Please Don’t Let Fear Limit You

“We can either watch life from the sidelines, or actively participate…Either we let self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy prevent us from realizing our potential, or embrace the fact that when we turn our attention away from ourselves, our potential is limitless.”
Christopher Reeve

I had an epiphany the other day. For months, I have been planning a trip – traveling alone for three weeks in France. Two days before I left, I noticed fear…panic…doubt. What am I doing? Why am I doing this?

And then the light turned on. Would I give up this trip because of fear? Would I stay home and play it safe? Would I deny the “Yes!” that has pervaded my plans every step of the way? Never.

This is why it is essential to make fear your friend. If you live in the fantasy that life will start once you are no longer afraid, you will be playing the waiting game forever. The antidote? Get real.

I know you might be glazing over by now, thinking this is just another self-help post telling you to beat your fear. It isn’t. I don’t want you to beat your fear. But I do offer an invitation to turn toward it and see it clearly. I invite you to drop your veils and defenses and get serious about what you actually experience and what you want. I invite you to stop running and let yourself live into the fullness of you.

When you avoid fear, you let it rule. Unexamined fear takes root, paralyzing you and keeping you small. You miss opportunities and turn away from your true path.

I know, in my heart of hearts, that if you learn to walk with fear in the moments of your life that you create the space to express yourself without limit. As a popular book says, you feel the fear and do it anyway. So don’t simply read these words. Take them on, reflect on them, and don’t let fear deter you any longer. The whole world is waiting for you.

No Goal

Deeply understand that the goal is not to get rid of fear. Ever. Fear may go away for a time, but don’t be put off if it returns. See it as an opportunity every time. Repeat the sacred mantra of acceptance, “Oh, this,” then move forward including, rather than excluding, fear.

Stop Fighting

Take the attitude of working with fear rather than fighting against it. Think of an aikido master who accesses power by moving with the energy of his opponent. Your power comes from putting down the fight and allowing fear to be present.

End of Story

Know that repeating a story of fear strengthens the feeling. Notice your internal self-talk. If it is telling scary stories about the future, fear is the culprit. Bring your attention directly into the feeling instead. Repeating fear-based stories simply doesn’t serve.

Knowledge Is King

Get to know fear intimately in every moment in which it arises. Become familiar with what triggers it, notice it, see how it moves in your body, tune into how it affects your thoughts and behavior. Be an expert in fear so it stops dominating you.

Choose Wisely

Once you have the lay of the land, make a choice. You know fear is present. You recognize that it tells you to put on the brakes or not move forward. It persistently taps you on the shoulder, saying, “I can’t,” “I shouldn’t,” “I better not.” It makes you doubt yourself endlessly. Now, here is where the rubber meets the road. Are you man or mouse? What do you really want this life to be about?

I imagine I will have the opportunity to work with fear in the next few weeks. My French will fail me, I’ll get lost, I’ll hesitate walking into a restaurant alone. But I stand in the truth with fear as my companion, whenever it happens to arise.

And this I know for sure: the only problem is that which is created by thinking. I can think myself into fear and distress, or I can relax and enjoy. Guess which one I choose. And you?

Have you made fear your friend? What has been the effect? I’d love to hear…

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38 Comments

  1. Posted May 6, 2011 at 3:43 am | Permalink

    This is so true. I used to wait until the fear went away, but it doesn’t really go away for good…and what you resist persist, so resisting fear only gives it power.
    Now I allow myself to feel fear, and (try!) to do things anyway; it’s not always easy, and sometimes I fall back into old patterns, but every time it’s easier to get back on track.
    Thanks for sharing, and have a wonderful holiday!

    • Posted May 6, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Hi Cristina,

      Yes! You made the essential shift – from hoping fear would go away to realizing you had to learn to work with it. Falling back into old patterns is fine – happens to all of us. But your intention and understanding are clear.

