March 28, 2015

How to Overcome your Fears & Start Living.

caged bird, in a cage, singing bird

What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid of failure? Are you afraid of success? Are you afraid of showing your true self to the world ? Are you afraid of being vulnerable? We are all afraid of something. Many of us choose to let our fears control us. We choose to avoid them rather than confront them. That’s what I did for most of my life. I locked myself up in a safe comfortable box, but in doing so I lived a life less than I wanted and I limited my ability to contribute to the world around me.

My fear of speaking in front of people was paralyzing. Most people thought that I was simply shy and maybe that’s what shyness is—a fear of communicating with others—but my shyness was not something that I was willing to accept any longer as a personality trait. You see my shyness was extreme and even extended to my friendships.

The idea of going to a party terrified me. Even attending a small gathering of friends made my heart pound. If more than one person was listening when I spoke I froze. My throat tightened. My brain seized up, and I was unable to finish my thoughts.

My fear of dealing with other people prevented me from having close friends. It prevented me from grabbing hold of obvious opportunities. It prevented me from contributing to this world to the best of my capabilities.

When you realize that your fear is holding you back you have to make a choice. Do you let your fear determine how far you can go in life, or do you overcome that fear and live the life you’ve dreamed of living? The choice is yours and what you choose will determine the direction of your future.

I decided to deal with my social anxiety seven years ago. I decided, and then I sat on that decision for six more years and did nothing. I think we all do that sometimes. The idea of doing something different, of facing your fears, can be so paralyzing that you are unable to act right away. Six years is a bit ridiculous, but at least I eventually got around to doing it.

Here are the steps I took I finally took to help me overcome my fear of speaking in front of people:

1. Make a plan.

I decided that the best way to deal with my fear of speaking to others was to face the worst possible scenario head on. For me that was public speaking. I decided that I would join Toastmasters International to learn how to talk more effectively in front of people.

For those of you who don’t know, Toastmasters is a public speaking club. Most towns and cities have at least one. For me the idea of getting up in front of people to speak was so terrifying it made my knees shake and my throat tighten. That’s why I had to do it every week. Almost every week I have the opportunity to stand in front of a room full of people and experience intense fear.

I call it an opportunity because that’s what it is. Every time I am able to improve myself by facing my fears is an opportunity.

2. Follow through.

Since joining Toastmasters I’ve considered quitting several times, but I know that quitting isn’t really an option. I’ve committed to doing this for at least a year before I will allow myself to quit. A year may seem like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things it’s really a drop in the bucket. By the end of a year I’m sure I will make strides in my speaking ability and my comfort in dealing with others.

3. Don’t let setbacks stall you.

I won’t lie. It was absolutely terrifying at first. The very first time I spoke in Toastmasters I stood in front of the group in stunned silence. I couldn’t think of anything to say. It was embarrassing and difficult.

I could’ve quit after that. I could’ve run away and hid, but I didn’t. I went back to the meeting the next week.

As time passed, it got easier. I can now stand up in front of the group and deliver a speech. I still feel the butterflies in my stomach beforehand. I have that sense of nervous anticipation as I prepare for a speech, but each time I give one I get better. My fear is nowhere near as bad as it was when I first joined the group.

When you try to change you can’t expect it to be easy. Doing something different is difficult. You’re cutting a new path through the jungle. That takes work. Your brain will resist it. It will want to do what you’ve always done in the past. It will want to be comfortable again, but you must resist.

If you really want to overcome your fears you must be willing to step into the shadowy places that you would’ve always avoided. It takes a commitment to working through what is holding you back and saying NO to fear.

Armed with a plan that you’re willing to stick to, I’m confident that you will be able to overcome your fears and work toward living the life of your dreams.

Relephant Reads:

Taming Your Fears: Lessons From a Dog.


Author: Lovelyn Bettison

Editor: Renee Jahnke

Image:  Stephen Jones-Flickr 

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Lovelyn Bettison