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Oprah Winfrey (yes, the Oprah Winfrey) quoted me recently in her Oprah Insiders Weekly article: “Interrogate your fear, to see if it’s keeping you safe.” It’s incredibly flattering that Oprah agrees with me about fear. I’ll stop bragging now, but it prompted me to expand a bit more on what I meant by this and hopefully give you some tools to help you overcome your own fears.
You were only born with two fears
Yes… on your birthday, you popped out of your mother with only two primal fears:
The fear of falling
That’s it. The rest is all learned behavior. That’s not to encourage shame or to say that there is no utility in our learned fears, but simply to draw your attention to that fact. Armed with this knowledge, you can at least begin to feel empowered to do something about it!
Related: 5 Fears All Entrepreneurs Face (and How to Conquer Them)
Why and how do we learn fears?
We learn fears in order to avoid repeating mistakes that could lead to our untimely demise. That part is fairly obvious. What usually trips us up, however, is the “how” part.
Because of that sweet, sweet process of evolution and survival adaptation, we needed a brain that could (in essence) make snap decisions for us. The time to intellectualize about whether or not running away from the tiger was necessary, simply did not exist. Adapt or die!
Our brains had to learn quickly about the dangers out there, and our bodies needed to respond to them swiftly and decisively. It’s a common lesson for most infants, that putting their hand on a hot surface or under a hot tap causes physical pain. This very quickly precipitates a “knee-jerk” reaction, whereby they throw their hand off a surface that causes said pain, without thinking about it.
How this is logged in the mind is the key
Because of the need for speed, your conscious mind is bypassed, and your subconscious makes the decision for you. Being a prehistoric organ, however, the subconscious does not understand English, French or any other language. It runs on energetic signals, be they physical sensations or emotional energy (which amounts to the same thing).
As a result, it is very easy for traumas to become etched in our minds, especially those experienced at a young age, prior to forming an intellect. Anything that our subconscious then perceives to be the same threat, triggers a child-like aversion and causes us to behave in ways that we do not understand.
So how does our fear manifest itself when it comes to our life as an entrepreneur? I’m sure you’ve probably either experienced this yourself or seen it in others: the mental block —those times and situations that, for some reason, you can’t bring yourself to take action. Either that, or you find yourself engaging in self-sabotaging behavior without understanding why.
The latter is usually a product of imposter syndrome and the fear of success. Why? Because you’re afraid that success will shine a light on your incompetence, and you’ll be outed as a fraud.
When it comes to being unable to take action in the first place, this can also be a product of imposter syndrome, but more than that, it’s your subconscious fighting back, because it is afraid of the unknown.
Not only is your subconscious programmed by the energies that it’s fed, it also runs on a very rudimentary set of rules. Chief among them is: Same = safe. This is based on the fact that, up until now, whatever choices you’ve made or actions you’ve taken, have resulted in your survival.
Stretching your comfort zone comes with pushback from your subconscious, because it doesn’t want you to step into the unknown. This is why we look up to explorers and those who test the limits. They appear otherworldly to us, because they seem so adept at mastering the unknown. We all want to do it, but very few of us actually manage it.
Here are three tips for overcoming your fear, mastering your subconscious and pushing out your comfort zone in a sustainable way:
Tip 1: Name your fear
The old personification trick.
By naming your fear, and thereby giving it a voice, you can begin to commune with it. You can do this through journaling or finding someone to talk to about it. Either way, the point is to interrogate your fear and contextualize it. Ask the following:
Is what you fear as dangerous as your subconscious makes it out to be?
How likely is the scenario you’re afraid of to come to pass?
Do you really need to be saved from the new, unknown and uncertain scenario that you’re stepping into?
Is your fear really keeping you safe?
Related: 7 Books to Help You Move Past Your Entrepreneurial Fears
Tip 2: Get to know yourself better
You would probably say that you know yourself, but do you really?
You’re here trying to get a grasp on what you’re really afraid of for a start, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that you have some “room for growth” in this area.
Whatever you do during this process, do not bring guilt into the equation. It’s just a waste of energy and forms yet another mental block. When seeking to “know thyself” more, try to do so from the point of view of a neutral observer.
One great place to start is by taking the Four Tendencies Quiz by Gretchen Ruben (she’s awesome, by the way). It’s free, and it will help you understand your tendencies as a creator, and thus understand your actions better.
These are (in a nutshell):
Upholders: want to know what should be done
Questioners: want justifications
Obligers: need accountability
Rebels: want freedom to do something their own way
Armed with this, you can really start to understand how you react to things and start contextualizing your fears accordingly.
Tip 3: Celebrate every step towards your goals
As I say: your subconscious puts up resistance to change, because it represents the unknown, and therefore, the potential for danger. It also runs on energetic / emotional programming.
What this means is that, if you want to reach your goals as quickly as possible, you’re going to need to find a way to calm your subconscious and get it comfortable with that outcome.
How? Celebration! Being unable to intellectualize, and therefore contextualize, outcomes; our subconscious does not understand the difference between a small win and a big win. Big wins, however, produce huge amounts of physical, energetic response, which you can replicate.
If you take a step towards your pre-defined goal, even if it’s just making an inquiry or looking something up online: Celebrate the heck out of it! I mean, physically get up, jump around and whoop like you just hit the big time! This will have a profound impact on your nervous system, deregulating it and your emotional aversion to change.
Ultimately, I think what resonated with Oprah and her audience about what I said was: We tend to take the default view that our fears are valid. We think that they are keeping us safe, because we’re hardwired to make that assumption.
We need to take a more observational attitude, though. Find a way to contextualize your fears, observe them objectively, and recognize them for what they are. Fear is not without utility, but it should not control you or inhibit your progress. I wish you luck in overcoming yours and making progress towards your goals.
Related: 8 Ways to Overcome the Fears Blocking Your Path to Success