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Shannon Downey

Owner - Social Entrepreneur, Pivotal Production

TEDCRED 500+

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How do you overcome fear?

What are some tips, tricks, processes that you employ to help you overcome fears?

Topics: fear motivation
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  • Feb 21 2012: In my life, fear often stops me from becoming who I want to become. When I let it consume me, I get small and become the exact person I do not want to be. Lately I have realized that fear is something that we procure - I am scared because I expect things to go a certain way, I get anxious because I do not know the outcome of a situation.

    I am learning to embrace fear, as someone said above. Fear is a powerful tool, if we use it right. If I look at where my fear is coming from I often discover a lot about myself and why I do things the way I do. Breaking out of the habitual rut of fear that I live in is what is empowering, to me. (:
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      Feb 21 2012: So well said Bree:>)
      Fear can become a cycle, as you say...it can consume us...we get scared...have expectations...anxiety...more frightened...more anxiety...and the cycle continues.

      Bree, you are SO insightful to be able to recognize fear as a powerful tool...understanding it, and discovering about ourselves...breaking out of the habitual rut of fear.....is empowering.....!!!
      So wonderfully well said!!!
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    Raya Gh

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    Feb 21 2012: Just think what's the worst that could happen? It works for me, I always seem to find the worst thing that could happen, not bad enough to stop me from pursuing a goal.
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      Feb 22 2012: I LOVE this answer Raya! I feel the SAME way! I always tell myself, when I close my eyes for the last time, I will KNOW that I died trying!
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    Feb 24 2012: Hi Shannon, thank you for this great question.

    I grew up with many fears and those fears were fostered by the people around me...but what I'm understanding on a deeper level is that fear is learned and instinct is what you are born with.

    I will give you an example....I am terrified of heights...and yet I managed to bungee jump twice! I went through that terrifying process to manage my anxiety and because the little quiet voice inside me said, "It's ok...you'll be fine...you may even like it!" Now, the fear...it raged...it screamed and yelled and raised my anxiety to an almost 10/10...but I'd remind myself that I made the decision when I could hear my INSTINCT....and I TRUST MY INSTINCT....so that is why I was able to jump...

    If you are fearful of starting a business...that is completely understandable...but find your instinct (I hear it best when I jog) and really listen to what it says....it will be quiet, calm and peaceful...it won't be loud, screaming, anxious and chaotic...it won't think of every possible negative scenario that 'could' go wrong....it will simply give you the TRUTH.

    It's main purpose is to protect you...I firmly believe this.

    Fear has govenerned most of my life...but when I finally found the connection to SELF...INSTINCT... I can now recognize it for what it is, acknowledge it, understand it, process it and then let it go.

    It's not easy...but it is possible...

    Hope that is helpful!
    With a smile,
    Tina
    PS. If you are interested ,I talk a lot about fear on my blog. www.the40by40.com Just search 'fear' or 'overcoming fear' or 'trusting my instinct' (I also have photos of both bungee jumping experiences)
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    Feb 22 2012: I agree that fear is a natural (and primal) part of us as humans . The excellent book by Susan Jeffers 'Feel the fear and do it anyway' is a motivational strategy to harness the natural human instinct and overcome it where it has pervaded aspects our lives in a unhelpful way. I do think that the nature of this primal instinct has evolved way beyond its basic purpose and in modern society embodies a hybrid of well founded fears together with insecurities based on our perception of society's pressures on us as individuals and groups. My reflexologist used to say that there exists only two emotional states from which all others derive: love and fear. We must decide which one will guide us the most.
    • Feb 22 2012: Nice thinking Stuart. Societal fear and the fear mongers among us do us a great injustice and disservice.
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      Feb 22 2012: I agree Stuart, that at any given time, we are coming from a place of love, or a place of fear.

      You say..."this primal instinct has evolved way beyond its basic purpose..."
      I agree with you that fear has a purpose. Has it "evolved way beyond its basic purpose"? Or have we sometimes given it a power beyond its basic purpose?
  • Feb 22 2012: Stare at it. Talk to what you fear. I have performed multiple experiments on the subject. I have dived into some of my fears and dissolved some of them. It takes courage, but I have found that, the sooner you come up with courage, the less you need to come up with. Fear saps your energy and wastes time you could be using to have fun. I think most fears start from within you.....not from outside of you. Much of early childhood brainwashing involves the manipulation of behavior by provoking fear. Re-program yourself. Best wishes. You will probably succeed.
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      Feb 22 2012: "I tell you how to stave off drowning. Dive down. Embrace it. The sea will spit you back, astonished."
      (David Brendan Hopes - A sense of the Morning - Nature Through New Eyes)
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    Feb 21 2012: Hi Shannon,
    Fear gives us information, so I see no reason to try to "overcome" fears, and in fact, I embrace fear, which offers an opportunity to learn and grow. I believe emotions/feelings/reactions are meant to flow through us, and offer information from which we can learn.

