Why fear holds you back from succeeding
Ever been in a situation where you wanted to try something new, start your own business, ask someone out on a date, BUT – you didn’t!
Fear held you back. You were afraid of failing, afraid of succeeding, afraid of rejection, afraid of getting hurt. We’ve all been there at some time in our lives. And yes, fear does hold you back form achieving what you really want in life. But why? What is fear anyway? I always say it’s only a four letter word yet it has such a huge impact on our lives.
Understanding what fear is can go a long way to helping us overcome basic fears when we need not fear at all.
Fear is vital to survival and protects us from legitimate threats. It is a response to both physical and emotional danger and is necessary to help you recognize authentic danger. Once you recognize danger, the natural response is to confront it or flee from it – known as the fight-or-flight response. In some extreme cases, such as horror and terror, fear can also cause you to become so paralyzed with fear that you freeze.
Psychologists tell us that fear is the most common emotion experienced in our society today. The basic fears that most people experience at some time in their life are:
- Fear of poverty
- Fear of criticism
- Fear of ill health
- Fear of the loss of a loved one
- Fear of old age
- Fear of death
Of course, we experience other fears from time to time, these are the most common.
Fear eats at your confidence
Fear eats away at your confidence levels and self-esteem if you let it. Fear is like an emotional roller-coaster that lives with you day and night. Fear talks to you, manipulates you, and tries to convince you to avoid doing or expressing anything that may cause you any kind of discomfort or involve any sort of risk. It says, ‘you can’t’, and ‘you shouldn’t’.
Fear also lives in your imagination.
In a small village in India, a villager had been visiting a sick neighbor several miles away. Returning home late at night he was walking down a very dark and unlit road. As the man made his way along the road he was already very frightened for this area was known to be visited by dangerous and deadly snakes. “What if I encounter a snake?” he worried, trembling at the thought of one of running into a snake.
Suddenly the man noticed something large and thick coiled up in the middle of the road. “It’s a snake!” he cried aloud, as he began to scream and run in circles. “Help! Help! Someone come quickly! Help a snake is about to kill me!”
Another villager was travelling on the same road that night when he heard the commotion. He quickly ran towards the sound of the shouting where he saw the other villager in distress.
“What’s the matter my friend?” he asked.
“Look! Look!” shrieked the first villager pointing a shaking finger at the coiled-up serpent. “It’s a snake! It’s a snake!”
The second villager was carrying a lamp and he cautiously approached the shadow in the road, held up the light and looked more closely. There before him, he saw a coil of thick black rope that someone had mistakenly dropped on the road.
“My friend, calm yourself,” the villager said. “There is no snake on the road – it’s only a coiled up rope. Fear has made your mind play a trick on you.”
In the story there was no snake. Even though the villager’s imagination was playing a trick on him, his fear was very real. That’s because he was thinking with the emotional brain and not the thinking brain. When the second villager came along, he was able to use logic and reason to see that the shadow wasn’t a snake, it was a coiled up rope.
How many times have you mistaken a rope for a snake in your own life?
Memory is linked to fear
Memory is also strongly linked to the emotion of fear. Something that happened to you a child that caused you to feel afraid might be deeply etched into your memory. When faced with a similar event as an adult, you might respond to the childhood experience rather than as clear thinking adult. You literally respond with the emotions of a child instead of being able to use the logical part of brain as illustrated in the snake example above.
Fear, real or imagined, can drain your energy and immobilize you by procrastinating or not taking action at all. You imagine the worst. You imagine you will fail. You imagine you will get hurt, feel rejected or feel unworthy. The emotional brain stops you from reaching your goals when all you had to do is to look at the source of your fear.
“Come to the edge.’ ‘We can’t. We’re afraid.’ ‘Come to the edge.’ ‘We can’t. We will fall!’ ‘Come to the edge.’ And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew.” – Apollinaire –
To understand how fear affects you, let’s look at the fight or flight response.
The emotional brain
Fundamentally, we respond to external stimuli in two ways, rationally or emotionally. The emotional brain responds far quicker than the rational mind because it usually takes our rational brain a moment or two longer to respond than the emotional brain. Our first impulse therefore is to respond emotionally rather than rationally. In other words, we respond with the heart first and not the head.
Simplistically, our amazing brain is made up of three parts; the Neo Cortex, The Limbic System and the Reptilian System.
The Neo Cortex is the intelligence part of our brain. It’s where the thinking, planning, problem solving and patterns of recognition takes place. It is involved in higher functions such as sensory perception, spatial reasoning, conscious thought, and language.
The Neo Cortex allows you to logically assess if you are in danger. However, when we experience fear, we are not using the logical part of our brain, we sense fear from the emotional part of our brain even if that fear relates back to something that happened in our formative years. Fear triggers an emotional response, which then tells the reptilian system to kicks in which is when we move into fight, flight or freeze mode.
At the base of our brain is the Reptilian section, which is responsible for our survival. It regulates our heart rate, oxygen, blood pressure and reproduction among many others.
The reptilian system also controls our breathing, digestion, circulation and temperature. It also acts like a bodyguard on the lookout for potential threats and decides whether we freeze or move into flight or fight mode. The thinking part of our brain is too slow to make this judgement.
