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Fears and worries are something we all deal with in our lives. However, if we can learn to let go of them, they do not have to become our slave masters.
Of course, there are situations when we are exposed to real physical dangers, like when thirty-five elephants crossed the gravel road in front of me as I drove through the Etosha National Park in Namibia, South West Africa. Or when a rhino came uncomfortably close to my Volkswagen Beetle. Or when I was in that graveyard spiral, I told you about earlier. In those situations, our fear can help protect us; in fact, this is what are our natural “fight or flight” response system was designed to do.
However, most fears and worries we entertain on a daily basis are not those that protect us from real physical harm. Rather, they are related to things we imagine in our minds. For example, one of the greatest fears that many people have is the fear of public speaking.
Imagine for a moment that you are standing before a crowd of people, all waiting to hear what you have to say. If this conjures a feeling of fear, it is likely because you are afraid of leaving a bad impression, or at least not as good an impression as you hope for. You are making yourself a slave to the opinions of others. This fear greatly increases the chances that you will be very nervous when you do speak. You will not be as focused on the speech as you could be, or you talk so fast that the audience has a hard time following you. The fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fear diminishes your performance, which affects the impression you want to leave.
So how do you let go of that fear? Let’s look at the nature of the fear itself.
The fear is created in our own minds because we focus on ourselves. In case of public speaking, the focus is on leaving a good impression, which may be critical if the speech is given in a professional setting, and thus may affect our career. That is understandable. So, how do we deal with that? What must shift in our minds? When I was in college, I took a class in public speaking. The professor told us that the way to overcome the fear of public speaking is by shifting our focus away from leaving a good impression to providing as much value as possible to the audience. When we cultivate an attitude of service, the natural consequence will be a much better impression. When the audience feels that you care for them and are not self-absorbed, you will win them over. They won’t care whether your execution was flawless because their focus will be on the value you provided them.
An audience can smell inauthenticity or arrogance from a mile away. When we are being real, rather than pretending to be perfect or like we know it all, we will have a much more positive influence and impact. When we strive for progress and growth in our public speaking ability, rather than leaving that perfect impression, our fear evaporates.
The same rule applies with regard to most fears we have around social interactions. The best way to overcome such fears is to focus on developing genuine goodwill and love towards other people. If we do this and act with integrity, striving to become our best self, we will grow in confidence. When we are more confident, we become less self-conscious, less easily offended and as a result much more enjoyable to be around.
Focusing on genuine love for others will cast out many a fear and worry. Letting go of thoughts about what could go wrong and instead embracing loving thoughts and a positive outlook will not only lead to a lot more freedom, it will generate the kind of productive, creative energy that enables us to deal with any challenges.
Letting go of fear and worry is not instantaneous, but a process that takes place in our minds. Just as I had to decide how to deal with the frustration of missing our flight to Atlanta, we can all choose how we deal with the thoughts of fear and worry that enter our minds on a regular basis. It all comes down to how much weight, importance and duration we give those thoughts.
There are three points that have helped me to deal with fears, worries and anxieties, particularly in 2009, when I faced a challenging transition in my life. Before that I had never really had to worry about economic security. Then the Great Recession hit, resulting in a major downturn in the automotive industry. In the spring of that year, I was laid off and given a severance package that covered only six months of my salary. With my wife at home, homeschooling our two boys, my family depended on my income to survive. It was like a real punch in the gut, and a real challenge to maintain a positive and optimistic outlook and not be overcome and paralyzed by fear.
1. Consider the consequences of fear and worry.
During this time, I began to think about and evaluate the impact my fears and worries were having on my mind and my life. This was quite a wakeup call, and I realized how important it was to let go of those fears and worries. I had to make a conscious effort to think rationally about the situation.
Worry keeps our focus on the problem and prevents us from looking at possible solutions.
Worry negatively impacts our mood. “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad” (Proverbs 12:25; KJV). I knew that if I got into a depression over this situation, it would make matters a lot worse.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18; KJV). Think about this in light of our earlier example, the fear of public speaking. If we have love for our audience, we will be focused on delivering value and providing service. Perfect love does not concern itself with an impression or an image we leave behind.
Worry is self-sabotage. It is paralyzing. Fear is the greatest slave master; it keeps us caged. Almost all bad decisions are made based on fear. When fear reigns, rational thinking usually goes out the window.
2. Fear is a form of disobedience to God.
There are plenty of logical reasons for not giving into fear. However, if they are not enough to produce a shift in our mind, maybe our reverence and respect towards God will motivate us to let go of fear and worry. I know it did for me.
We are commanded by Jesus Christ, “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25, KJV).
We are also encouraged to have a positive and optimistic outlook by the Apostle Paul. While in prison, he wrote: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things [are] noble, whatever things [are] just, whatever things [are] pure, whatever things [are] lovely, whatever things [are] of good report, if [there is] any virtue and if [there is] anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things” (Philippians, 4:6-8, KJV).
After losing my job I had to read these passages over and over each day in order to really internalize them.
Many of us feel like a certain level of anxiety keeps us on our toes; however, it does not help us to be calm, patient, and hopeful. When I am tempted to be anxious, I remind myself of what the Apostle Paul told Timothy: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7; KJV). This takes me out of panic and into alignment with the way God would want me think.
3. Facing our fears.
If we shift our thinking from what we fear to what we can achieve, we will be able to act with more courage, despite those fears. For example, after getting into that graveyard spiral, I was scared to get back on that plane again. I had a choice to make, overcome the fear or give up on my dream of getting a private pilot license. I chose the former. That first day, after my adrenaline level came back down, I did three solo takeoffs and landings.
I learned this lesson from my father when I was very young. One Sunday afternoon, my Aunt Ursula came to our house for a visit. On her way back to her house, she got into a car accident which thankfully resulted in no serious injuries but totaled her car. Aunt Ursula was at fault, and my father was concerned that she would be afraid to get behind the wheel again. To help her through this situation, he took her to a car dealership the very next day so she could get her new car. That’s what I remembered when I sat in the pilot’s lounge at Van Nuys Airport the afternoon I first got back onto the plane.
Overcoming our fears is a constant struggle in our minds. We have a choice: either we give in to our fears and become slaves to them, or we embrace the struggle and fight for the liberty that comes from overcoming fear.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What are some of the fears and worries in my life that I have not yet let go of?
- What is keeping me from letting them go?
- What are the reasons I am telling myself why I am holding on to them?
- What fears have I been able to face and overcome in my life?
- What has helped me to face those fears?
- What has helped me to overcome those fears?
- How can I apply the same strategies that have helped me overcome fears and worries in the past to fears and worries I am still dealing with today?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Reinhard Klett, Performance Coaching, uniquely personalized to their specific needs.
As a Certified High Performance Coach™ I coach my clients to apply the 5 High Performance Habits which extensive research has identified to be strongly correlated to higher performance and fulfillment in life. To raise their profitability, I help leaders to develop outstanding company cultures with fully engaged employees.
Another tool in my coaching program is my highly rated book “Letting Go Saved My Life”. Sharing the lessons from a personal story of survival in which letting go literally saved my life, I have inspired many readers to let go of things in their lives, which hold them back from becoming their best, and do the things that matter most to them.
Working in the corporate world for 30 years I have experienced many different corporate cultures. This has given me a keen sense on how cultures impact productivity, employee health and satisfaction, and the bottom line. Hence my passion to coach business leaders.