What are you afraid of? You always wanted to make that step, to speak up for yourself in a toxic relationship, to set on the adventure of your dreams, to stop shaking in the dark and finally feel certain of yourself. But what is it exactly that you fear and how to fight and win over it? Let’s walk through the 10 steps to the courageous you together. This is a summary of what I tell my students during the swimming classes when they face their fear of deep water, but you can certainly apply it to fighting other fears as well.
1. Say hello to your fear.
Say it out loud. Write it down in your journal. Don’t pity yourself, don’t avoid any more, don’t come up with excuses and reasons. Just admit it to yourself. Say hello to your fear. Say: “I am afraid of deep water”, “I am afraid of the dark”, “I’m afraid for my family alienating me forever”, “I’m afraid of…”. Write it down. Admitting what you are afraid of to yourself is the first step in dealing with your fear. It is often the hardest one, but it is pointless to proceed if you can’t be honest to yourself.
2. Set a goal
Formulate what exactly you want to achieve by fighting your fear. Set a realistic end result and identify challenges you might face on the way. Be specific. Use examples and role models. What is your first step? What is your end goal?
3. Throw it in the open.
It is embarrassing, it makes you vulnerable, but it will also make you stronger. Share your fear and your goals of fighting it with someone you trust: a close friend, family member, your therapist or just a complete stranger on a train ride home. Admitting publicly that you are dealing with your fear can be challenging, but it is an essential step that will help you really commit to overcoming your fears. But be careful, at this early stage it is important to not give in into toxic influence of someone who might doubt you.
4. Find a guide.
Make sure you really follow through and someone will catch you during inevitable difficult moments: find someone who will guide you through the process of fighting your fear. Finding a mentor/coach/teacher is not a guarantee for the success of your “operation Courageous me”, but certainly is a big step towards it. Who that would be exactly, depends on the type of fear you are fighting. I myself work with people overcoming the fear of deep water and teach them swimming, while extremely thankful to people who helped me work through my fears of career change and abandonment.
5. Join a community
This is an extremely challenging step for many of us, but you will be surprised how comforting it feels to really realize that you are not alone in dealing with your issues. You are not broken, dysfunctional or hopeless because of your fear. Your friends and family might have a hard time understanding you, don’t judge them, find compassion and support among your peers. People on the same path. Join a support group, sign up for a course, meet-up or at the very least an internet community. Community support also helps you stay on track in the more challenging times.
6. Start small and progress at your own pace.
Yes, by the way, it’s not going to be easy. At times, you will feel you are not making any progress. You are doing the exercises suggested by your therapist or coach, you show up for the sessions, you make to-do lists for yourself. But here you are, staring helplessly in the wall yet again paralysed, wanting to go back into the warmth of your comfort zone, pretending the issue does not exist. There is no work-for-all recipe here, you have to just keep doing it. Whatever happens, just show up and try again. Don’t compare yourself to others, don’t even focus too much on reflecting on your past. Just keep on going. Everyone progresses at their own pace.
The first thing we do during swimming classes is learning how to breathe. This helps making the water your friend, find a good body position and essential for learning any swimming strokes. But breathing exercises are not only important when learning how to swim and stop being afraid of the water. Meditation and controlling your breath gives you a powerful sense of calm, control and confidence. If you are not much into yoga or not ready to work on the spiritual side of life, just start with finding 15 minutes per day of doing nothing. Just breathing. Sit down comfortably where nothing will distract you. Breath in. Breath out. Feel the air filling your lungs. Feel the air leaving your body.
8. (Re)connect with Nature.
Do step 6 outdoors if you can. Go for a walk in a nearby park, take a weekend trip to a lake, forest, sea. Ski, hike, ride your bike, whatever floats your boat(including sailing). Connecting with Nature helps getting perspective on your situation and the path you are going through. Feel the calm, beauty and stillness of the scenery, feel that you are in fact a part of it. It will not only bring positive emotions, but will also make you feel better physically.
9. Visualize the courageous you.
The most important thing in order to win over your fear is to realize you are in control. You are in control over your feelings and actions. You are stronger than whatever it is you fear. In the deep water you are in control of your breath, of when and how you go in, you are in control of your body position and your movement. You know all the rules. You’ve got all the moves. The courageous you is somewhere inside waiting to get out. Swim across the Bosphorus or just across the pool. What would the courageous you do?
10. Face it.
In the end, the only way to welcome change into your life is to do it. You can make it easier for yourself emotionally, you can prepare physically, but it’s always only what you DO that really matters. Do it. And if you fail, try again.