7 Steps to Right-Sizing the Fear of What Others Think

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.

Sound familiar?

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

34 thoughts on “7 Steps to Right-Sizing the Fear of What Others Think”

  1. I love the idea of naming the fears! It really does make them seem less scary. This is weird, it seems like articles about self-limiting fears are popping up everywhere these days! That’s a great thing because those self-limiting beliefs are exactly my biggest flaw. There are tons of things I end up not pursuing because I have all these questions about what OTHERS think of me. Who cares what they think?

    I’ll try my best to remind myself of the contrary evidence. One person doesn’t like my writing? That doesn’t mean I’m a terrible writer! There are many other people out there who subscribe daily and are evidence to support that I’m doing alright. Thanks for the wonderful article, Cindy.

    1. Vincent, Thanks for your feedback! I too have noticed many articles on fear. It seems that quite recently, it has become OK to even say that nasty 4 letter word and stare it down! Congratulations to you for continuing to write, knowing that everyone won’t embrace your message. As you say, Who cares?

  2. There are 10 primary feelings we develop as children and fear is one of them. My fear haunted me all of my life until I began to explore the stage I decided to make this one stronger than the rest. Once I understood the roots, fear lost its power over me. It is still there lurking, it just does not rule me as it did. Good reminder, thanks!

    1. Thanks, Joan. What are the other 9 primary feelings? Focusing on the positive ones is another way of ‘right-sizing’ the negative ones. And, yes, understanding where your fear comes from and realizing they are old tapes helps! Glad it has lost its power over you!

  3. Researching my book I came across many good quotes and advice but none as useful as the following from British doctor and preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who said in his
    book Spiritual Depression: Its Cause and Cure, “Most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself rather than talking to yourself.”

    Whenever that little voice inside starts telling me how bad something is or will become, I stop and make me listen to me, reasoning out the facts and fictions. The result is much more often than not a situation I can deal with; one nowhere near as bad as I initially feared.

  4. Cindy, I love your article! I love the idea of naming your fears. I like the ones that sound the most goofy. That’s a great way to “right-size” the fears that we all have. We sometimes have have to remind ourselves that everyone has these fears. The people who learn to overcome these fears are the true heroes of history. They are the inspiration we all need to remember when facing our own fears.
    To Vincent: perhaps you are noticing so many conversations about the topic of overcoming fears because subconsciously, it is the message you most need to hear. Good luck to you sir.
    Great article Cindy!

    1. I should also say, it helps me to ask myself two questions.

      1. What’s the worst that can happen? Usually, the answer is incredibly dumb. and
      2. What’s the best that can happen? The answer to the second question is usually motivation enough for me to get over, or rather, get around my fears.

      Most of the time, the real outcome of moving forward in spite of my fears is somewhere very near the answer I give myself to question 2. More often than not, the outcome of “just doing it, fear be damned”, is success.

  5. LOL. This was too funny. I have been suffering from chronic fearwot. But fortunately, since dedicating 2013 to the year of fearlessness, I am quickly recovering from it. It is funny how fearwot has wreaked havoc on some areas of my life, while others, it has left alone. Recently, I have been living by one of my favorite quotes by Bill Cosby “decide you want it more than you are afriad of it.” This has helped me to manage my fearwot and take back control of my life.

    1. Hey LIsa- I love the Bill Cosby quote! I’m guessing that the areas where fearwot doesn’t stop you is the areas where you feel the greatest level of self-confidence. Where we get shaky is when we aren’t sure of ourselves. So, we need to be ok with not being 100% certain and trust ourselves anyway! Here’s to your Year of Living Fearlessly! Cheers.

  6. Hey, Cindy. Loved your post,(and your taste in shoes). One of my fears, is the know-it all crowd. You know, everyone in your close circle who states their opinion whenever you do something. I call them ‘the jury’ because it feels like it. The jury being family and friends. I have been living with a jury all my life and it is one of my big energy drainers and roadblock on moving forward because I dread what will come when I make a move,(or by a red-leather pants in my case which my sister hates ;) ).
    Have you any tip on how I can deal with this? Apart from moving to Australia?

    1. HI Everine,
      Sometimes, the people in our close circle have a vested interest in our staying just they way we are. It’s safe for them. If you shine brightly, what does that mean for them? Of course, we know it means whatever they make it mean which has nothing to do with you but that’s sometimes hard to see. Perhaps you could replace your jury with a hand picked one of your own… people who will support your choices and help you grow! I hope this quote from Marianne Williamson inspires you.

      ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’

  7. Great article! We are so restricted by fear of what is usually irrational and would probably never happen. Sometimes we are too critical of ourselves and let the fear control our actions. Definitely relate to all of those fears at some point in my life – some more than others. Time to get rid of the fear and get on with a fearwotless life!

  8. Cindy, I love the words you made to name each type of fear – to varying degrees, I believe I’ve had them all at one time or another!

    What usually gets me going is Fear of Living an Unfulfilled Life, so I am always seeking ways to overcome my fears. I’d rather fail at a few things than lived “safely” my whole life.

    The scariest thing I ever done was leave my teaching job to start a business with my husband. We realized that the one thing we wanted more than anything else was to be together, so why would we work 60+ hours away from each other every day?

    Thank you for adding to my stockpile of weapons to fight fear!

    1. Fear of LIving an Unfulfilled Life– what a great motivator to right-sizing any fear that might stand in the way of that! Thanks for adding a positive driver to the list! And congratulations on your bold move!

  9. Well the timing is right for me to read this. I went on an interview this morning – haven’t worked in an office in over a year – I was confident I could get the job but afraid of it too. Fear is my biggest challenge. FUNK probably describes me best. Ever since graduating high school I have been terrified of searching for a job and then when I find one I am so anxious about it until I adapt. I’m 48 years old now and it’s been the story of my life.

    I start working tomorrow (after an exhaustive discussion with my friend over whether I should take it or not). Now I have to adapt.

    1. Sherri,
      Adapting is great but the biggest gift you can give yourself is to identify the source of your fear and put it in perspective. Trust yourself, be yourself and be YOUR personal best. Best of luck in your new job!

  10. This is brilliant! I love those names, especially FURPLE. Really, these fears start to sound little and funny rather than big and insurmountable.

    Once you had my attention and delight with the names, I turned my attention to the steps you suggest. All very good–practical and helpful.

    Thanks for an entertaining and inspiring read.

  11. Great article with good practical and helpful tips. I can vouch that I have used some of them and proved to be successful.

    Thankls for sharing such an tertaining and inspiring artilce. Well done and keep it up your good work.

  12. I’ve developed a healthy fear of fearwot. I worry very little about what others think about me. I am who and what I am. I don’t fear failure nor success. I do what I do. I’m an anti-perfectionist. I do quality work, but I know when it’s time to say “it is done.” Giant watermelons falling from the sky? That could be a little scary.

  13. Thanks for writing this post just for me, Cindy, exactly when I needed it.

    I have taken a lot of bold actions in my life, including quitting my career as an international economist years ago to shift from left-brained to right-brained endeavors while raising my kids.

    Your creative breakdown of types of fears helped me identify just how many ways I do, indeed, allow fear to creep in and make me second guess myself. Naming the fears as you suggest also overlaps with my efforts to label feelings and thoughts non-judgementally in my meditation and mindfulness practices. I just note them, then let them go.

    The quote by Marianne Williamson you provided in a comment reply is one of my favorites. My guess is that you are also a fellow Eckhart Tolle fan? I’m still pretty new to this whole circle, but know that my purpose in life is to share these messages through my writing.

    It’s when I have lunch with my left-brained graduate school friends (as I did yesterday) that Fearwot and the other culprits creep in. How silly! Thanks for re-centering me.

    1. Martha,
      I’m guessing some of your left-brained friends are in awe of you for your right-brained brilliance! It’s important not to judge your insides by other people’s outsides. I’d love to read some of your work! Congratulations for taking that bold move! Shine on!

  14. Hello Cindy

    Thank you for such a insides of informations and advices for not to take fear as failure .It can be a huge motivator .I am looking o that this way ,what else ican do better or what action to take .I shared this article with my friend and she liked too.
    Thank you so much.


    1. My pleasure, Judith. I’m glad it was helpful to you and your friend. I like your interpretation… approach challenges from a place of curiosity… what else is possible. That will lead to continuous learning and improvement.

  15. Hey Cindy,

    I too suffered from fearwot for most of my life, in fact I’d be lying if I said I was completely over it. But one thing I learned was to reframe the way I looked at situations that arose these fears. By choosing a new perspective I’ve been able to see myself more as a leader of my own life.

  16. I loved loved loved the naming of the fears. It made the idea of the fear so much more manageable.

    Today I experienced Fearwot and Furple and Fearfect.

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