Breaking Through Your Terror Barrier

I hate being cold. Immersing myself in cold water or being chilled in outdoor winter cold are experiences that raise genuine fear inside of me. I’ve told myself that I would rather die in a fire than be frozen to death for as long as I can remember. Extreme cold is something that scares me.

Gratefully I’m not faced with that risk very often, so I don’t lose sleep over freezing to death.

On the other hand, there are fears that are more limiting. The fear of rejection. The fear of poverty. The fear of failure. These and any other fears that you or I have can really limit our growth and development, whether there is any merit to the fears or not.

In a recent workshop I attended a graphic similar to that shown above was sketched out, making the point that the zone of our full potential lies on the other side of our “Terror Barrier”. What fear is currently keeping you from your higher potential? If you can articulate that, you are identifying your current terror barrier.

Tips for Breaking Through Your Terror Barrier

Once you’ve become aware the fear that is holding you back from greater potential, you can work at breaking through it. Awareness is the first step, but awareness is not going to remove the fear. Here are a few tips to help you break through your current terror barrier:

  1. Give your mind some room for logic.

Fear is based in emotion, often from a traumatic experience in our past. The emotion we experience when we imagine that which we fear, prohibits us from objectively analyzing the true risks and possible outcomes. Let your logic have some space to work through the situation. Doing this with pen and paper helps facilitate the process. Write down the question, “Why am I afraid of …” and then answer the question in writing. Follow up written questions such as, “What’s the worst that can happen to me if …. happened?” and “What is the likely outcome (vs. what I’m anticipating)?” Write your responses from an objective perspective.

2. Visualize the potential

Just as emotions trigger our fears, so can a structured visualization exercise create hope and belief in your latent abilities. If you’re afraid of public speaking, but know it would help you advance professionally or otherwise, visualize yourself successfully speaking. Take time to imagine yourself speaking to a large audience to raving applause with standing ovations. Let yourself feel how fulfilling it is to stand there, having delivered a powerful message that has provided tremendous value to the audience. Dwell in that moment for 3–5 minutes. As you repeatedly visualize successes, even if only in your imagination, your fears will diminish. Fears are simply letting our minds imagine the worst outcome. Why not direct our thoughts to the best possible outcome and feel that instead?

3. Develop your abilities through deliberate practice

If the thing you fear the most relates to an ability you don’t feel capable at, then work on developing your ability. Do it in a safe environment at first, if necessary. Get the help of someone who can coach you to a higher level. This is no different than getting a teacher to help you learn to play a musical instrument. If that thought causes you hesitation, look for training online first, and take advantage of whatever resources are available there. As you exhaust those opportunities look for someone who can help you. Block out time to practice the skill needed to help you break through your current terror barrier.

4. Find your why

A personal reason that is bigger than our fear, will give us the courage to go through our terror barrier. We call that finding your “Why”. If you become aware of, or create a reason bigger than your fear, you can go through your terror barrier quicker than you would without that recognition. Without a why, you may never cross your current terror barrier. If you don’t have a why, then create one.

Most summers, I go to a week long camp with boys. One of the activities available is to sit down in a flow of spring water that is a few degrees above freezing and hold yourself in it for 10 seconds. Successful completion gets you into the exclusive “Polar Bear” club. For the first three years of attending, I gladly bypassed that opportunity, for the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph.

This past year, I decided I needed to face that terror barrier once and for all. I couldn’t teach and encourage the boys that they can do hard things, if I wasn’t willing to do hard things myself. This become my why.

I also realized that hundreds of boys have done it, and they didn’t die (logic). I didn’t have any deliberate practice in this case, but I did manage the full 10 seconds.

Once I had made the decision to do it, interestingly enough, the fear left. I didn’t look forward to it, but it was now a decided reality, that just hadn’t happened yet.

If you are facing fears that are holding you back from reaching your full potential, apply the four steps outlined above, to break through your current terror barrier.

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James Stephenson is the author of Small Steps, Big Feat.