Overcoming FearDec 09, 2020
It can be helpful to first understand the psychological origins of fear. You have to go back around 350,000 years to when the first humans started to evolve on Planet Earth1! With civilisation as we know it today becoming evident around 6,000-12,000 years ago2, it is best to understand that early human years were largely interested in survival. These signal the beginnings of fear and the associated survival capabilities (often referred to as fight, flight or freeze) that developed along side it, that have enable our distant ancestors to continually survive long enough to hand down new life from generation to generation.
In fact, fear even in the modern world helps to keep us safe. Adults learn about physical dangers and potential emotional ones too, such as placing too much trust in colleagues or loving others wholeheartedly. Children and babies first learn about physical pains. Babies become wary of heights around the same time that they learn to crawl3. Children are gradually taught that about the dangers of life, such as fast moving cars and adults they do not know ("stranger danger").
However, some of what we think we know, is not factually true. Of course, it is not wise to let a baby fall from height, but most children who experience abuse in the UK, in fact identify their perpetrator as a family friend or a close family member4 and not a stranger as first 'advertised'! Also, adults who hold back in their relationships due to the fear of emotional hurt, often routed in a single or distant past experience, may well be missing out on present happiness.
Fear lives in us all, it manifests in different forms, surfaces in different situations and it has the potential to hold us back, to limit our enjoyment of life and to limit our performance at work. Coaching is often cited as a great way to develop an ability to weigh up fear, to rationalise it and to choose how you will step beyond it and regain control.
Stepping Beyond Fear
I feature in the canyoning video above. A stag weekend in Austria, and a group of friends deciding it would be great fun to take an instructor and jump off high rocks in to deep water pockets below. To be fair ... it was great fun and I would do it again in a heartbeat! However, everyone of us also experienced fear at some point. For me the toughest moment was the jump captured in the footage. Part of me knew that it was likely safe, after all 7 people had just jumped ahead of me, but another part of me was hesitant. I felt fear and I was experiencing a momentary freeze response.
On reflection, the thoughts and emotions running my freeze state were:
- What are you doing? (thought) - Feeling scared (emotion)
- What if you hit a rock? (thought) - Feeling overwhelmed (emotion)
- Is this too high? (thought) - Feeling stressed (emotion)
- Are you sure it is deep enough? (thought) - Feeling insecure (emotion)
- I'm going to die! (thought) - Feeling fear (emotion)
- Don't do this! (thought) - Freeze (behaviour)
When overcoming fear, it is important to notice how thoughts, feelings (emotions) and behaviours interact with each other. In the state above, these were spiralling downwards and decreasing my ability to perform. However this process can also be reversed. In overcoming this short (very short) freeze situation my rationalised thinking was very helpful:
- It is not actually that high (thought) - Feeling hopeful (emotion)
- This has been done loads of times (thought) - Feeling inspired (emotion)
- The dark deep water is a safe entry point (thought) - Feeling courageous (emotion)
- It will be good fun (thought) - Feeling free (emotion)
- "Take a step" (instruction/thought) - The step (behaviour)
What Happens Next?
If you have found this interesting, insightful or useful to your own approach, look out for the upcoming articles that explore this fascinating and powerful topic of thoughts, feelings and behaviours in greater depth. If you are ready to take action to master your own thinking, your own emotions and your behaviours, take action now and register your interest for our coaching programmes and join the thousands of others who have taken back control and enhanced their lives in the process!
Sam Bruce, Business Psychologist & High Performance Coach
- National Geographic (2017)
- Universe Today (2015)
- What to Expect (2018)
- Office of National Statistics (2019)