“It’s too hard!”
“I’m scared I can’t do it!”
“I don’t have what it takes, so why bother trying?”
These are familiar thoughts that I have had throughout my life, whenever I have dreamed of taking on a big change or aspiration.
Sometimes they show up as quiet, pesky thoughts that I can easily swat away with my sparkly magic wand of positivity. Other times they’re really REALLY loud, ominous, and devastatingly convincing. When that’s been the case, I’ve had to summon all my courage to keep from getting stuck in a rut.
Perhaps you can relate. These kinds of thoughts stem from our bigger, deeper feelings of fear, doubt, and worry. They are skilled at creating a state of confusion and distracting us from how we want to be feeling: confident, bold, and focused on bringing our desires to life.
In this post I offer my hard earned knowledge on how to keep fears, doubts, and worries from stopping you along the path toward bringing your desires to life.
Sitting With the Discomfort of your Fears
Let’s be real: we want things in life to come easy to us, and we don’t want to experience the discomfort that our fears, doubts, and worries bring. This is both perfectly natural, and often times counter-productive.
Fear is naturally something to be avoided. That’s how it works! It tells you, “that thing might not be safe”, and you, as the smart person you are, do what you can to keep bad things from happening.
You’ve also probably experienced how it can be counter-productive to listen to your fears all the time. While they largely have your best interests in mind, they can also show up when you have an opportunity to challenge yourself and grow. They deter you from taking risks that could actually bring you closer to bringing your desires to life. If your fears, doubts, and worries were to have things their way all the time, your life would be stagnant, in a constant state of maintaining the status quo.
When it comes to actually sitting with the discomfort of your fears, doubts, and worries, a common and understandable response is to find distraction and avoid actions that align with taking risks. There have been a number of years where this was a primary focus of mine. I’ve always been a big dreamer, but it’s taken me a lot of personal work to actually put one foot in front of the other and take concrete steps toward my aspirations.
My ways of avoiding action were sneaky. I mean, sure, I would do things that you too might notice yourself doing, like binging on TV shows and scrolling endlessly on my phone, but I would also do what looked like meaningful work, minus the follow through.
I would devote hours and hours of time to planning, looking meticulously at the how and what that would lead to the results I was seeking. But when those results didn’t appear after a week of work, I would hear those discouraging and destabilizing whispers of my fears, doubts, and worries, and ultimately get off track. I repeated this process again, and again, and again.
In retrospect, I believe a big part of the problem for me was that I didn’t pay attention and engage much with these feelings. I had deemed them enemy #1 to be fought off or to surrender to (depending on my energy level that day). I hadn’t taken the time to ask what those fears and doubts really had to say about what I was doing. What were they based on, and why were they showing up when they were?
Although I’m not a big proponent of psychological diagnosis, reflecting on this tedious process reminds me of Einstein’s saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.
Through the personal work I’ve done on these issues, I’ve learned that acknowledging your fears calls them out and allows you to assess their validity. It can also help you in determining whether or not these fears and doubts are useful to listen to, or if they're worth disrupting.
Disrupting Your Fears, Doubts, and Worries
Challenging your fears, doubts, and worries might feel like the last thing you want to do, preferring instead to distract yourself and pretend they’re not there. But they’re showing up for a reason, and facing them can be empowering.
Here are some questions that can help you along that path:
- Where do you think those fears and worries came from? What experiences do they remind you of
- Who else that you know of has similar fears, doubts, or worries? What experiences do you share with them?
- If your fears were to help you avoid experiencing something negative, what might that be? Why does it feel important to avoid having that kind of experience?
- When those fears are present, how do you respond? What do you feel most inclined to do/avoid doing in those moments?
- Are there actions you’ve considered taking but felt too afraid? If so, what were they and how did you decide against taking them?
By reflecting on questions like these, you can get a clearer sense of where your fears, doubts, and worries are coming from. This can help you take a more compassionate stance with yourself, while also considering how you want to engage with those concerns. Who knows, perhaps there’s something worthwhile in their message, but you can’t know until you really understand where that message is coming from, and how it makes sense as a response to your lived experience.