    Fear, only becomes a challenge when we hold onto it, focus on it, and allow it to disable us. When this happens, we fight against the fear...struggle with it, and resist. With these reactions (fight, struggle, resistance) we actually give fear the energy to exist. Whereas, if we spend our time and energy getting to know fear, and how it truly works, it provides information.

    I like to use one core belief of Martial Arts as an example: Come from the core with strength and yield. You might recognize the logic to this? We can struggle, fight and resist an opponent, using a lot of energy...perhaps for nothing. Or we can come from a place of balance and strength and take care of the issue. It is the same with fear and other emotions...we can continually struggle, fight and resist...OR, we can understand the usefulness of the emotions, feelings, reactions, and move from a place of strength.

    No "tricks" here, just simple choices to struggle/resist/fight...OR... go with the flow and learn, grow and evolve with the process:>)
  • Feb 21 2012: Fear is nothing but lack of confidence....so be bold enough to face it....
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    Feb 21 2012: Here is one. When you are afraid of moving forward with something, try to articulate to yourself what the worst case outcome would be. Then ask yourself whether that is a likely outcome and whether in any case it would really be so horrible if it were to come to pass.
    Truly, I think the best strategy may depend on what you are afraid of. It is different, I think, to be physically afraid than to be afraid of speaking to a large audience or entering your painting into a juried show.
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    Feb 22 2012: Some say this is the whole purpose of life! Needless to say, I haven’t got the answer. Fear can be highly debilitating, however, I find in some circumstances I'm able to talk myself into thinking I'm excited rather then fearful.
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      Feb 22 2012: I agree Heather, that we can sometimes convince ourselves that what we are feeling is excitment, rather than fear! Change our thinking, we change our feelings, and it may change our life experience:>)

      When I started performing on stage professionally, I used to get wicked stage fright to the point of becoming physically ill. Once I was on stage and in character, it was totally gone, but before the performance started, it was horrible!

      A wonderful director advised me that fear/stage fright was simply an energy moving through the body, and with different thoughts, we could transform the energy into something more positive. So, rather than thinking I was going to make a mistake...forget my lines...songs...blocking...etc., which was taking me into stage fright/fear, I started changing my thoughts to..."I can't wait to get out there and do what we've been rehearsing...I'm ready...prepared...and I will do the best I can with enthusiasm. It only took a couple times of changing my thinking before the stage fright disappeared, and was replaced with excited enthusiasm. Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful lesson from years ago:>)
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    Feb 22 2012: I try to harness my fear and convert it into something else...for example, I used to be terrified of going up on stage. I was often forced into these situations at school and was never comfortable. But I was even more afraid of performing badly and looking an idiot, so this made me pour my energies into learning scripts well and getting into the role to the point that adrenalin and focus simply cancelled out the fear.

    I also try and make sure that I don't have enough time to get scared. If I have to do something horrible, I do it immediately, volunteering if necessary, so that I can't dwell on it. Anticipation of something bad causes more suffering than the thing itself.
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    Feb 22 2012: I think to overcome a fear you need to understand it and to understand a fear you need to face it.

    Facing it can be a gradual process slowly building confidence until you can accept it as part of who you are.

    Once accepted the fear fades and your perception adjusts.
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    Feb 22 2012: Fear for me, in simper terms, is lack of confidence in myself!

    I believe, if I can gather enough confidence to prove myself wrong, I have overcome the fear.

    Fear, infact, stops us from even trying! So, I always believe, the best way to overcome fear is to convince your own self that you can do it!

    Some tools which always come handy while trying to overcome fear in may case, is the SWOT analysis, I pen down my strengths, my weaknesses, opportunities available to me and the threats behind and then I try to prove to myself that my strengths are much more in weight than my weaknesses and I have many opportunities and very less threats, so why not go for it!

    Hope this makes some sense! It actually works for me :)
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    Feb 22 2012: I believe there is a level of fear that is normal. Then there is a level of fear that is paralyzing. But then there is the in between and many of us get stuck in that area, needing a little push to get through it. The level of fear that is paralyzing, however, may stem from something physiological or psychological that we may need to "go within" to conquer.

