How To Overcome Fear for Professional Development
- POSTED ON OCTOBER 25, 2023
I love learning, however, the lessons that really have stuck are the ones that I experienced directly or observed directly.
As my son was taking a jump from the top of the terrace stairs, aiming to land on the sturdy garden table 3 meters further into the garden, I am sure he had never considered whether he could fly or not. He was only 3 years old.
For all he knew, it was an easy jump as he could easily see the table, situated below him. Seen from above, it seemed like an easy distance to overcome. Of course, he landed with his shins straight against the side of the table. The empathic mother that I am, I could feel the pain in my own shins as I observed this painful event.
The Impact of Fear
It is clear that he did not make the same mistake twice. We learn from our mistakes.
When we experience pain, physical or emotional pain, we tend to create a rule to protect
ourselves from harm or even death. It is surely a good instinct that keeps us whole,
however, the same mechanism operates after psychologically painful events, and we
tend to obey our self-imposed rules and regulations with more obedience than any outside
authority will ever have. Our fear of failing to adhere to these rules or conclusions
we have made in the past is limiting us, keeping us in a box, and stopping us from
reaching our goals and becoming all that we are meant to be.
Gradually we grow into serious adults with less and less spaciousness to be, to experiment, to play. Even when we know, in theory, and have read about the importance of play and experimentation in order to innovate and grow our potential, fear of failure keeps us stuck to old routines and habits that are no longer serving us.
Life that once seemed like a wonderful and magical playground has become a gloomy world for too many of us, especially in our professional lives where we get evaluated, and receive feedback that seems to attack our sense of self and that is at odds with our ideas about how we should be in order to survive.
In this article, we will explore the power of releasing fear for professional development.
What is Fear?
Fear is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. It is a natural response to situations that we perceive as potentially harmful. Now, how much of our fear is based on a distorted perception of reality? And how much is pure imagination? Do we see real danger or is the danger a fabrication of our imagination based on past experiences?
Imaginary Benefits of Holding onto Fear
I spoke with a very intelligent woman today who is stressed about her children. They are all intelligent adults who do quite well in life.
Her current stress is about a fear that an unpleasant event that took place last year with one of her children will repeat itself. She tries to avoid it at all costs, takes preventative measures, and ruminates about it at night between 3 and 4 a.m. “By stressing about it, she says, I feel like I am sharing in their stress and it is less heavy for them.”
The intention is good but the outcome is not what is intended. By stressing the way she does, out of love for her children, her sleep gets affected, she is less awake during working hours, she makes more mistakes, and becomes ill. The contraction of fear has certainly contributed to her back pain and other physical symptoms she is suffering from.
What we know to be true is often based on past experiences and who is to say that that past is going to repeat itself? Yes, the sun will come up tomorrow as it did this morning and as it did so many times in the past but will the sun be exactly the same as today? And will our experience of the sun be the same tomorrow as it is today? Are there really any two moments that are identical?
The one constant in life is change. And so much of our human emotion is the result of wanting to stop what is or wanting to make a definite change happen according to what we believe life should look like.
It sounds too simple to be true but let us have a look.
To give an idea of what fears I have come across in my coaching practice:
- Fear of failing an exam, so much that it kept my client from studying anything
- Fear of not reaching a deadline
- Fear of speaking up, saying ‘no’ to an intimidating person
- Fear of speaking in public
- Fear of listening to feedback as if the hearing anything short of 100 praise would destroy them
- Fear of making the wrong decision
- Fear of missing out
- Fear of disapproval and subsequent rejection by colleagues and boss
- Fear of being seen as incompetent or dumb
- Fear of asking for what they want; a raise, help, guidance, etc.
- Fear of not living up to expectations; their own or other’s expectations
- Fear of being made redundant
- Fear of scarcity
This list may help you to find a fear that may arise from time to time. We are so good at hiding our fears, pretending they are not here that we may overlook the moments in life where fear shows itself.
Identifying and Experiencing Fear
Now find a moment where you experienced some fear. What happens when you are in fear?
Is there some feeling of anxiety? A feeling of insecurity? Any tensions in the body? Do you feel threatened? Shy? Shaky? Nervous? Inhibited? Cautious? Uncertain? Defensive? Scared? Terror? Paralyzed?
There are many nuances of fear. As you contemplate something you are somewhat unwilling to experience again, notice what is present: Notice if you are focusing on a desirable outcome or rather conjuring up images of destruction, gloom, death, all kinds of things you do NOT want to experience.
What else are you focusing on?
What is here?
Steps to Release Fear
In order to release fear, it is important to do so from a place of safety. In a coaching session, we have the relationship between coach and client which holds the space for deep exploration, when you are on your own, before diving into any uncomfortable emotion, it is important to first take the time to be at ease, and feel safe and grounded.
Step 1: Creating a Safe and Grounded Space
Step one, therefore, is to take the time to simply be, sit comfortably in a chair, breathe in and out, and relax into this moment. There is nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing to achieve. Just be.
Step 2: Acknowledging the Presence of Fear
Step two, acknowledge the fear.