      Love to you…

  2. Posted May 6, 2011 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    This is such an important topic. Thank you for the reminder to turns toward fear and make it our friend. I’m on the verge of starting so many new things and can feel the anxious butterflies in my stomach. I listen and explore to discover where it’s coming from rather than automatically react and shut down. I’ve seen it keep me stuck in the past and prevent me from achieving my goals. But when I use it as a tool to motivate me to move forward, I’ve noticed my dreams come true. Thanks Gail for posting this important lesson!

    • Posted May 6, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Hi Sofia,

      I love hearing how you are learning to move with fear and not let it hold you back. If we step out of our comfort zone, of course we will be afraid. Butterflies? Fine. Listening and exploring are the key. You are making the choice to be fully alive, and we are all behind you.

  3. Posted May 6, 2011 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    I learned of this book through Jack Canfield:
    http://www.amazon.com/Feel-Fear-Anyway-Susan-Jeffers/dp/0449902927

    The title really tells you all you need to know!

    Bon Voyage, Gail!

    • Posted May 6, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Yes, Gordon, that was the book I was referring to. I haven’t read it, but, I agree that the title says it all.

  4. Posted May 6, 2011 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Great post, Gail. I try to personify fear and instead of seeing it as a scary monster I see it as a little girl just wanting to be noticed. Somehow this view of it allows me to have compassion for the fear, to see it as outside of myself, and to acknowledge it while not being sucked into it. Doesn’t work every single time but when it does, it is pretty amazing stuff. I’ll add what I have read here to my fear busting arsenal! :)

    • Posted May 6, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      I love this perspective, Emma. Fear does seem like a monster, but it actually is that little entity inside us that wants love and attention. This is such a compassionate way of being, a way to get unstuck and not be held victim to the fear. Thanks so much for mentioning it.

      If we look at things this way, then it doesn’t matter if we are afraid or not. We can care for the feeling then go about our business.

      Big hug to you, Emma…

  5. Posted May 6, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Gail, this is such a powerful post. Loved reading it and hopefully will read it again as a great reminder when I experience fear and restelessness. Thanks for taking care of us through your meaningful words. Love to you!

    • Posted May 6, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Hi Rachna,

      Glad you found the post useful. Every moment of fear is the opportunity to be free from it. Isn’t that wonderful?

  6. avatar Clare
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I tell myself that the very definition of courage is “taking action in the face of fear”. If you really reflect on that statement, you will realize that any fearless fool can act, (with or without wisdom), but taking action in the face of fear takes courage, which builds confidence and character.

    • Posted May 6, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      So beautifully said, Clare. When we take action in the face of fear, we usually stop and evaluate what we are doing. Then we move forward so intentionally. This is aliveness, with fear as our friend.

  7. Posted May 6, 2011 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Gail.
    First off, how cool that you are traveling to southern France for 3 weeks. Good on you!

    I took a self-defense course for women one winter and learned that when a perpetrator would grab someone, the natural inclination is to pull away. But where the power comes for self-defense is to move in close and deliver the maneuvers toward safety. It seems foreign to move in close to something like a perpetrator.

    Similarly, I was blessed to have fear be my bedfellow when diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer last year. When I was able to sit (or lay) still with it, honoring every part of it, it got restless and moved on. Yes, it creeps back and your post is a great reminder for me to keep my fear and anxiety radar on. The spaciousness is so freeing.

    Safe journeys and blessings in France.

    • Posted May 6, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Bonjour Susie,

      Yes, my trip is amazing, but more on that later.

      Your comment exemplifies exactly what I was saying in my post. Instead of pulling away from what is fearful or distressing, we move in, honor, be still with. What a blessed way of being. Essentially there is no goal, but the fruits come – spaciousness, clarity, and peace.

      But even as I write that, I know it is a slippery slope. Once we start getting attached to the outcomes of peace, etc., we’ve pulled away once again. Our work in life, as you know, is to be fully alive with whatever shows up with no expectation of change. Just that, and everything else takes care of itself.

      Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your experience in a way that supports others.

  8. Posted May 6, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Wonderful Gail. You are facing fear here and I am very proud of you for this adventure. You go girl!

    I try to look at fear and learning and growing. If we don’t face it it will always return another day.

    Let us know how you are doing and take lots of pictures.
    Debbie

    • Posted May 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      Thanks so much, Debbie. I’m trying to take pictures – but it just isn’t my thing!

      I love your point about fear returning if we don’t pay attention to it. It might return anyway, but if it does and we pay attention, it won’t have the same power anymore.

      Love to you…

  9. Posted May 6, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Gail,
    I too have realized that we cannot totally eliminate fear from our lives. It’s best to accept it and move on with our plans.

    Traveling by yourself is so brave and cool as well.

    • Posted May 7, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      Hi Justin,

      I’m so happy for your realization that we might as well deal with fear if we can – or see it and just move on with our plans, as you say.

      Thanks for your comment. My trip is going very well.

  10. Posted May 8, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I love the image of making fear a friend rather than an enemy. For so much of my life, my life was driven by fear, even though I didn’t recognize it. Over time, I learned to not be so afraid of being afraid. I was inspired by the story of Milarepa who came home to find demons, who had moved in and were making themselves at home. He tried to get rid of them but they just laughed. Eventually he sat down and learned to live with them, at which point, they all left!

    If we can learn to be comfortable or at least tolerate our fear, its power will be diminished. When we battle fear, we give our power to fear. Being compassionate and loving toward fear and toward ourselves, as you suggest, is a better approach. The Tao Te Ching teaches, “Yield and overcome.”

    Thanks for a great post.

    • Posted May 8, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Hi Galen,

      Thank you for bringing into the conversation the story of Milarepa and the teachings of the Tao Te Ching. When we talk about befriending fear, we are tapping into a profound lineage of truth and understanding.

      In the end, though, I want to say to everyone: don’t take my word for it, or the Buddha’s or the Tao Te Ching. Befriend fear in your own experience, welcome in everything with no preference and no separation, then live in the fruits of the end of resistance.

      Thank you, Galen, for your clarity and for your willingness to be compassionate, no matter what.

    • Posted May 8, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      Galen,

      I hadn’t heard the story of Milarepa before. When I read your account, I had to smile. And it’s one that I shall remember.

      Thanks for sharing it.
      Susie

  11. Posted May 8, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    I never connected the “I’d better not” statements to fear. I had better start paying attention to what I tell myself. Another good point is working with the fear but not letting it rule and the other I really heard is not letting the fear make stories of a future that might not even happen.

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      Sounds like a lot of this post resonated for you, Timaree. Great!

      Any internal statement that shows caution, e.g., I better not, is worth taking a look at. Perhaps it is wisdom speaking, but it might be fear as well. Only be taking an honest look, can you know for sure.

      Paying attention to what we tell ourselves is key to freedom, clarity, sanity.

      Love to you…

  12. Posted May 9, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I always liked the expression, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

    While fear may be perfectly valid, it’s really an action signal. I think the key is calculated risk, tempered with a lust for learning and growth.

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Hi JD,

      I think you got it just right – fear is an action signal. The voice of fear hesitates, doubts, and contracts. But it also signals opportunity and possibility.

      Thanks for sharing this insight.

  13. Posted May 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I know exactly how it feels: I’m just back from a 3 week holidays to Germany…and I had not talked (my broken) German for 8 years previously to this trip. I was very anxious beforehand, I was afraid not to understand it all, or having to use a bit of English, or to get bored around German speaking folks, feeling isolated maybe?
    I feel trust is the antidote to fear: I trusted myself and I worked my way around there.
    I trusted others and they slowed their speach or repeated it until I understood.
    I’m glad I did it, I gained some self esteem
    and some more German skills to put on my CV !

