Overcoming fear - here's how to do it!

By Sally Evans

According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, we all as human beings fear loss a lot more than we appreciate gains. 

Losses loom larger than gains

We are so afraid of losing what we already have that when we’re pursuing a new goal we project our fears about two to seven times more than is real. 

In other words when we are going to try something new, maybe we need to give a presentation at work, or we are thinking of starting a new business or if we are going to ask someone out on a date, we inflate the possible downsides by at least two times but more often up to seven times! 

Psychological research shows the anticipation of an event is always more powerful than the event itself. We will often inflate what we think is going to happen in our minds. We create the worst-case scenarios and as a result we ultimately create a lot of ‘dread time’. 

We may spend a lot of our time dreading what's going to happen when ultimately the actual event is never as bad as we think it's going to be. We may spend weeks or months scared of asking for something and then ultimately when we do it, we realise it wasn't that big a deal! 

Our happiness baseline 

We will often inflate what's going to happen in our mind. This is because we are anticipating whether for good or for bad and that anticipation of the event is also bigger for positive things. We may think that we are going to love that thing – such as a new car or TV - when we really might have wanted it for a long time. But then once we get it, we quickly adapt. 

Psychologists call this hedonic adaptation. We quickly adapt to either the positives or the negatives in our lives a lot faster than we think we will. For example, we might get a new job that pays twice as much money as we currently have, and we might be excited for a month but quite soon we adapt to that.

Then our thoughts and our desires go to something else.

But it’s also true of negative things. We might have an awful illness and be really unwell, but we quickly adapt to that, and our happiness goes back to our happiness baseline. So, we quickly adapt to the positives and negatives in life but in our minds, we make them so much bigger than they really are. 

Overcoming the fear: take micro courage actions

The simplest, most easy way to overcome fear, is actually just to get consistent at facing small fears over and over again. 

We're always going to have a little bit of fear, it’s how our brains work. But we need to realise that we are often inflating the potential downsides. There are almost no downsides to trying new big things or even trying small things! 

It is helpful though to start with small things. For example, I remember when I first started blogging, I was terrified of what people might think of me. I took one small step and wrote a short blog and asked for feedback, then posted. 

As we get used to doing something small, we achieve a micro win, by taking a micro courage action. This is just the willingness to try something that might not work. The willingness to fail. The willingness to face uncertainty. 

Then our brain starts to notice that nothing terrible happened as a result! There was no downside to that action, it wasn't that bad, and I was making it bigger in my head than it needed to be. 

The longer we extend the anticipation phase of the issue, the more we are delaying the reality and the more we are creating a concern that isn't actually there. This can lead to anxious thoughts which are not helpful for our progress.  

So, we want to shorten that anticipation period, and we do that in small and simple ways by getting a small win out of every day. Being a tiny bit braver in our choices each day. Just act and then adapt. 

Brian Tracy calls this ‘eating the frog’! The idea that we should do the worst thing first and stop procrastinating about what might happen. The reason we delay is often that we don't know what's going to happen or we think the worst will happen. The sooner we can just take that small action the faster we get feedback and find out the worst didn’t happen. 

Overcoming the fear: get social support

There is a psychological idea that we actually think other people think less of us than they really do. It’s a known phenomenon. 

Generally, we tend to think that people don't think as highly of us. The truth is, people think more highly of us than we think they do in almost all cases. So, when you share your work or ask for help to move forward, you will be getting social support, and everyone benefits from helping. 

There is a lot of research on social support, both receiving it and giving it. It is the number one indicator for happiness, and it is the number one thing that people rely on to become successful.

So, the faster we can get used to and create a great group of supporters around us and then throwing out there whatever it is we are trying to do, the quicker we can move forward. We just need to get to the point where we have the fear, but we face it so much faster. 

‘Feel the fear, and do it anyway’ Susan Jeffers

Inflating the downsides of what could happen is normal. But as soon as we take action, we are going to know something we didn't know before. This removes a lot of the ignorance which replaces fear with the knowledge or with confidence. 

So, in summary: 

  1. Take little steps to get braver every day – micro courage actions (they really won’t hurt you) 

  1. Stop procrastinating and anticipating what might happen

  1. Stop worrying about what people think of you. They think more highly than you realise!

  1. Create your social support and access it

  1. Take a step forward towards your fear and your dreams.

Start playing your game instead of measuring the gap.  Our fears are often just a projection – they are not real. The inflated anticipation is often so much worse than reality.

And finally, try to see your fear as excitement and go run your own race.

Sally Evans

Organisational Pyschologist / Founder of LifeBuddy