Fear occurs in you as a response to something you perceive as being threatening, dangerous or harmful. It can make you feel nervous, anxious or interfere with your ability to think clearly and make rational decisions. It’s also a necessary emotion to have because the main purpose of fear is to alert you to a very real danger. You need to feel fear to keep you from danger.
When you feel threatened, the amygdala causes adrenaline and nora-adrenaline and cortisol to flood the body as a reaction to the fear you feel. The blood thickens and is channeled to the major organs and muscles groups. This reaction increases your breathing and your heart rate so more blood is pumped to your major muscles so you can either quickly run away from the threat or fight back. It’s the inbuilt fight or flight mechanism, which occurs without thinking about it.
So when you are presented with a threat, real or imagined, your flight or fight response is automatically triggered. The body feels it needs to protect you.
The Limbic System
The limbic system controls your emotions. It’s the automatic nervous system where you experience pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, sexuality and motivation. The amygdala, a small almond shaped mass located in the limbic system is involved in the processing of emotions such as fear, anger and pleasure.
Your emotions are more powerful than your intellect. The emotional part of your brain is designed to help you survive in emergencies. The limbic system alerts you if danger is present. The amygdala is your pre-warning system and is always on the lookout for threats. If it perceives a threat triggered by fear, real or imagined, it sends a signal to other parts of your brain to respond offering an immediate plan for action,
All information to the brain comes through your senses and when this information is overwhelmingly stressful or emotional; the amygdala sends out an automatic fight, fight or freeze response. If in our formative years we learned to fear failure, fear loss of love, fear making a mistake because of constant criticism, we react emotionally to similar situations as adults.
By learning to control the emotional part of your brain as well as use the rational brain, you’ll not only expand your range of choices when it comes to responding to a new event, you’ll also factor new emotional memories into your decision-making process for the future. This will help prevent you from continually repeating inappropriate emotional responses and help build your self-esteem.
Arguably the greatest basketball player in history, he was cut from his high school basketball team. He never let failure stop him.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career and lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
You may have learned to associate failure with something pleasurable like receiving comfort and attention or even chocolates to cheer you up. Over time, on a subconscious level, you see failure as a pleasant emotion for the rewards it gives you. A reason to have a drink, eat your favorite foods (chocolate) go on a shopping spree and buy yourself new clothes. If these things make you feel good, then your subconscious mind receives message that failure bring rewards, therefore why not fail again!
That is a reason to never reward yourself for failure – only reward yourself for the successes in your life. You want to reinforce behavior that bring positive outcome.
Thomas Edison developed many devices, which greatly influenced life in the 20th century. He is considered one of the most prolific inventors in history, holding 1,093 U.S patents to his name. When he was a boy, his teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything. When he set out on his own, he tried more than 9,000 experiments before he created the first successful light bulb.
If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward. Thomas Edison
There is no success without failure
Decide what is important to you and take huge steps everyday even though it doesn’t seem like it’s working. Success doesn’t happen without failures and rejections. It’s reality. The difference is – how bad do you want to achieve your goals?
Fear of rejection
Some people may also fear rejection, which is why they don’t try something in the first place. By not trying something, they won’t get rejected therefore they can’t fail. Most successful people were rejected many times only to get up and try again.
Sales people are particularity prone to rejection. Successful sales people know it’s not personal and they keep trying.
The key to overcoming the fear of rejection is to not take it personally. When you perceive a person is rejecting you, it could be more about them having a bad day or being influenced by other stressors in their life. You just happened to come along at the wrong time and they took it out on you. Alternately you may feel rejected over an idea you put forward, its important to remember they are rejecting your ideas and not you as a person.
Most likely you don’t like or get along with everyone you meet, the same goes for others. Although rejection is an unpleasant experience, using the thinking part of your brain and not the emotional part of your brain can help you resolve put the feeling in perspective.
J K Rowling
At one point in her life, J K Rowling was nearly penniless. Divorced, depressed and a solo mother she existed on welfare. Back then she drafted the manuscript for Harry Potter. Multiple publishers repeatedly rejected the manuscript. J. K. Rowling is the first billionaire author as the harry Potter brand is estimated to be worth 15 billion today.
“You might never fail on the scale I did,” Rowling told the Harvard graduating class in 2008, “but it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.
She was fired from her television-reporting job, as she was not deemed to be suitable for television. She went on to become the queen of talk show hosts with the Oprah Winfrey Show and is now a billionaire.
He was fired from a newspaper for lacking imagination” and went on to create the famous theme park “Disneyland.” Disney started his own business from his home garage and his very first cartoon production went bankrupt. During his first press conference, a newspaper editor ridiculed Walt Disney because he had no good ideas in film production.
Colonel Sanders started his dream at aged 65. He got a social security check for $105 and was mad. Instead of complaining he did something about it. He thought restaurants would love his fried chicken recipe so he drove around the country knocking on doors and sleeping in his car. He was rejected 1,008 times. Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is a global fast food brand and his “finger licking chicken” is here to stay.
The fear of failure prevents you from taking risks; stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals. As a result you end leading a very mediocre life living way below your potential.
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