    In my experience, most people that experience this level of fear must first recognize it as something that is not apart of them. It is something that is able to be shed off with assistance. Then they must seek out assistance, in whatever form works for them (e.g. mindfulness techniques, therapy, coaching, seeking more knowledge about the specific area they are desiring to "conquer", etc.). I have worked with many people that see "mountains" before them, but every single one of them that sought after assistance reached the top of those mountains. It is not always easy, actually most of the time, it isn't easy, but on the other side they are stronger and more knowledgeable. Which, in turn, causes that them to be able to assist someone else they encounter (in the future) over his or her mountain. THAT is the true story of man's existence! All the other stories out there are simply fiction.
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      Feb 22 2012: I agree with you :) Yes, there is this level of fear that is normal and we take different ways to cope with it. I think that we can call it "everyday fear". But when it comes to" real fear" it's really hard to fight it sometimes. It's even worse when it comes to us unexpectedly.
      I think that the most dengerous are fears that we, in some ways, hide from ourselves, we act as if they don't exist. If I see the mountains (I like that name in your story) I know what I fight with and the other person also see what is the problem. And what if I don't see that the mountains stand right in front of me?.
      Coming back to the main question. Example: If you want to start selling you paintings then you fear that no one will buy them and that the paintings are not good enough to sell them. Then you ask your best friend for advice, then ask other friends, your family, show your paintings to a stranger - can be a friend of your friend. I think that this way your selfconfidence grows. You need as much feedback as it's possible. Then your fear melts constantly. You begin to believe that your paintings are worth selling :)
      It is also helpful when you get to know something well before you start doing it. When you do, it's esier to cope with that and it begins to be friendly and not so scary.
      You can also tell yourself at the begginig: "What will happen if I don't succeed. Nothing!!! I will try doing something else".
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        Feb 22 2012: Monika you are so right about the "unexpected fear". That is a whole other conversation in itself. In regards to that, I think about how "not in control" of things we really are, although our sanity comes from feeling like we are in control of things. The reality is that fear is always around us, it is up to us to do something to alleviate it or allow it to alleviate us. This can be a life-long journey for some people, but once a person overcomes this fear they are equipped to help someone else. It is promised to us that we all will FAIL at something at some point in our lives (or at many points in some of our lives) but that failure is like on-the-job LIFE training. And living in a competitive, capitalist, individualistic society does not help our fear factor one bit, but it is still able to be overcome with assistance. I have seen it happen way too often.

        I have seen women that have lost their babies in freak car accidents have more children, women that have lost their legs in car accidents stand before gymnasiums of people and talk about "being all you can be even when your legs are missing", I know a woman that watched her father get shot in the face with a gun and now she is a leading a group of citizens to fight against gang crime, while I was pregnant I met a woman from Palestine that watched her family get mutilated, one by one and now she is a spokeswoman for crimes against humanity...I could go on and on. My point is that there are many things in this world that can deposit fear into us, but each of us have within us the ability to overcome that fear. That of course, is easier said than done when the moment of FEAR strikes, but it can be done.

        The unexpected fear you speak about is what can make this life crazy. A wise man once told me that fear was at the root of all the social ills we see around the world. I questioned him in immaturity, thinking it was more laziness than fear, but now I believe him to be completely right.
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          Feb 22 2012: Maranda :) Yes, I agree. Fear is always around us. We experience it from the very beginning of our lives; in our mums wombs.
          I believe that we are equipped with a certain defence mechnism in order to overcome our fears.Otherwise, we would probably die. And yes, people die because of fears, they commite suicides.
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        Feb 23 2012: Monika, sadly you are right about suicides. That is why I believe it is so important for individuals to seek assistance and for individuals to be open to give assistance. I have all too often dealt with family members that have lost relatives that have committed suicide. Fear can be paralyzing to the point of feeling numb to yourself, to your family & friends, and the world around you. Life is hard sometimes, but thankfully there are people that genuinly care for people. Everyday I think about how wonderful it is that even though this world seems to be one big jumble of destructive chaos and instability toward WAR (on all levels), there are good & caring people here creating balance! My heart aches for the condition of man, but I am ever so thankful for that spirit of resilience that seems to be built into our DNA.
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    Mar 20 2012: If I fear regarding anything, I try to get feared more than I recover the previous one and new one helps me to be more stronger by facing fears.:)

    This is a related conversation all of you may love to write here: http://www.ted.com/conversations/9731/what_is_your_motivation.html
  • Feb 22 2012: Some days it is run to the balcony and scream..literally and figuratively;
    Some days it is just to put my pants on and do the job necessary to not be afraid. There is something to be said about working hard.
    In situations where I felt real fear, (even physical), doing the job seems to help.

    My current fear, albeit unnamed here, drives me seek some comfortable ledge from which to survey the situation.

    I like the responses, about thinking about what is the worst thing that could happen....unless it actually does.

