How to Overcome Fear

What’s holding you back?

I’m afraid of the cold.

I love being outside, and activities like running, hiking, and climbing are a big part of my life, but when it comes to doing any of those things in the cold, I hesitate — for a long time.

I picture myself standing outside, shivering, blowing on numb fingers. In these pessimistic daydreams, it’s typically also dark, raining, and I’m stranded a long way off from my car or my house with hours of miserable travel left to go.

Usually, these worries make me hesitate long enough that I run out of time to do whatever it was I was planning to do, and instead, I end up back in my regular routine. I go back to living a life that is good and predictable and feels safe, but it’s a life that conspicuously lacks any of the newness, courage, and adventure that I really desire.

I allow my fear of the cold to keep me from pushing the boundaries of my life, and as a result, everything stays the same. If anything, the distance between who I am now and who I want to be widens every time I let fear keep me from putting on my running shoes or my climbing gear.

Do you have any fears like this in your life? Are those fears keeping you from making progress with the things you care about?

Everyone struggles with fear, and our fears change depending on what we care about most. The good news, though, is that we don’t have to tackle all of our fears at once to make progress — just the ones that are holding us back right now.

If you’re in this place, and you have a fear that is keeping you from the life you want, here are three steps to start overcoming that fear:

1. Be more specific. Take some time to figure out exactly what you’re afraid of. For example, I’m not really afraid of the cold — in fact, I enjoy the cold when I’m taking a winter walk to a coffee shop or sitting inside and watching it snow.

What I really don’t like is the idea of being helpless in the cold. I worry about being underprepared, at the mercy of my surroundings, without a good escape route. Already, these problems seem easier to solve. I may not be able to control the weather, but I can control how well I plan my trips outside so that I’ll feel prepared even if the temperatures are lower than I’d like them to be.

2. Stop talking about your fear. This may seem contradictory to the first step, but there’s a big difference between being honest and analytical with yourself and inflating your fears through conversation with others.

We talk about the things that are important to us, right? We talk about how we spend our days, our plans for the future, and the restaurants, movies, people, and sports we do or don’t like. All of this, over time, becomes part of who we are because our internal thoughts and the way we present ourselves to others tend to reinforce one other.

In other words, the more you talk about your fears — even if you’re talking with friends who just listen and empathize — the more you’re reinforcing that fear in your own mind. Then, when you finally decide to confront that fear, you have to overcome the mental walls you’ve built up around it in addition to the fear itself.

3. Make a big deal out of your progress. Chances are, overcoming your fear will take a little time. Rarely can we dump our fears through a single herculean act of will (although if you can, then by all means, do so). For most of us, it takes practice and chipping away at our fears little by little.

As you work through your fears, always remember to celebrate the small victories — the times when you confront your fear and come away feeling an ounce more confident.

For me, this means that every time I brave the cold, I remind myself once I get back to somewhere warm, “Hey, you just did something outside in the middle of winter, and you didn’t die! In fact, you had a lot of fun.”

It may sound silly, but taking a moment to remind yourself of small successes will keep your attention on your progress and boost your forward momentum.

If fear is the only thing standing in your way, it’s time to do something about it.

Don’t let fear keep you from your future.

Instead, use these three steps to begin making your mind and body stronger than your fear until you can once again make confident strides toward the life you want to live.

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