so close to the edge with an unpleasant cliff edge to the shore below. Isn’t it interesting though how perspective messes with your mind? From a distance, our eyes see a challenge. Our emotions scream out messages of fear to the brain. And we surrender to the overwhelming feelings of anxiety. Our mind reinforces our decision to avoid it at all costs, with negative affirmations that ensure our survival, with waves of past conditioning.

Having done a lot of work on and written a book about the influence of neuroscience on our brains and the art of positive thinking, I knew that to fall prey to my mind was not an option. Albeit I would undertake this challenge alone, I knew that I had to face my fear and attempt this walk. I love the coast and I love walking. Those two drivers combined, surely had to be strong enough to tackle my fear.

What was the worst thing that could happen? I get to the slope, my fear is realised and I turn around. At least I would have given it a go. Just to give into fear is just not a game plan in my life. As Susan Jeffers says in her book of the same title;

Feel your fear and do it anyway.

So off I went, armed with good shoes, water and my phone in case I got into difficulties – fear has that paralysing affect sometimes doesn’t it? I had my friend in my mind; she and her hubbie are great walkers, so I took a little video of the hike up this vertical slope as a distraction and channelled their energy as I began my climb. Much to my surprise as I craned my neck and looked up, neither was the slope as steep as it looked from the beach below, nor was it sandy. In fact the surface, although rucked and rugged, was firm and very easy to grip with my solid shoes. And what of the cliff edge? Well the gorse and shrubbery was so tall and solid that going over was not an option. The path was wide and offered absolutely no danger. Now, I don’t suffer very often with vertigo, although I even think that Myles could have done this without any issues. You simply couldn’t see over the edge, so there were no mind-games being played out here.

By the time I had reached the top, my lungs were busting. Although I had climbed this seemingly impossible cliff-face easily, without danger and with joyous views from the top. The happiness I felt having overcome my fear was palpable. The realisation that my fear had created an irrational sense of reality, underlined the power of the mind; both positively and negatively.

Now all I had to do was get back down! My mind had already constructed the avoidance of my descent and a route home had been plotted. Yet, when I reflected on my ability to get up without incident, what was holding me back from going down the same cliff? My mind, distorted my thinking with phrases like, ‘Well you know how your knees are going downhill.’ ‘What if you slip?’ ‘Don’t you want to go back a different way?’

Having climbed up, pretty much effortlessly, I tuned into the evidence I had for my fear of returning down the same path. There was absolutely no proof of slippage, so I could rule that out. Yes possibly my knees could take a hammering, although this was not a race and I could take my time. Managing expectations seems like such an important part of managing fear. And add to that, I really didn’t want to go back along a road with views like this. How often is a return journey entirely different? So, my second strategy of how to face and overcome fear was nailed. And of course I returned down the same hill with ease, pride brimming over at my ability to control my festering mind.

So what tips can I give you about facing and overcoming your fears based on my experience? Here are some thoughts;

  1. Fear distorts a view of something. In this case an impossible climb up a vertical cliff. The reality is so often different, when we are courageous enough to move beyond it. So see fear for what is. A illusion or construct of the mind. Be prepared to look at a situation for what it is and not what fear will have you believe.
  2. Examine what evidence or proof you have for the fear that holds you back from doing something. Sometimes fear paralyses you from even exploring the options. Although when you do, you realise that fear is often irrational and has little or no foundation to hold it up.
  3. Make a choice rather than be controlled by fear. Give yourself permission to experiment, you don’t have to fully commit if you choose not too. Although to be held to ransom by an irrational thought seems on the spectrum of crazy. So, I walked to the point where I thought the trek would be impossible, to assess, gather facts and weigh up my ability. Immediately I did that, the awaken I had that my fear was irrelevant, empowered me completely.
  4. Avoid inaction around fear. Get yourself prepared, get the support you need to help you face your fear and make it easy on yourself. This way, you are more likely to succeed than feed your anxieties with ‘I told you so.’
  5. Have a mental distraction whilst facing your fear. Whether that’s a friend who comes with you, or taking a short video. Something that moves your thoughts and actions to somewhere else other than where your fear desires.
  6. Examine the nature of your fear. Is it a deep seated fear that runs deep within you? Or perhaps, it’s just a superficial fear. If it’s the latter, it will be easier to tackle. If you’ve had decade’s worth of reinforcing of that fear, then perhaps it will take more work and smaller steps to deal with it.
  7. Take small steps. Every fear needs to be broken down. As I mentioned earlier, what is its nature, what evidence do you have and how rational is it? As you dissect it into smaller parts, it becomes far easier to handle.
  8. Focus your mind on previous challenges or difficulties that you have overcome. Examine how you did this and what strategies or skills you used to succeed. Can these be applied to this fear?
  9. Hold a vision in your mind of what facing your fear will give you. What benefits will it bring your life to overcome this irrational thought? With a clear motivation for tackling fear, it will give you a determination and courage to face it head on.
  10. Once you have faced your fear, then anchor your achievement firmly in your mind. With phrases like; ‘I overcame this by…’ ‘I now see that fear in this way…’ ‘I am capable of overcoming my fear.’

Success in overcoming fear

Whilst there are some fears we hold that don’t feel as simple as ‘facing it and overcoming it’, many of them are. We allow our mind to fester and be infested by irrational thoughts that attract high emotion and they can often hold us back. Knowing that there are ways to tackle these inhibitors can be so empowering. And so today, I hope that these thoughts give you an alternative way of looking at fear. I hope that they give you new choices to make, and more importantly, that they allow you to achieve more than you ever believed possible.

With love…


Published: April 13, 2024


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