    EDIT: Let me add, that at least for the moment, the worst case scenario has not happened.
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    Feb 22 2012: Dear Shannon,

    I'm going to answer your question based on the example you gave.
    I feel that it is perfectly natural to feel fear when you want to open up your own business and have doubts about you being successful or not. When opening up a business we are taking a risk, we are putting a lot of money into a business and hope we get more than what we had originally put in. Life is about taking risks, if we don't seize the opportunities that life brings to us why live at all? We see many people gamble money on sports teams and cards and nonsense but you have the opportunity to invest money into yourself and your own abilities, I say what better odds than putting money on yourself to succeed. If you truly believe in the product your selling and your capabilities as an entrepreneur then I believe you should do well.
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    Feb 22 2012: We must remember that FEAR IS PART OF US and not the other way around.
  • Feb 22 2012: Fear is nothing but our inability to take action or stop taking an action due to an attachment.If we can objectively analyse our fear and become detached to the result we are trying to avoid.We will overcome fear.
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    Feb 22 2012: Acctually, i do think that fear is a self preservation initiative, BUT, fear should be seen as a cancer that if you let, shall devour all your strengh.
    Even in bussiness, or in your personal live, fear will petrify you, leaving you in the same place you started, or worse.
    The best thing a human being should savior, is the feeling " to overcome fear.." once you get used to it, nothing shall hold you back.
    So resuming in a simple and plain way.
    You overcome fear, thinking what is real important to you, and what´s at steak.
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    Feb 21 2012: Bree, wonderfully stated.
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    Feb 21 2012: In something like starting a business, it is useful to recognize that many businesses fail and that most successful people have failed in many projects as part of their careers, not just at the beginning but throughout. So in that case, it may be productive to get a bit friendly with or less negative about the possibility of failure. I once saw a poster that said, 'Mistakes are falling forward."Looking practically, then, and knowing that many business fail even through no fault of the person at the helm, you can take reasonable measures to protect yourself from worst case scenarios. One is not to quit your day job while you work up your launch of the new idea. Another is to "do your homework." While one can never be prepared for everything, one certainly can make sure to be prepared for the predictable things. Doing your homework may include reading or talking with mentors who have done similar things. (I know you gave the idea of starting a business only as example, but I think it may be easiest to address your question via such concrete examples).As a smaller side note, some people hang around with people who, "for their own good" or not, regularly undermine their confidence, like water smoothing down rocks in the ocean. It may be best not to discuss your ideas when those ideas are young with such people. Rather, one might do well to find groups of people also interested in launching plans that might not work. There are even organized groups for this, people who share resources and trouble-shoot launches together. While some people hate the whole idea of "support," (take, for example, Steven Pressfield in War of Art), others would direct you to mastermind groups or loosely organized groups like likemind to provide support in such a venture.
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    Feb 21 2012: I am taking about overcoming fears that limit you from doing what you want to do with your life.

    For Example, you want to start your own business but you are afraid you won't succeed so you don't do it.
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      Feb 21 2012: Thanks for the clarification. If you are afraid of starting your own business you shouldn't. Or you can leverage that fear to make sure you do it correctly.

      Fear is just a barrier. And as with any barrier, we can go over, under, around, or through. The only option that actually destroys the barrier is to go through. So if you want to conquer fear, you have to go through it. Or it comes back as a barrier.
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        Feb 21 2012: Fear gives us information. I agree Linda, that fear either gives us information that starting the business may not be the best choice.....OR....it gives us information as to how we can leverage that information/fear to make sure we do it correctly. It's a choice as to how we use the unformation provided with fear.
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      Feb 21 2012: I will tell you a story....let's see if it helps you.

      A friend of mine loved interior design...her mom made her study business. She worked for the same company many years, until the company closed and she was out of a job. No other job that she ever
      accepted lived up to her first employment out of college, so she stayed home to raise kids....all the time loving interior design, and helping her friends and family decorate or redecorate their homes.

      She feared starting her own business. Well, her husband left her, and she had alot of time on her hands, so she started inviting herself to people's homes and redesigning their rooms for free. Then, as other visitors noticed the extreme makeovers, she started to get paying clients, and to make a long story short, she is now the proud owner of her own business......A little bit of effort and curiosity and initiative and encouraging friends and family is sometimes what helps us overcome our fears. Start small, a little bit at a time.

      Hope I've helped you in some small way.Oh, and here is a quote that I've used with others:

      "The only failure we should be afraid of, is the failure to try."

      Be Well.
      • Feb 24 2012: I don't know how I missed your reply. That is a great story and a great quote. It isn't all just "thinking your way better" to something. Trying is sometimes the best remedy.
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          Feb 28 2012: Yes.....trying is sometimes the best remedy.....It is fear of the unknown that holds us back many times.

          Thank you for your reply Michael.

          Mary
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    Feb 21 2012: Fear is necessary and important. People without it die.

    So why would you want to overcome it? So you could die?

    Or are you talking about a phobia. Fear that is not based in reality. Please clarify.