How to Overcome Your Fears and Do Something Exceptional with Your Life

How I stop fear from stopping me when something really matters

Photo: Alexandra Gorn

When I ask myself, “how come you missed that opportunity?” and I answer honestly I nearly always have to admit that I missed out because I was scared.

Fear is insidious. It works at many different levels and in many different ways. We even have different names for it. We call it anxiety or stress or timidity.

The way things scare us is unique to us. In one survey I read people rated their fear of mice ahead of their fear of dogs. 

But, no matter what I call fear the effects are always the same. It can bring me to a grinding halt, it can make me lazy or, worse still, it can make me run away.

When I can’t do something about an issue it is nearly always because I am in some way scared to even get started.

It might be that I’m scared of the risk.

Or, I’m scared of failing.

Or, I’m scared of what people might think of me.

It can even be that I’m scared that I will invest a lot of effort or time or money and end up with nothing to show for my investments. (That’s a really effective strategy for not even starting on something.)

I think my most important discovery about the effect that fear has on my ability to achieve is simply to understand that it is fear itself that holds me back.

Once I know that fear is the enemy then I know that I can do something about it.

How I overcome my fears

The first thing I always do when I start to feel annoyed with myself because I am not doing something, or not doing something as well as I believe I should be able to do it is to ask myself, “Does it really matter whether or not I do this thing?”

This question is important because it separates the important from the unimportant, the must-dos from the doesn’t matters.

That makes it easy to discard the unimportant and focus on what will make a difference.

Once I classify something as being important I then ask myself, “What are you afraid of here?”

It’s not just the fear that matters when answering this question, it’s also how it makes me feel about myself.

For instance, when I’m playing golf I might feel nervous about a three-foot putt. I have an inner knowing that missing the putt will make me feel stupid and like a poor player. Both of these feelings are in opposition to my self-image of a reasonably intelligent, reasonably good golfer.

A similar fear might arise when I’m writing an article like this. I want it to be a useful article. I want many people to read it so they can learn how to overcome some of the fears that inhibit them. But I feel a level of fear that my communication skills may not be adequate to the task.

A nagging voice often suggests that I give up. Does it matter? No one will know if the article is never published. Not publishing will keep my reputation untarnished.

But, I am a Personal Impact coach. How can I make an impact if I do not impart good information to others? So, the article is important to both my self-image and to my reputation as a coach.

How does this help me to overcome my hesitancy and write a good article?

I flip the fear.

I ask myself, “How will I feel when I get some feedback that the article has helped someone?”

Now I need to make the article as good as I possibly can so that it helps someone and makes me feel that I am a good coach.

The next question then becomes, “What will make the article useful for someone who is hampered by their fears of getting started and achieving something?

Why are you not achieving?

Because you are not really clear about what you want. The answer is likely to be lying dormant within you.

The Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, “Dig within, ever dig and you will find.”

What is best for you is already inside of you. 

It is likely that you already do it.

When I was younger I thought that the people who achieved things were somehow supermen and women who possessed special powers. It was only when I got older that I realised that they are just ordinary people like me who decided they want something and go after it.

What I never paid sufficient attention to was the things I was already doing that gave me a feeling of satisfaction when I did them. In truth, I was so focused on the outcome that I didn’t recognise what I was getting out of the process.

Quite simply I wasn’t achieving at the level I wanted because I wasn’t doing something that was sufficiently important to me.

How do you identify your talent?

A report by the University of Edinburgh about Talent Identification and Development in sportspeople visualises a 4-step process:

To identify your own potential I would suggest using a similar model in a slightly different way:

  1. Detect what you enjoy doing. It will be something that you do repeatedly. Write a list of every activity you enjoy.

  2. Identify how engaged you become with the activity. Do you get absorbed into the activity? Are you totally committed physically when you do this? Do you do it with or for other people for a special reason e.g. enjoyment, instruction, earning, improvement etc?

  3. Talent, do you seek to improve your performance when you carry out this activity?

  4. Selection, do you recognise that this is something that you want to do at a higher level of excellence?

For me, it is only when I want to push myself to a higher level of performance that I know that I am on the right track. It is the feeling that excellence is almost within my grasp, if only I can make myself a little bit better that is a dead giveaway

Now get to grips with the fear that’s stopping you

As I said, first you need to identify the fear that is stopping you. Is it that you fear you might fail?

Then you have to flip it. What is the exact opposite of that fear?

Finally, you turn up the heat on your performance. You stop thinking about what you might do and throw yourself energetically into your task.

You might get it wrong. You might even be on the wrong track. But you will never know unless you try.

Every successful person on the planet has failed at some time. But that didn’t stop them from eventually succeeding.

The only truth is that you have to be in the game in order to win.