    By the way Gail, if you come to Paris on your french trip, I’d be happy to talk to you, so drop me a mail…
    yes you have (at least) a French reader!

    • Posted May 10, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Dear Paris,

      I love what you say about trust being the antidote to fear. When we feel fear, can we just trust. Can we not freak out and recoil, but trust that things will happen just as they need to. So beautiful – thanks for this.

      And I’m so happy to have a French reader. All are welcome.

      Love…

  14. avatar Deb Perkins
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi Gail. My little 11 yr. old Pomeranian dog just came back from surgery for the removal of four mammary gland tumors and a spay. All day long, while she was at the vet’s, this one phrase kept repeating itself in my head, over and over again……… “the vast stillness”……… ” the vast stillness “…… I don’t know where it came from, but I feel it represented my deliberate intent to connect with consciousness rather than to spiral into fear. It was sort of my mantra, and it worked! The “vast stillness” wasn’t really something I envisioned or imagined, or even felt, really; it was something I just sort of knew on a deep level. That’s what made it so powerful. I gave my trust to it, knowing that whatever happened around this operation, and around all of life, really, was neither good nor bad….it just was, and I could deal with it. There was some sort of pre-determined feeling around it all, coupled with abiding trust. I could feel the same spirit in the veterinarian as I could in myself and in my dog. I know that intense circumstances can get one in touch with “the vastness”, or whatever you want to call it, and that is probably what happened today. But I intend to use it as a training ground for future reference. It felt amazingly “right” to stay in this state of supreme grace and connectedness all day. I could feel myself at many crossroads throughout the day, and each time I almost effortlessly chose consciousness rather than fear. Maybe I made a groove. Let’s hope so. I know it was more than a scratch….

    • avatar Deb Perkins
      Posted May 11, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      Sorry, I didn’t really address your post on making fear your friend…..I guess the undercurrent of my experience yesterday was that I was fully aware that fear was with me every step of the way, but I chose to treat it like a friend who was not supportive in these kinds of circumstances, but whom I loved anyway. You know the type, right? Sometimes, you just have to hug your friend, but not get involved in their drama.

      • Posted May 11, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Your post was just right, Deb. I fully got what you were saying.

        Thank you so much for sharing the possibility of how it can be when we stay with life and love and trust rather than succumbing to fear. And part of the necessary wisdom is to treat the fear like a friend, and say, “No thank you.” I love that you liken it to a friend who you hug without getting involved in their drama. Yes, I know the type!

        Vast stillness…I can feel it, sink into it…

  15. avatar Marivic
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Hi Gail

    Reading your post really inspire me a lot. It help me face my fear and not to limit my ability just because I’m afraid to fail. Its really full of encouraging thoughts.

    Marivic

    • Posted September 10, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      I’m glad you feel encouraged, Marivic. Your life will blossom if you don’t limit yourself. Thanks for stopping by.

  16. avatar bumblebee56
    Posted October 1, 2011 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    I was inspired by the story of Milarepa who came home to find demons, who had moved in and were making themselves at home. He tried to get rid of them but they just laughed. Eventually he sat down and learned to live with them, at which point, they all left! | :P

    • Posted October 1, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the story about Milarepa, Bumblebee, and for taking the time to comment. Friendliness to all of our visitors could solve lots of problems!

  17. avatar Nona
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    It’s really true, I used to stay until the fear gone away, but it doesn’t mean that it’s vanished for good…

    • Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      Yes, Nona, that’s why we need to continue to be attentive to fear – so it doesn’t control us. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  18. avatar Marcella
    Posted November 28, 2011 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    i love your writings, it’s full of positive thoughts. it’s truly inspiring. it applies to me as well.

  19. avatar Cindy Aguilera
    Posted April 26, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Dearest Gail- I`ve been wondering what Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra mean when they say that consciousness is the seer that itself cannot be seen?

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