Calling Out the “Buts”
Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint a worry or fear. This is when it can be useful to pay attention to the language you use. What words come to mind when you think about taking action and you feel constrained by fears?
One word that aligns very closely with the language of worry or fear is “but”. Many of us use that word often and take it for granted, but how and when we use it is a very good indicator of aversions we have. These might sound like,
- “I would like to be healthier BUT…”
- “I would like to be in a loving partnership BUT…"
- “I want more friends BUT…”
The statements that follow the “buts” can take on many different forms, such as,
- “…I don’t have the ability or capacity to make it happen”
- “…there are forces outside of my control that will get in the way.”
- “…there is something wrong with me that makes this impossible.”
What follows the “buts…” for you? What fears, worries, or concerns are they based on?
Is your desire for change greater than the level of fear you experience? Are there ways to gently challenge the fear in safe and manageable ways?
Putting “Buts” in Context
Up until recently I believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with me that would prevent me from having a body that looked the way I wanted it to. I longed to be fit and healthy, to let go of extra body fat, and to feel fantastic in my body. But I doubted that this could be possible. Maybe my metabolism was broken, or perhaps I didn’t have the ability to be consistent enough. Those were a couple of “buts” that got in my way.
When I got down to doing this work myself, I recognized that my “buts” were supported by faulty evidence based on the prior attempts I had made to create change in my body (all of which had fallen short). When I finally addressed the ideas, I took a close, honest look at my past efforts by asking questions like, “What had I done”, “How long did I try, and what were the results?”, and “What got in the way of me continuing to try?”
It soon became clear to me that the approach I was taking did not support me in being able to maintain a consistent effort. I tried too much at once, and restricted my eating so greatly that my body rebelled with cravings that no amount of will power could battle. I learned that I needed a realistic, achievable approach that allowed me to be consistent day in and day out until I reached my goals. I saw that the problem wasn’t some inherent shortcoming within myself or my body, but in the strategies I tried.
I also gathered logical evidence to counter the fear that there is something outside of my control preventing me from having the body I want. I googled the hell out of what could truly prevent this desire from coming to life and learned that it would be highly unlikely. There are factors that can slow down the process, such as my hypothyroidism, but it is still possible for my body to change.
This is when logic can come in handy. When you think about your desire, what do you think needs to happen for it to come into fruition? Break it down in detail:
- What knowledge do you need?
- What action do you need to take? What are all the small steps you can think of?
- Who could help?
- What skills might you need?
- What might you need to learn or practice?
Working Through Your Worries, Fears, and Doubts
Once you’re able to identify what your worries, fears, and doubts are, and you feel fluent in noticing the “buts” that get in the way, you can start creating a case against them.
Questions like these can help you through that process:
- Who do you think believes in you the most? What have they observed about you that supports their perspective of you? What evidence would they give you to support you in believing in your abilities to achieve what’s important to you?
- When assessing beliefs, ask yourself how you know that belief to be true? What evidence is there to back up this belief? What choice do you have in holding that belief? When was it more or less true for you? Who else is it true for? Who is it not true for? How do you know?
- What are some beliefs that have changed throughout your life? What did you once believe was impossible, that you now believe is possible? How did that change occur?
- If you believe that it is impossible to change in the ways you long to, what would have to be different for the change to occur? What could others do to make it easier or harder for you?
- What evidence do you have of your personal success in other areas? What challenges have you overcome throughout your life? What universal challenges have you faced, and learned through trial and error to overcome?
- Critically assess your beliefs – why do you believe in this? What evidence do you have in its truth? Why do you want to believe this?
- Who can you invite to be a cheerleader when doubt and worry come into the picture?
Moving Forward From Fear, Doubt, and Worry
Nearly everyone struggles to take action toward meaningful goals at some point in their lives. Fears, doubts, and worries are generally the common denominators across these difficult times. While they are understandable responses to our lived experiences, sometimes they do their jobs too well, and we end up sacrificing movement for safety. If you take the time and really get to understand where your fears, doubts, and worries come from, you can then respond with more intention, and ultimately take the wind out of their sails.
How do you deal with fears, doubts, and worries in your life?
What helps you take risks to challenge fears, doubts, and worries?