You’ve been afraid.
I’ve been afraid.
We have, all of us, “been there,” in that place where the fear clung to us like mud, sucking us down, pulling at us, urging us (for the love of all things holy) to just STOP.
And sometimes we get mired in that muck.
And we do stop.
And there are some times when stopping was the right move.
And many times when it was not.
And one of the questions I get asked more than any other is simply this: how do you know the difference? How can you tell when “stopping” is the right move, and when it is not?
This is a particularly challenging concept for people who are, like me, recovering from PTSD. My “reality” for many years was one in which there was always a very real reason to be afraid…and it is hard work to retrain ones’ brain to no longer be in a constant state of fight or flight.
But now that I am in my final stages of recovery, I have come to identify two types of fear that can still impact my life: the “normal” fears, and the fears that are simply indications of something bigger going on.
Allow me to explain further.
Sometimes fear really is a normal reaction. It is a normal, healthy emotion. I know, I know…we have been taught that fear, like anger, needs to be “busted through” or “tackled” or otherwise “conquered.” I myself have said those very things! But I have come recently to see things differently.
It is normal to have apprehension (another word for fear!) before stepping out on the stage and giving a speech.
It is normal to have fear before signing a new lease for your brand new office space.
It is normal to have fear about sharing your heart, your deepest feelings, your worries and dreams.
All perfectly normal.
And in these situations, I think it is most reasonable to just thank your fear.
No need to “bust through it” or “conquer it” or “annihilate it.” Just thank it. Thank it for showing up. For wanting to keep you safe. For wanting to protect you from some potential danger — be it hurt, criticism, embarrassment, financial risk. Thank it. And let it be on its way. Then sign that lease, step onto that stage, or expose your heart. Simply acknowledge. Give thanks. Release. And move on.
Now the second type of fear is what I like to think of as a symptom of something bigger going on.
Let’s look at the above examples to make a comparison.
It could be that you are afraid to step onto the stage and give your speech and that fear is just normal apprehension.
It could also be that the fear you are experiencing in that situation is a sign of something else. It could be that the speech you are about to give, for example, does not align with your true values. It could be that the words you will speak go against things that you deeply believe in. And the fear that you are feeling could simply be the way that your mind is telling you: “this is not the right decision.” It doesn’t “feel good” to say these words because these words are not in alignment with who you really are. And fear is stopping you from doing speaking these words aloud that would be detrimental to your further personal evolution because they are so out of resonance with the true you.
In another example, the fear of signing a new lease on an office space could just be that bit of worry that comes naturally before we commit to a new expense.
Or, it could be a sign of something bigger. Perhaps instead that fear is there to alert you to the fact that you really cannot afford the space. Maybe that fear is your “reality check” that what you are about to do is not simply a “if you build it they will come” moment, but instead a “if you commit this money, you may bankrupt yourself” moment. Sometimes our fears are right! Maybe you really cannot afford that space. Maybe you are stretching just a bit too far in taking it on. And maybe you do need to reevaluate.
In the third example, the act of opening our hearts to another person makes even the most experienced of us hesitate. Again, this is normal. Fear of criticism and the vulnerability that naturally results from exposing our depths is just that: natural.
On the other hand, the fear that comes up around sharing your feelings with someone may be an indication that this person is not actually safe and cannot truly be trusted. They may not have your best interest at heart, and your fear may be trying to tell you that.
So just how can you tell the difference? How do you know when to keep climbing through the muddy waters of the fear towards your goal and how do you know when it is time to stop?
It all comes down to one thing, in my experience (and I have been doing this work for a really, really long time!): the feelings that come AROUND the fear.
Now it may take some practice to be able to discern the differences here, and there are subtle differences for everyone, but generally speaking, “normal” fears seem to be accompanied by the slightest, teeniest bit of giddy excitement. You might feel that as “butterflies” in your stomach. Or a sensation in your jaw that feels like, underneath the fear, you may just be smiling. The hair on the back of your neck may rise a bit like it would when you hear someone singing perfectly and you just want to close your eyes and relish the sound. And even if this fear has you shaking in your boots, somewhere around that fear you’ll notice that your head is held a bit higher and your eyes are seeing into a future that is bright with possibilities.
Again, let me add that this takes practice to discern these subtleties but it is so well worth it!
The other fears, the ones that really ought to be heeded, the ones that indicate that something bigger is going on, they feel a bit different. These fears seem always to be accompanied by a feeling of dread. The feeling of a stone in the stomach. Or a sensation of weight on your shoulders. The feeling of your jaw setting hard and tight, teeth clenched. In this case, the hair on the back of your neck may also rise, but this time, your shoulders will also rise up, your neck will hunch down, and your head will tilt forward just slightly as if bracing for a blow and nothing you can do will relax it. Nothing except listening to your fear, that is.
Learning to listen to one’s body is a valuable practice…and practice is what it takes! I invite you to take in some of these thoughts that I have shared today and use them as a launching pad for gauging your own fears the next time they arise.
When you find yourself caught in the mud and the muck of fear, just take a moment and focus your attention on the rest of your body. What else is going on around that fear? How else is your body reacting physically? And make note of these things….and use them as guide posts to making the best decisions you possibly can. It will either be time to stop, or time to keep going…and either way, you’ll have made your choice in full consciousness. And that is all any of us can ever hope to do.
Did you enjoy this post? You can have articles like this, insights, and opportunities sent directly to your inbox each week. Click here to stay connected.
Rebecca Liston helps her clients predict, pivot, and compete in an increasingly complex global marketplace. Her clients quickly uncover the root of their challenges and know the actions to take to overcome them. A six-time nominee for the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Award, Rebecca combines business strategy with intuition, giving her clients the edge on forward-thinking, elegant answers to their most complicated problems. Her clients are entrepreneurs with CEO-mindsets and executives with entrepreneurial instincts. She is based in London, Ontario. What if you could get the answer to your biggest business challenge, in one sitting? Visit rebeccaliston.com to find out more.