Over the weekend I was chatting with a group of people who had just been skydiving (something I would never try!), and our conversation got me thinking a lot about fear—and, in particular, overcoming it. While I'm not a thrill-seeker, jumping out of airplanes or diving into shark-infested waters, I've battled with my own fears in life, particularly the fear of change. There have been turning points in my life when I knew I needed to make a change in order to make my life better, but I was scared. For months, I'd stay where I was, doing what I'd done, paralyzed by the fear that I wouldn't be able to initiate (or stick with) the change I knew needed to take place.
Change that just happens to you can be scary—but it's often out of your control completely so there's little or no build up to it (and if there is, it's often something you can do nothing about and you have no choice but to face your fear). But when it comes to change that you initiate—such as seeking out a new job, leaving your partner, or choosing to move to a new country—fear is a much bigger part of the equation. Since the choice is within your control, you can put an end to it and stop your fear (even if that means staying put and staying unhappy).
Putting an end to your fear—choosing to stay right where you are, doing exactly what you've been doing—can provide a temporary relief. You no longer have to worry about all of the "what-if..." scenarios. You no longer have to fear that big, scary, unknown future. But if you never initiate the change—especially those changes you know, deep down in your heart, you need to make—you never know what might have been. If you never take a leap, lifting your feet off solid ground, you might never have the chance to soar.
We all want to thrive, to live our best possible lives, but I know what that fear of change can be like. It can be stifling, a constant nagging voice in the back of your mind whispering, It's better to stay where you are, where you know how everything goes. It's safe here. What's comfortable might feel safe, but I've found that, when I know change is needed, it's a bigger risk to stay put than it is to make a change. If you feel like you really need to make a change in your life but are stuck in place by your fear, here are some words of wisdom from someone who has been there and who knows just how hard it can be to initiate change while surrounded by a cloud of fear:
CONQUER YOUR FEAR OF CHANGE BY...
1. Accepting uncertainty. Uncertainty is part of life and the sooner you accept it, the easier it will be to cope with change—initiated or otherwise. Do your best to let go of what you cannot control (the outcome of initiating change) and focus instead on the fact you can control how you see the situation. Know that uncertainty is inevitable, but what's unknown could turn out to be amazing.
2. Looking at best/worst scenarios. Often, when you really think about it, the worst thing isn't all that bad. Now, imagine the best possible scenario. Usually, that's pretty darn amazing. Focus on the possibilities rather than the problems. Also, try to imagine the worst case scenario if you don't initiate change. That typically is filled with regret, something no one wants to live with!
3. Embracing the idea of risk. If you spend your life playing it safe, sticking to what you know and what's comfortable (even if those things cause you unhappiness), you're missing out on the possibilities of what could be. Risks that enhance your life—such as going after a new job or ending an unhealthy habit—are worth taking. Sometimes the biggest risk is taking no risk at all.
4. Starting with small steps. Starting small can help you take big action. When you conquer little fears first, it makes the bigger fear easier to master. Even working on small fears that have no bearing on the big change you want to initiate can help you because they make you feel braver and stronger and more confident. Look for little ways to be brave.
5. Avoiding a "failure fixation." Don't focus on everything that could go wrong. Yes, things might not go exactly as planned, but that doesn't equate to failure. When you focus on the possibility of failure, you're ignoring all of the endless possibilities of things going wonderfully well or turning into something you never expected. Failure is just one tiny possibility in a sea of unknown outcomes.
6. Creating a rock-solid strategy. If you have a plan in place, you're much more likely to feel comfortable with the change you're making. While you can't predict what will happen (accept uncertainty!), there are some things you can do to make yourself feel more comfortable about the change you're initiating (i.e., save lots of money before leaving a full-time career to pursue a passion). Being prepared can help ease your mind.
7. Allowing excitement to trump fear. The reason you're choosing change is because you know it is what you need. There's something better out there for you than what you have now. So get excited about that! Don't let fear be the reigning emotion. Focus on the excitement of possibilities, of a better life, of being happier. The future is exciting and that excitement can override your fear if you allow it to.
8. Seeking sage advice. You're not the first to make a major change in your life and you certainly won't be the last. Seek advice from those who have done it before you (especially those who have done specifically what you're trying to do). Ask what prompted them to make a change, how they did it, and how it made them feel. Also ask what they might have done differently.
9. Ceasing from looking back. Looking back is the enemy of making forward progress. If you keep looking back to what was, you'll have a hard time getting comfortable with the newness that follows making a change. Once you've made a decision to make a change, move forward with confidence and don't ever look back. What was is over; what's now is what matters.
10. Surrounding yourself with support. Change, especially the kind you choose to make, can be scary. One of the best ways to overcome that fear is by surrounding yourself with positive, inspiring, and empowering people. Nix the naysayers and focus on the "yes!" men and women, the people who encourage you to keep going and are excited to hear about your progress.
11. Focusing on certainty. When change seems intimidating, focus on things you know you'll always have (your trusted best friend, your strong will, your creative talents, etc.). Though anything can change (life's crazy!), some things are likely to stay certain. Knowing these can help you when you're feeling as if your life is a whirlwind of unknown possibilities.
Even with these eleven pieces of advice, it can be difficult to initiate change when combating the fear of all that change entails. But don't let that fear be the thing that holds you back from what could be. Life doesn't always put on us on the perfect path; sometimes we have to create our own way. Doing so is rarely easy (and often quite scary!), but when you push past the fear and initiate a change you know needs to be made, you open up a world of possibilities for living a better, more positive life.