For most people, fearful thinking takes on the form of self-limiting ideas that keep us engaged in the same predictable behavior rather than branching out to try new things.
In most cases, fear is a learned response to a particular stimulus, and as we experience discomfort from the outcome of doing something we feared, we gather “proof” that we should be afraid. For example, we discover as children that we can fall down and therefore become fearful of heights. When put in these terms, fearful thinking can be very beneficial, as it keeps us from doing inherently dangerous things.
On the other hand, fearful thinking often comes into play in situations that aren’t particularly dangerous, even if they are somewhat uncomfortable. In these types of situations, it is beneficial to learn how to eliminate fearful thinking so that it doesn’t hold you back.
Here are four powerful tools you can use:
Don’t Fight the Fear
This may be one of the hardest things you can do to eliminate fearful thinking, but it is also one of the most powerful. Much of the discomfort caused by fear is actually the result of trying to fight it. If you are worried about having a certain conversation or applying for a new job, you tend to feel some anxiety. Most people then try to fight the “butterflies in the stomach” or other symptoms. Unfortunately, this causes them to focus even more on the fearful thought. The next thing you know, the butterflies have now turned into a knot in your stomach. Your muscles tense, you get a headache, and any of a dozen other symptoms follow. We chalk this up to nerves and may even use it as proof that we are right to be fearful.
In reality, however, much of this is a physiological reaction to trying to fight the fear in the first place. Instead, allow yourself to see the fearful thoughts as if you were watching them from a distance. Some people pretend to project them onto a screen and watch them like a movie. Distancing yourself in this way can take much of the urgency out of the feelings and allow you to be much more objective.
Look for Faulty Logic
Many times we stop ourselves from making amazing changes and experiencing personal growth because we let fear cloud our thinking. When you find yourself avoiding something out of fear, it’s time to do a quick check of your thinking. Because we try to protect ourselves from discomfort, we are easily fooled by our own faulty logic. Ask a few questions and look for realistic answers instead of simply believing in the worst-case scenario and allowing it to paralyze you.
Retrain Your Brain
There are certainly times when fearful thinking works to our advantage, as it can keep us safe from physical or emotional harm. Many times, however, it serves little purpose other than to protect our egos or allow us to “save face.” This is fine, but it’s not exactly conducive to expanding your abilities or developing new aspects of your life or character.
Instead of closing doors on your own development, eliminate fearful thinking by replacing it with positive thoughts. You’ve likely already imagined everything that can go wrong and have gotten yourself paralyzed. Now you owe it to yourself to spend some time imagining the opposite. What could go right? What would success look like? What would it feel like? What do you need to do to make it happen? By giving the positive side an opportunity to unfold in your mind, you can retrain your mind to not only look for the fear in a given situation.
Take the Power Back
Fearful thinking stops us from doing so many wonderful things. In addition to feeling unhappy while experiencing fear, these thoughts also rob us of the future joy that would likely come along with trying new things, acting in concert with our values, and developing ourselves to the fullest. When you put it that way, it’s easy to see what incredible power fearful thoughts have over us.
Recognizing that, and being unwilling to give that power up, can be the biggest single factor in eliminating fearful thinking. Reminding yourself that thoughts are nothing more than pictures in your mind can be enough to stop you in your tracks. It can also be helpful to remember that no one else can see what you are thinking; what happens in your mind is completely private, so there is no cause for embarrassment or concern. Everyone has thoughts that are fearful, irrational, and sometimes downright crazy…EVERYONE! Instead of allowing them to assert any control over you however, you can remove their power by recognizing them for what they are. Additionally, following through on what you wanted to try in the first place, and being successful at it, will make it even easier to shut those thoughts down in the future.
There is plenty of advice out there on how to “get ahead” or “follow your dreams,” and much of it is very good. Surprisingly, however, much of it also boils down to different versions of the same thing: eliminate fearful thinking. Whether you find yourself annoyed by your own procrastination or have a full-fledged panic disorder, every single person deals with the repercussions of fearful thinking.