Recognize the fear that is present. Could you let it be here?
“Of course not!” the mind will say. Remember, I am asking you, the real you, not your beliefs or worldview, not your memories, but the you that is infinitely bigger and vaster than your body and your mind.
Just welcome the fear. Notice it as it is. It is here anyway, whether you like it or not and when you are suppressing an emotion, you have to hold onto it in the same way that when you are keeping a ball underwater, it takes effort. After a while, you may forget that you are holding onto the ball and all the while you are feeling the tension in the body. When you simply acknowledge the existence of the present emotion, there is a softening, a letting go of that unconscious effort to suppress or keep it under water.
Step 3: Letting Go of the Desire to Change Fear
Step three, notice if there is any other desire regarding this fear. Do you want it to be different than it is? Do you want to fix it? Change it? Understand it?
When we want things to be different than they are, we create resistance in ourselves which again fuels the very thing we dislike.
The invitation in this moment, is, therefore, to simply allow yourself to feel the fear, exactly as it is present. And if you notice yourself trying to push it away or hold onto it, or pretend it is not here, or suppress it, or try to understand, to explain it away, to find a cause in the past to explain the fear, if you notice any of these things, just recognize this effort to fix and change and allow that too to be here. Simply recognize the sensations in the body that you are labeling as fear.
Be The Experience
Now see if you can let go of the label ‘fear’ and without describing the sensations, relax into the body and feel what is here as best you can. Now stop reading and allow yourself this gift to be fully present to what is actually here, right now, on a sensory level.
From my experience and having witnessed the magic of welcoming emotions with my coaching clients, I can share that the moment we stop trying to fix or change what is present and start allowing what is apparently happening as it is, we let it be as it is, in other words, we allow ourselves to feel the emotion of fear exactly as it presents itself, in this moment, it is already changing. The trapped energy starts to release and the contraction of fear morphs into an experience of openness or spaciousness which in turn allows for easy access to creativity, solutions, and possibilities. We go from limitation and contraction to freedom and creativity.
Changing Perspectives in the Corporate World
Things are changing fast, and I am happy to see that the corporate world is equally changing fast. More and more business leaders recognize the importance of creating a culture of safety where there is room to include emotions, such as fear or any other emotion that contributes to stress. More and more business leaders are aware of the power of emotional intelligence and have experienced the power of presence as a key element of great leadership. As they become more present and whole within themselves, they can be more present and available for their co-workers and listen to them without trying to fix or change them, trusting the inherent intelligence of life.
On top of that, in companies where employees are allowed to freely express themselves, there is a greater sense of well-being amongst the employees and a bigger investment in the overall success of the company.
Many old-school managers prefer to think their way through life. It is also the way most of us have been trained, to think things through, rather than taking the time to be present and develop our capacity to be with, to listen deeply to whatever is arising in this moment, and create new ways to operate from. In companies that are top-down and still trying to have power over people, there is a lot of stress, burn-out, and hidden hostility, which is a normal, unconscious response to suppression of the natural flow of life.
Rethinking Our Belief Structures
Thinking is overrated and when you are willing to investigate your thinking or your belief structures, you will see that for every rule or recipe of success the mind offers, the opposite is equally true.
For instance, when we believe we are not good enough or feel incompetent, we must filter out all evidence to the contrary. Connected to the feeling is the belief, “I am not good enough” and the images of the past where you failed at something. All the other times when you succeeded are put out of sight.
It seems that the more we are afraid that the same thing will happen again, the more
we unconsciously create similar situations to release ourselves from the fear.
Life is therapeutic in that sense and seeks wholeness. So, without trying, we get opportunities, every day, to learn and grow from the fears that have not been released yet.
Life is our true guru or teacher and presents us, every day, with opportunities to grow if we are willing to look. Fear is experienced as a contraction in the body and can be released. Every time something or someone is making us cringe, contract, or withdraw, we can choose to welcome it, and release it, rather than trying to escape it or avoid it.
Fear and Escapism
As a society, we have become really good at escaping through entertainment, drugs, and instant feel-good strategies. While there is nothing wrong with distractions, when we use these strategically to escape rather than face our fears, we are on a path of mediocrity and steady decline.
If you want to play big and grow to your fullest potential, my recommendation is to use every day as a gift in growth by taking the time to be with what is happening in your life, to notice what makes you go small or unconscious, and to make time to release it.
This is going to create tremendous momentum and will grow you faster than you could ever imagine. Every failure is an opportunity for growth and with every release you become bigger, stronger, and free to be all that you are.
A Poetic Perspective
It is interesting that fear and free have the same sounds in a different order. Below is a little poem with acronyms collected from my dear CTI Faculty colleagues as we work towards empowering our coaches in certification to grow to their fullest potential:
So, dear friend,
Would you like to be free or in fear?
Would you like to feed the fire in you
And burn the limitations of FEAR
Which is nothing but False Evidence Appearing Real
Are you in for FAIL?
First Attempt In Learning
Then let us LISTEN in SILENCE
There is a sea of freedom within you.
You can fly!