Stop letting fear get in the way of what you want

When you learn that every jump takes you to the destination that matters, and that you can navigate the waters you're in, you break free from anxiety and overcome fear, discovers Lauren Cook

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Fear is a powerful demotivator, but reframing those thoughts can help you overcome fear and thrive instead. Here’s why you should take that leap of faith.

Imagine yourself staring up at a 33ft diving board. You can feel your stomach dropping already, but you start to climb the ladder. You may notice that your knees are buckling, your hands are clammy, and it’s starting to feel hard to breathe.

As you get to the top of the diving board, you look down and start to feel a little wobbly. You may mutter an expletive or two under your breath because, dang, this is higher up than you realised.

As you stand on the edge, you look down at the water below.

This is the moment. Do you jump in? Do you take that leap of faith? Or do you step back and feel the board tremble?

Whether or not you’ve stood on a high dive before, we’ve all been there before, figuratively speaking. It’s that feeling right before we get on stage to give a speech, before we tell someone we like them, or before we tell someone they’ve hurt us.

With each jump, we realise something profound. We learn that we can swim. We learn once we hit the water that we’re capable. We see that we are no longer a victim of our fear. We also start to see that the feeling of vulnerability doesn’t last forever. When we go for it, there’s a sense of bravery that no one can ever take away from us. We see in that moment that we are more powerful than our anxiety.

So where are you in this narrative? Are you jumping in – or slowly stepping away from the edge of the board? The problem is, when it comes to anxiety, many of us sit on the ledge and just look down. We wonder, ‘What if I can’t swim?’, ‘What if I hit my head?’, ‘What if it’s scary?’, ‘What if the water’s cold?’

Here’s the translation: What if they reject me? What if I fail? What if I look like an idiot? What if? What if? What if? Let’s break these ‘what-ifs’ down and reframe them as what they may actually represent:

‘What if they reject me?’
The reframe: Rejection is actually a great gift and a time-saver. Rejection helps us identify the people and experiences that may not be for us, so that we can get on to finding the right opportunities and connections instead.

‘What if I fail?’
The reframe: You’ll learn invaluable information each time you fail. It will sharpen your skills for next time around. ‘Failure’ is a sign that you are showing up for your life and putting yourself out there so that you can learn.

‘What if I look like an idiot?’
The reframe: If someone judges you for putting yourself out there, that says more about their own insecurities. Yes, being a beginner may mean you look silly or even ignorant. Trust that others will have compassion for your learning process, and give yourself credit for leaning into growth.

Image: Shutterstock

If you’re feeling stuck, you need to ask yourself this question: ‘When I look back on my life, do I want to have lived bravely, jumping off my diving board, or do I want to have stayed where I was?’ When we think about where we stand, this is ultimately highlighting the difference between five seconds of courage and five minutes or five years of regret.

We’ve all been there before. Whether you literally got on a diving board and then turned around, or you passed on a potentially great opportunity, you may find yourself wondering, ‘What if I had been brave?’ Ironic, isn’t it, that the ‘what-if ’ question is coming back around.

So… what if? What if you were bold enough to believe you had a chance? What if you just went for it? What if you saw what was on the other side?

Think of all the times you have been brave enough to dive in. I guarantee, every time you’ve made a choice in your life out of courage, rather than fear, something transformative has happened. An incredible person may have come into your life. You may have created something magnificent for others to enjoy. You may have learned something invaluable that no one can ever take away. Major bonus: that anxiety that was trying to stop you also probably got a lot smaller. Every time we face a fear, anxiety loses its power, brick by brick.

We all know the opposite feeling, though. It’s that feeling when we don’t jump off the board and we turn around to climb back down the ladder. But let’s be honest, when we crawl back down, internally, it feels so good for a split second, doesn’t it? That relief of avoidance is tremendous. It’s that text where we cancel our plans for the night, the day we call in sick when we’re totally fine, and that moment when we say, ‘Count me out’. It can feel glorious.

But what about after that initial moment of relief? We start to hear that little voice in our head say, ‘But what if you did it? What if you jumped in the pool?’ There’s that darn ‘what-if’ again.

But, sometimes, we’ll never know. Some of us try to go through life never getting in the pool. We’ve convinced ourselves that we can’t swim. Now, I’m not trying to guilt or shame you. Sometimes we do have to pull back. Sometimes the board is too high and if we took that leap, we’d end up with a broken leg. This is where you need to have some self-compassion.

Sometimes you do need to say no and walk off the diving board. That’s totally okay. We have to take a break sometimes, and when you do pull back, be kind to yourself in that process. Being brave and vulnerable takes a lot of mental (and physical) energy, and sometimes we simply don’t have it. Shaming ourselves isn’t going to make it any easier to jump next time.

However, we need to get back on the board when we can (and likely before we’re fully ready). It’s not meant to be easy. We have to be intentional about giving ourselves that little nudge to climb up because every time we pull back, it gets harder and harder to jump off.

Image: Shutterstock

Take the example of someone who wants to find a partner and is actively dating. At first, it feels scary to ask someone whether you can kiss them, right? They may reject you and it could be cringey if they’re not vibing with you. But if you let this fear hold you back, the bar lowers each time. Before you know it, it feels too scary to even go on a dating app and simply text someone.

We start to doubt our abilities and, sooner or later, we’re in a long-term relationship with Netflix and online shopping. You can see how it cascades quickly because fear can have that kind of power over our lives.

Fear can be contagious, and it can make us feel weak. When we walk away from ourselves, we have chosen the comfort of familiarity instead of the growth that comes with the unknown. And our brains can be so good at coming up with excuses. Avoidance is sneaky in that way, but I assure you, with baby steps, you will see yourself becoming braver and braver.

You can handle a higher and higher diving board. This is because you begin to learn that each time you jump, you can swim and navigate the waters you’re in. You can handle the vulnerability in the free fall because you know it will get you to the destination that matters to you.

It will bring you back to your values and connect you to the life that you want to be living. That’s worth the jump every time. And before you know it, you’ll be that kid who can’t stop climbing up and jumping off the board because you’re having so much fun that you practically forget that you were afraid to begin with.

Generation Anxiety: A Millennial and Gen Z Guide to Staying Afloat In An Uncertain World by Lauren Cook (Watkins, £14.99) is available 19th September

Images: Shutterstock

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