What does the term “fearless” mean to you? Living without fear? Someone who’s courageous, heroic or brave beyond reason?
It’s not that people who behave in ways we consider to be “fearless” don’t experience fear, it’s that they have chosen not to let fear define them and accept that the price for claiming what they want from life will sometimes mean putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward even when they are terrified.
So what exactly does being “imperfectly fearless” actually mean? The term is simply an acknowledgment of the fact that fearlessness is neither absolute nor a genetic trait.
Becoming fearless really isn’t the point. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it. ~Veronica Roth
Fearlessness is, in fact, a capacity, which means that anyone can develop greater courage over time. But fearlessness is also an attitude born of commitment and determination that motivates an individual to gradually increase their capacity for overcoming fear. And the payoffs are substantial, including increased confidence, emotional resilience, and overall life satisfaction, not to mention the opportunity to reach your full potential.
6 Steps to Cultivate Fearlessness
The following steps are intended to gradually change your belief system about your fear, which is an often overlooked, but critical part of the process of creating any meaningful change. Your beliefs are like unspoken rules and commands that tell you what is or isn’t possible and they shape virtually everything you think and do. You can create the best plan in the world to change a behavior, but if your belief system is still stuck on the same old page you’ve already sabotage yourself before you even begin.
Name Your Fear
The first step to overcoming fear is to give it a name and get it out into the open and confront it. Some fears will be easier to identify than others; such things as fear of public speaking are relatively easy to identify while others require a little digging. Anything that makes you uncomfortable at the very thought of tackling it is a good candidate to explore further for hidden fears and limiting beliefs.
Expose Your Fear
Once you identify a fear take some time to try and understand how this fear became a part of you in the first place. Here’s a simple yet surprisingly effective psychological exercise you might try for this process.
Start by writing a statement about a fear, for example, you might say, “I am afraid of failing.” Now on the next line of the page ask “Why?” Let’s say your first response is “Because I don’t want to appear foolish.” And to that response on the next line again ask yourself “Why?” and keep asking yourself why for each response.
The first few responses will be fairly obvious and you’ll be tempted to quit, but the magic of sticking with this exercise is the deeper you force yourself to dig for a response, the closer you will come to the honest truth about the basis for your fear.
What is Your Fear Costing You?
It can become remarkably easy to accommodate our fears simply by avoiding circumstances that require us to face them – but at what cost?
To provide the fuel to motivate change you must be honest with yourself about all the ways in which you have accommodated your fear up to now; what opportunities or experiences have you missed? How much richer and more fulfilling might your life be if you were finally free of this fear?
Challenge Your Fear
Once you expose a fear and become clear about what hanging on to it has cost you, it’s going to be much easier to challenge the basis for that fear and overcome it.
Sticking with the fear of failure since that’s a biggie for many people, let’s say that your fear stems from blowing an important assignment at a job several years ago that resulted in your being fired, and ever since then you’ve gone out of your way to avoid unfamiliar situations or testing yourself in any way to keep from experiencing another humiliating failure.
In the case of any fear based on a past failure or mistake, the most important first step is to face up to the mistake and own it. It happened, but just because you made a mistake or failed at something does not make you a failure. And to give this belief some legs next do a little research to find stories about highly successful people who have experienced spectacular failures in their lives. A perfect example would be Steve Jobs who was very publicly fired from Apple.
Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. ~Steve Jobs
Now I can imagine you thinking, “Ha, well I’m no Steve Jobs!” But here’s the thing, nobody else is you either. You have your own unique talents and abilities; you just have to learn to recognize and value them, which brings us to the next step in challenging your fears – listing your own accomplishments.
This will probably take you some time because chances are you have gotten pretty good at downplaying your achievements. Keep working at this and use it as a foundation from which to build, because now you’re going to use this list to help you work on shrinking your fears.
Shrink Your Fear
It’s time to begin taking your power back by intentionally challenging yourself to take small steps to progressively shrink your fear. This step begins with learning to redefine your fear as an opportunity for growth, and to see how that might look let’s go with another common fear, public speaking.
A nearly painless way to begin shrinking this fear would be to start speaking up in meetings or any type of small gathering where you typically remain in the background. The next step could be taking a public speaking class where you’re surrounded by other people who are also learning to speak in public. Then I’d recommend joining a local Toastmaster’s group. These groups are normally small, consisting of people in your own community, and the Toastmaster system is specifically designed to help members gradually become comfortable speaking in public at a pace that is suitable for all levels of experience.
This is precisely the strategy I followed several years ago to go from feeling sheer terror at the thought of speaking in front of a group to actually making my living in a job that included public speaking all over the world. You may never learn to enjoy public speaking as I did, but then that’s not the point. The point is to reclaim your power from whatever your fear is and put you firmly in the driver’s seat of your life. Whatever your fear, you can gradually shrink it by pushing through the fear a little bit at a time.
Grow Larger Than Your Fear
Once you’ve exposed and begun to shrink your fears, it’s important to not stop, but rather keep growing and challenging yourself which will, in turn, increase your capacity for fearlessness.
There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. ~Nelson Mandela
One of the greatest benefits of learning to master your response to fear is the added confidence and resilience you’ll gain, and should you ever find yourself confronted with unexpected change or a crisis, you’ll be far better able to minimize any potential adverse effects and bounce back stronger than ever.
How about you? Do you consider yourself to be imperfectly fearless? Have you ever successfully overcome a fear? If so, what strategies worked for you?
Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald
Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.
She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.
To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click “here“.