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Letting Go of Fear

Letting Go of Fear

Becoming skilled at letting go of fear is a powerful step in creating a happier and healthier life. What you may not realize is that fear, like all your emotions, is under your control.

With the proper techniques and practices you can get really good at managing unhelpful emotions and experiencing more positive, helpful ones.

These days many of us are being forced to let go of things due to social distancing and other measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

This sense of uncertainty can bring up fear: when will stores and restaurants open up, when will I be able to go back to working in an office, how will this all work so that we stay safe and healthy? There’s no shortage of fear and uncomfortable feelings.

You can let go of negativity around a current situation and focus on positives, and address the fear when it gets to be too much.

Why let go of fear

Fear is your body’s signal alerting you to danger, or what is known as the fight or flight response. However, when you’re not being chased by a tiger or in some other life threatening situation, and that situation is not under your direct control, it’s not helpful.

Fear produces cortisol and a stress response in the body, and if it occurs too frequently (chronic stress), it can lead to health issues and negatively impact your emotional wellbeing.

We often don’t realize how long-held thought patterns and emotions that no longer serve us prevent us from moving forward. Feeling the fear and letting it go helps you move forward and closer to achieving your goals and dreams.

It may be challenging to let go of what you once cherished or feel pressured by others to hold on to, or that you’re accustomed to. But the more you let go, the more space you create for new opportunities and people to come into your life, and the easier it becomes to address future fear or other unhelpful emotions.

Strategic action you can take

Try these 3 steps the next time fear is taking its hold on you.

1 Notice the fear. Become aware of when it comes up – awareness is a powerful tool. Appreciate that this feeling is totally normal. Your mind is trying to resolve what it perceives as “unsafe” to your survival.

2. Be with that feeling. Don’t try to fix it or get rid of it. Take a pause and as your notice it, see where it appears in your body. Maybe it’s a tight feeling in your gut/stomach, or in your chest. Some people say it feels hot, or heavy, or that it has a shape to it. Be curious, and appreciate that it’s there.

3. Let your body do its thing and process it. As long as you don’t attach any more energy to this feeling by creating a story around it and making it more than it is, the feeling will usually dissipate on its own in less than 90 seconds. Remember: notice it, be curious, and see if it’s changing as you stay present with that feeling.

You can do some breathing exercises or body movement to match the energy of that feeling. For example, if it’s a tightness or heaviness in your chest area, take a few deep inhales and imagine the oxygen going directly to that tightness or heaviness. Typically, you’ll begin to feel a shift of energy, and you may notice a lighter feeling or opening of that area.

One of my most scary times

A few years ago I was driving on one of the top 10 most dangerous roads in the world, the Hana Highway in Maui (read more here).

It is a 60+ mile curvy road full of over 600 hairpin turns, many of them blind turns (click to take a virtual drive). There are over 50 one-lane bridges and the trip is full of twists, with the road not wide enough for two cars in many places.

As you can imagine, the fear of driving this road consumed me. The trip takes 2.5-3 hours to drive straight through, for roughly 60 miles!

As far as working through the fear, I had no problem noticing it (step 1). I felt it for weeks. But I couldn’t let it cause me to freeze while driving.

So I felt it, and noticed where it was in my body (tightness from my stomach up to my chest) and felt how strong it was, especially during especially scary parts of the drive (step 2).

Then, I let my body do what it was meant to do, process it (step 3). Lots of calming breathing exercises helped.

I also matched that feeling of fear with singing and praying – loudly – to match the energy of that fear. Especially on those blind hairpin turns, when I had no idea if I would have a car coming right at me when I got around the corner. I also proactively forced a huge smile on my face and appreciated the beauty of the ocean and waterfalls and flowers.

I survived the Hana Highway, and hope this story helps you the next time you’re feeling fear.

Review and practice the above steps with fear, or any unhelpful emotion, and see how things begin to improve.  

 

Photo by Mazhar Zandsalimi on Unsplash

What Were You Thinking? Harness the Power of Your Thoughts

What Were You Thinking? Harness the Power of Your Thoughts

What were you thinking?!

I remember that question being posed in a negative, judgmental or even joking way a lot in my childhood. Initially it was on TV show I watched where the main character did something to cause a big problem, like put a whole container of detergent into the washing machine and comes back a little while later to find a floor full of soap bubbles with more pouring out of the machine. And then her friend asks “what were you thinking?”

These days, I ask myself that question with a much different intention behind it. Not judging, or joking, but more from a curious place.

What was I thinking that led me to this problem, this poor result, or this frustrated feeling? It’s a great question to ask yourself, especially when working through challenging times.

