I remember when I was in my teens, I’d struggled with my self-confidence. As I grew up I often avoided doing things because I feared the potential outcome. In my mind, it would all end horribly so I shied away from challenges or new situations. One day, when I was 19 years’ old I headed for the self-help section in a well-known book shop. I looked through various brightly-coloured books, each promising to “change my life”. Then, I came across a rather unassuming book. It didn’t particularly stand out and it was smaller in size than the others, so it was almost lost on the bookshelf. The book that I chose sticks in my mind to this day, even though I no longer have it. It was called “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” by Susan Jeffers and I suspect that most people have heard of it. It was upon reading this book that I gained courage and decided to go and work in America for a few months on my own. If I hadn’t of faced my fear, of being alone, I would never of gained the experience of being a camp counsellor to kids and travelled as much as I did not just in the US but beyond too. I truly began to grow as a person.
My anxiety is something I’ve had to keep in check to ensure that my negative thoughts don’t take over and lead me into a tailspin. The lessons I learnt from Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, as well as those from my client work, have played a huge part in how I approach my own anxiety and fears now. It’s not the situation, but your thoughts about the situation A negative thought and how we can challenge them in order to move. The trick is to remember that the way we feel about any situation is not related to the actual situation, it’s related to our thoughts about the situation. Remember, a thought is not a fact. Example: You have to give a presentation in front of a few hundred people at work or school/college.
Here are a couple of different ways of thinking about the situation:
Thought 1: “I really hate speaking in front of people, I’m bound to muck this up and look stupid”.
Thought 2: “I get nervous speaking in front of people, but I’ll do my best and it’ll probably give me more confidence to do it again”. So, which thought do you think is more likely to trigger feelings of anxiety, and fears about going through with the presentation?
Hopefully you answered with Thought 1! Even with Thought 2 the anxiety and/or fear may not be completely absent, but that’s okay. It’s natural for new situations to make us feel nervous. The difference is, Thought 1 is more likely to make you feel far worse and possibly pull-out of doing the presentation altogether. Can we be totally free from our fears? You might be thinking: “But surely, if we’re challenging these negative thoughts then we want to try and get rid of our fears completely??”. In an ideal world, yes, it would be wonderful to be free from fear. Or would it? Actually, fear is a healthy emotion. It protects us; keeps us alert to danger, even psychs us up for something important (e.g., a competition). What we don’t want is for our fear to reach such levels that we avoid experiences which might actually be good for our growth and personal development. Time to be courageous? It’s good to try and challenge the thoughts which trigger our fears/anxieties, so that you get into the habit of challenging them more. Our brains are hard-wired to focus on the negative, so we have to effectively retrain our brains to think differently. I believe, however, that there are times where we just have to take a huge breath and walk straight towards, and through, our fear. Sometimes we have to do this to prove to ourselves that we can do it and come out the other side (as long as the situation itself isn’t going to physically harm ourselves or anyone else). It is a process and can be scary but the more you push and encourage yourself the easier this becomes. Until one day Anxiety is under your control and not vice versa.