How many ways can a human being be afraid? Let me count the ways… There's all the usual suspects, you know, the phobias. Then there's what we psychologists like to call existential fear. Ugh, do I really want to go there? No.
Let's keep it simple. When we're afraid we are often caught up in an expectation loop. I expect to be able to do or be 'thus and such' and I'm afraid I won't be able to.
For instance, I expect to be able to go to sleep when I lay my head on the pillow. When I don't, fall asleep, that is, I get anxious which naturally kicks up the fight/flight response which doesn't allow me to relax and go to sleep which then increases my fear the later into the night this craziness goes on. We can generalize this process: For fear of falling asleep I could plug in fear of failing at anything or fear of success for that matter. Fear of basically not living up to our self-imposed expectations.
So how can we break the expectation/fear loop? Here are a few ideas to try:
1) Lower your expectations. People see this as somehow letting ourselves down. That's too bad because it really is a key ingredient to achieving our goals. High achieving people don't set themselves up with conquering Mt. Everest their first day in hiking boots. It's been studied. If you want to achieve a lot, start with focusing on step one, then step two.
Anyone who is in recovery knows that if they imagine having to stay sober for the rest of their lives the stress will send them right back into the arms of their drug of choice. "One day at a time." Sounds corny, but it works. When I can't sleep I tell myself to give up on sleep and just relax and be happy with relaxing. Usually I can do that and by morning I'm rested.
2) Visualize yourself at your reasonable goal. Some people call this faking it 'til you make it. I prefer to think of the Michelangelo allegory. You know, the story about how he told the observer that his method of sculpting was to visualize the finished piece trapped inside all that marble. All he had to do was take away the excess.
Visualize your inner beauty, grace, calm, skill, whatever it is and give it life. Sometimes, when I'm nervous before making a presentation, I imagine myself as a Queen of old directing the troops to bravely go forth to defend the nation. I stand up straighter, my voice is more sure. What I feel isn't made up. OK, maybe the tiara is. But the qualities are genuinely in me. The visualization helps me access them. They are in you, too.
3) Replace the fear with patience. You've heard of positive self-talk. Well, this is what it sounds like: It sounds like your best girlfriend or your Mom, if she's that kind of mom, or it sounds like you when you talk to them. Talking to yourself with compassion is so much harder.
If you are afraid that you will never be able to get away from your fears, remember 'Never' is an unrealistic word. 'Never' rarely exists in nature or in human kind. Feed your soul a bit of compassion because life isn't easy and a dose of patience because reaching your personal Mt. Everest takes time, persistence and fortitude.
There are many steps from here to the summit, but remember, each step has an amazing view.