7 Steps to Right-Sizing the Fear of What Others Think
“He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.” – Aristotle
I suffer from Fearwot! It stops me from taking actions ranging from buying shoes to speaking in front of large audiences to promoting my business. In essence, it keeps me playing small and it keeps me feeling really, really frustrated.
Fearwot is fear of what others think. And, it can stop me in my tracks! Let me give you just one small example. I was in a shoe store the other day and I saw this great pair of red patent leather shoes. I loved them, and, they seemed to love me back. I could see myself wearing them and feeling really hip and powerful. But then I started thinking, ‘What would Beth, my ultraconservative sister, think of them and of me for buying them.’ And suddenly, my enthusiasm for the shoes waned. That’s Fearwot in action.
My Fearwot shows up frequently and if I don’t counter it, it can keep me from being my authentic most powerful self in areas far more significant than the acquisition of a pair of shoes.
Inside my head, Fearwot sounds like this:
- “Who do you think you are ?”
- “Who gave you the right to be so high and mighty?”
- “What kind of a person would do that?”
- “If this doesn’t work out, people will laugh at you.”
- “That’s a stupid idea.”
Maybe Fearwot isn’t your particular brand of fear but we all feel fear from time to time. It comes in lots of shapes and sizes. And, unfortunately, no matter how competent we are, how much experience, how many degrees we have, how big and full our tool box is, we can’t be very successful if we don’t have the confidence to use it.
I like to name the fears because it makes them feel less ominous and easier to deal with. Here are some of the common fears I’ve experienced and/or helped clients overcome:
- Fearwot: Fear of what others think
- Furple: Fear of hurting people’s feelings
- Funk: Fear of the unknown
- Fearloofoo: Fear of looking foolish.
- Feable: Fear of becoming a bag lady.
- Fearlure Fear of failure.
- Fearsucs: Fear of success
- Fearfect: Fear it won’t be perfect.
Do any of these resonate with you?
When I feel any of these fears, I know intellectually that there is nothing to be afraid of. There is no saber tooth tiger stalking me. There are no flames lapping at my feet. There are no boogie men hiding under my bed. I know that my fear is coming from some memory of a past event, (the last time I did this…) or anticipation of the possibility of some future outcome, (if I do that, this will happen). In my fear, I am either in the past or the future, but surely not in the present. I cannot change the past and I cannot predict the future with certainty. I can only act in the here and now. So I use my fear to inform me of my next steps rather than to stop me.
Here’s a 7-step process I use to right-sizing my fear so I can take action and be my best self. (I call it right-sizing because I think fear can sometimes be a good thing and I don’t want to eliminate it completely.)
1. Set a clear goal.
Be crystal clear about what you want to do and what outcome you want to create.
2. Identify the fear.
Listen to your inner voice to understand your resistance. What are you afraid will happen if you go forward?
3. Identify your limiting beliefs.
What are the ‘Truths’ you are telling yourself? Recently, I was feeling terrified about pitching myself for a speaking engagement. I felt the fear of it as if I were standing in a pool of great white sharks. I was immobilized. So, I took a deep breath… and started thinking, what are the assumptions that I am making about speakers? What are my limiting beliefs? Here are a few.
- ‘You have to be a published author to be a credible speaker’
- ‘You have to have a 6 figure income in order to have anything valuable to say’
- ‘People that go to this conference aren’t stopped by fear; it’s just me.’
- ‘You have to have an advanced degree to be successful in business.’
- ‘Who the hell do you think you are to think you can do this?’
- ‘Nice girls are humble and don’t promote themselves.’
- ‘If I screw it up, everyone will be talking about what an idiot I am. I’ll be done, cooked, career over.’
4. Seek contrary evidence.
Look for examples of times when those limiting beliefs and assumptions were NOT true. When I tested my assumptions, here’s what I realized:
- ‘I’ve heard lots of great speakers who haven’t written books and who don’t have 6 figure incomes.’
- ‘I’ve had conversations about fear with lots of women in all stages of their lives and their careers and they all experience it, even the most confident looking ones.’
- ‘I’ve done this presentation to smaller groups several times and gotten positive feedback.’
- ‘I do have a lot to say and a lot to offer.’
- ‘You’ve got to start somewhere… people aren’t born a successful. You create your success one step at a time. At least I’m swinging the bat.’
- ‘There are plenty of successful women business owners who don’t have advanced degrees’
- ‘This is part of my mission to help people soar to success. I need to share this gift.’
Finding contrary evidence takes the power out of the negative self-talk and brings you back to the present. It allows you to see the possibilities again.
5. Visualize yourself being successful.
See and feel what it is like to be on your game. As I disempowered my limiting beliefs and diffused my fears, I could feel the excitement build in my body as I imagined myself on-stage, full of energy, power and inspiration, the audience engaged, laughing with me, nodding in identification with points I was making. Feeling that energy, from my visualization, I could come back to the present and get into action.
6. Develop and write down an action plan.
Break your goal down into concrete, doable steps and document it. That way, when you get up in the morning, you have a sense of direction. You don’t have to figure out what to do. Your roadmap is laid out. You just need to follow it.
7. Get started and get support.
Now you are ready to get moving with confidence and a sense of purpose. To insure against those demons taking up residence in your head again, get support from others.
I drafted the proposal, I shared it with trusted friends who gave me feedback and suggestions. I kept revising it until it felt right. I submitted it. I followed up. I welcomed feedback. I stayed in the present and just took one step at a time. And all along the journey, I kept reaching out to people who could keep me grounded, hold me accountable, be my cheerleaders.
And, from time to time, as fear crept back in at various stages of the process I had to repeat some of my earlier steps.
And, do you know what happened? I got that gig and I rocked that stage and more importantly, I proved to myself that I could do it. And it wasn’t perfect, and some people probably didn’t like, it but I didn’t die! And the next time it will be a little easier. And there will be many next times.
P.S. I did buy those shoes, and when my sister saw them, she loved them. She said she wished she could wear them but she said she can’t wear heals this high… so, all that fearwot was for naught. I had made it all up. Do you ever do that?
Photo by JohnONolan