Reluctant and scared has often been my default position. I am sure I have this in common with most of humanity as I stick to my "comfort zones”.
It has prevented me doing things I wanted to do, developing business ideas and telling people what I really think. It shaped my educational and early career path (I say “path" but it was more like a circular track caused by an unadventurous sheep that has never left a field) and it definitely prevented me from having a much richer and more interesting social life when I was young.
Mother Nature did not hue me from solid granite but rather seems to have slapped me together with a variety of twigs and moss. But I bear her no ill will because I have self awareness.
And this self awareness has allowed me over time to cope with my natural trepidation and, with the help some much smarter people, to counter it.
Just as when I am low on self esteem I try to do something I have never done before to demonstrate to myself the strength of these twigs and moss, so when I feel reluctant and scared to do something, I am learning to do it.
This reluctance comes largely from a fear of, or anxiety around, failure: of the unknown (which can lead to failure), of difficulty (which can lead to failure) and it can be part of mixed emotions.
There can be a genuine desire to do something which is tempered by this "indigenous" reluctance or fear. Which side of the scales wins over is down to one's own inner fortitude. It is often put in these terms:
Do you really want to do something or do you just like the idea of doing it?
But I think this is unfair. It immediately devalues the crippling effect of the innate fear that many feel, even at relatively trivial things like meeting new people.
Yes, I really want to do something but it doesn't mean I will always have the strength to do it. This may depend on the day, the mood and other factors in the moment.
- Last year on holiday in Thailand, I was gripped by a real desire to go rock climbing. But, having not done it for years, I was reluctant to go again for fear of failure. I went. I survived. I had a whale of a time.
- A little while back I was reluctant to go circuit training for fear of appearing weak. I went. I survived. The truth is there were people of many different abilities taking part.
- Despite the fear that, as a 42 year old man, I would look silly, I recently took some swimming lessons. Again there were people of all levels and there was immediate camaraderie. It was fine.
These banal examples of operating outside one's comfort zone are very distant from the fear control required by the likes of Alex Honnold, but they are the stepping stones that lead us on a path of greater adventure and greater enjoyment of life and indeed work. They build confidence and will lead you to your Everest.
We all have our levels. Many people are scared of camping out in the wild. I would do it every week if I could. The other day I was at the football and I really wanted to strike up a conversation with someone but for some reason I froze. I felt a fear that I would disturb, a fear that what I said would be stupid, a fear that the person next to me simply didn’t want to hear me speak.
It often boils down to not wanting to look silly. In the words of amazing Irish comedian and actress Aisling Bea: “we don’t live as much as we could because of a fear of awkwardness”*.
In recent times I introduced, what Caroline Paul** describes as “micro-bravery”; small acts that chip away at fear. If I feel mild trepidation at something, then I do it. The theory being that the bar where this reluctance or fear kicks in will continue to be raised. Bit by bit chipping away at the stifling road block of fear. It can be as simple as speaking to a stranger.
The outdoors is a great place to find confidence in oneself and overcome fear. Sleeping a night in tent takes one - often literally - outside a comfort zone. It requires many acts of micro-bravery for the reluctant in terms of planning, decision making and some practical skills all of which are well within the realm of almost every human on the planet and all of which are great for dealing with fear and a lack of self-confidence.
I might sound like a weirdo here, but repeating mantras or affirmations works for me - effectively telling myself I am perfectly fine and capable of dealing with a situation. This I picked up from the late Susan Jeffers' book: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway***. It's a book which talks of a spirituality that I find hard to identify with (not a religious one incidentally) but nevertheless I think its a good read for anyone who feels held back by fear, professionally or personally.
Here are some examples of mantras that work for me:
- "Nothing ventured, nothing gained"
I know this is cheesy and smacks of a Del-Boy-like take on the philosophy of life but like many a cliché there is much truth to it.
- "The only way to overcome fear is by doing".
This is a variation on the above and acts as a little prod when I need it, probably because it sounds a little more down to earth than the first.
- "I am not a failure if I don’t make it, I am a success because I tried"
This is the message I first see on my phone when it lights up. I still find it hard to convince myself of this fact but the more I see it the more I believe it.
- "Failure is not the opposite to success, it's a stepping stone to success"
Urgh! I can hear you groaning now. This could be another of those motivational instagram posts, with a pastel landscape background, that litters your timeline. Well, suck it up, because I don’t care! It's true and it is really, really important to remember, no matter how you define success.
Harnessing a Routine.
Last, but not least I find a routine to be helpful.
A routine or structure to your working day/week increases productivity so you accomplish more. Don't get me wrong, there are days or even weeks when I feel rubbish and accomplish little, but generally speaking having set times to do set things means I get more done. In doing so I have undoubtedly proved to myself that I can do more than I often imagine and therefore it has helped to combat my fear and anxiety, especially in a professional setting. It can also force you to do the uncomfortable first. If you schedule the toughest tasks first, it gives a greater sense of accomplishment, improves your mood and makes you deal with fear.
There are a million articles outlining the routines of the great and the good. It is worth Googling it for sure but it is also worth finding somethign that suits your needs. I found Dan Meredith's**** to be very good.
* Listen to Adam Buxton chatting to Aisling Bea on the Adam Buxton Podcast.
** listen to Caroline Paul on the Tim Ferriss Show.
*** Shop for "Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway" by Susan Jeffers.
**** Shop for Dan's "F*cking Awesome Planner".