Have you ever pushed through a pain barrier and survived? Perhaps the most relatable example is when doing exercise, and you feel like every cell in your body is beckoning you to stop. No, you definitely cannot make the final 100 metres because your legs will explode. No chance for the final rep because chances are your arms will buckle, maiming you with that barbell. But, you push past, achieve the goal and wonder what you were so worried about only a few seconds ago.
Fear is our body’s way of protecting itself. It’s only in the mind, a made-up emotion, yet it wreaks so much havoc. In fact, research has shown more than 80% of our fears never actually happen. And yet so many of us are worried about the ‘coulds’, crippled by the ‘what ifs’ and terrorised by what simply is our imagination running wild.
Legendary boxing trainer, Cus D’Amato once said: “The hero and the coward both feel the same thing, but the hero uses his fear, projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It’s the same thing, fear, but it’s what you do with it that matters.”
I believe fear and self-worth have an obvious relationship and a strong correlation. Great self-worth allows us to conquer our fears whereas low self-worth can paralyse us. In fact, psychologists believe that almost every aspect of our lives from our personal happiness, success, relationships with others, achievement, creativity, dependencies and our sex lives, revolve around this core characteristic.
So, what is self-worth?
In the deepest part of ourselves we all carry an image (which we may not even be completely aware) of who we are as a person and how worthy we are in relation to others. Whether or not it actually corresponds to reality, this image guides us through our day-to-day living, powerfully affecting everything from the clothes we wear to our choice of career and spouse.
This image can be compared to an oil painting – layer after layer of ‘paint’ has been applied since our birth to create a complex internal representation. Each time our parents, teachers, or friends made a comment like you’re stupid; you’re fat; or you’re the musical one in the family. Each time we interpreted the behaviour of others toward us in a certain way, such as grandpa made my sister a dolls-house because she’s prettier. Guess what? We add another layer to that canvas. This painting now provides the backdrop for the way we carry out our lives and is not easily altered once the layers are deep and have dried (in oil-painting speak).
Self-worth is essential to our ability to function in a healthy way. Without the foundation of a solid sense of self-worth, we get crushed by our fears, unable to take the risks, and are stifled by making decisions which are necessary to be our Best Self. Further still, self-worth begins with us but spreads like wildfire to those we interact with. If you think of yourself as unworthy, that’s what you’ll project to the world, meaning others will think that of you too. For example, if you want people to treat you with respect, you must respect yourself first and foremost.
A low self-worth corrodes our love lives, careers, family bonds, and most importantly our internal sense of wellbeing, or who we perceive ourselves to be. People who have positive self-worth have healthier, stronger relationships with others. Positive self-worth is not to be confused with self-centeredness or acting superior – which are actually attempts to hide negative feelings of self. A strong sense of self-worth actually creates a type of self-fulfilling prophecy. Did you know that the more you like yourself, the more you begin to act in likeable ways? The more you believe you are able to achieve something, the more likely it is that you will. Now for the good news – we can take steps to improve our self-worth by seeking professional support and in turn, transform our relationship with fear.
How to be Fearless.
- Be Aware. The first step to conquering fear is to acknowledge the fear and be aware of what you’re fearful about. Observe your feelings of fear and release them out of your sub-conscious into your consciousness. A good time to also remind yourself that a whopping 80% never actually play out.
- What’s the worst thing that can happen? Have you thought about the absolute worst-case scenario? For example, you get rejected; you fall flat on your face; get booed off the stage; or embarrass yourself. It doesn’t seem so bad, because you’ve already experienced the ‘failure’ in your mind’s eye.
- Be Prepared. All professionals condition their mind to deal with fear. Yep, there you have it. Everyone feels fear, it’s basically how you respond in light of that fear. Techniques such as positive reframing and affirmations are regularly used to overcome fear.
- Find your ‘still’ place. Whether it be through deep diaphragmatic breathing, walking around the block or even tapping acupressure points. Learn and practice a technique that works for you, and which instantly relaxes you, reminding you of your calm centre.
- Relinquish Control. So much fear arises because we want to control a situation, person or thing. But we cannot control outcomes and it’s futile to think we can control other people’s behaviours, or how people react in different situations. Allow yourself to make mistakes because at the end of the day, that’s how we learn and grow. We learn from our failures, but to fail, we need to relinquish control.
- Remember, it’s a choice. Many of us carry self-doubts that limit our potential. We doubt whether we’re smart enough; whether we’re capable to perform in that new job; if we can keep our lover interested; or whether people will like us. This is when the choice factor comes in. We can either let those self-doubts control our actions, or work through them by improving the things we can change and accepting those we can’t. As deep as the layers of our self-image may go, we are all capable of stripping away the negative ones and replacing them with positive ones. And then we can start working on the most important relationship we’ll ever have – the relationship with ourselves. Attitude is ultimately a choice. In the end, what you do with it is what counts.
- Neuroplasticity. Or brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change throughout life. The human brain has this amazing ability to reorganise itself by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons). Each neuron cell is made up of an axon and dendrite and is linked together by synapses, which permit an electrical or chemical signal to pass through, thus allowing communication. Each time we repeat a thought or action, these synapses grow stronger. In fact, if we continually practice visualisation, our synapses fire so efficiently that the idea, thought, or action that was once too hard becomes an easy routine. This forms the basis of performance coaching. The Visualisation Practice steps I use for clients can be found on page 27 in Aussie Body Diet.
Being fearless is ultimately about having faith in yourself. See the process as beneficial, whatever the outcome. Moving out of your comfort zone and transcending your fears requires daily discipline and practice. Remember, everyone feels fear and doubts themselves at some point, but if you’re consistently staring down your fears, you’ll master important life situations when it may matter the most.