For example, this morning as I stepped out of the shower I coughed and immediately winced in pain, as the muscle from my shoulder to my neck went into a painful spasm. The kind where you can’t turn your neck to see behind you without screaming in pain. This area had bothered me in the past, but not to this extreme.

As soon as it happened, as I worried about how this was going to disrupt my plans for today, I asked myself “what were you thinking” right before the cough. I’m moving to a new home in a few weeks, and was looking at the cabinet and thinking about all the things that have to get packed, and getting a bit stressed about it. Then the cough, then the pain: I interpreted it to be my body’s way of telling me to stop worrying about the future move, stay present and focused on today.

How our minds work

You see, our minds work in a particular way. It’s estimated that the mind thinks between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day which averages to 49 thoughts per minute, according to the Lab of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California.

Thoughts are your natural response to a situation or circumstance. As the human body encounters sensory data (what it sees, hears, etc.), your brain naturally attempts to make sense of this sensory data and the mind turns these signals into thoughts.

In other words, we experience something and immediately our brain attaches a thought to it. You walk into a room and think “hmm, it’s cold in here”.

There are so many thoughts throughout the day that we can’t pay attention to them all, but it’s important that you start because our thoughts create our emotions or feelings. It happens so quickly that sometimes we think the emotion caused the thought, but the thoughts come first. Sticking with the earlier cold room example, after thinking “hmm, it’s cold in here”, you start to feel uncomfortable and a little disappointed. You don’t like being cold.

Next comes how we behave, or act, based on this emotion or feeling. Again, you’re in a cold room, feeling uncomfortable, and now you go find a blanket or jacket to put on, and turn the heat up.

And that action you took gives your desired result: you begin to feel warmer, and happy that you’re no longer cold.

What you think directly influences how you feel and how you behave.

Negative self-talk and limiting beliefs

This same process can work in an unhelpful way too. If you’re struggling in a particular area of your life, it could be your thoughts that are keeping you in that struggle.

Sometimes you may not even be consciously aware of these thoughts. When I work with coaching clients, it’s very easy for me to hear these types of repetitive, unhelpful thoughts come up as my client is speaking.

It could be something as simple saying the words “should” or “try” a lot. “I should start meditating every day then I’ll feel better”, or “I’ve been so drained lately, I’ll try to get to bed early this week”.

How do you feel after saying those sentences? Confident, enthusiastic, eager to feel better? Not so much.

Compare that with “I will start mediating” or “I am going to get to bed early this week” – big difference in not only tone and energy behind the words you choose, but the feelings they elicit (confident, enthusiastic, eager, positive) and the results you’ll get.

Using weak words that don’t produce the emotions and feelings you’re seeking is setting yourself up to fail and come up short of your desired results. 

Limiting beliefs are repetitive thoughts you’ve had that have become truth for you; they’re part of your belief system, and now they’re limiting you in some way.

For example, you could have a limiting belief from something you heard in childhood from a parent, like “all rich people are corrupt and evil”.

So now, when you achieve some financial success, earn more money and start to build some wealth, you spend it very quickly or lose it through a bad investment. You seem to have a pattern of struggling with building and sustaining wealth, and that can be traced back to this limiting belief.

Money, and your relationship with it, is a key issue for many people and many times we have these limiting beliefs keeping us stuck.  

Another one is relationships. Maybe you’ve had the experience of getting really close to someone and then they disappoint you or they leave you.

Now you may have a thought that runs through your mind “I better not get to close to him, he’s just going to leave me anyway and I don’t want to get hurt.” And then you find yourself unable to have the close relationships you want to experience.

Here are other examples of limiting beliefs. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “I never have any luck.”
  • “I have to work really hard to be successful.“
  • “Work can’t be fun.”
  • “I’m too old” or “I’m too young.“
  • “I’m not good at ____________. “
  • “I can’t afford that.”

Harness the power of your thoughts: become aware

The first step in harnessing the power of your thoughts is to become aware of what they are.

If you work with a coach, you can ask her to pay attention to any limiting or negative beliefs or repetitive language you use. Sometimes we don’t hear ourselves until someone points it out to us, and that awareness alone can begin to elicit change.

Like in my muscle spasm story above, you can become more aware by asking yourself “what were you thinking?” right when a problem, issue or negative feeling arises.

Pay attention to your feelings and emotions and how they may showing up in your body before you act. Does your chest or jaw get tight when you perceive someone is treating you unfairly? Does your stomach hurt when you worry about an upcoming work deadline?

Harness the power of your thoughts: challenge and change your thoughts

Once aware of your thoughts and of the signals your body gives you, those emotions and feelings, you’re in a position to challenge and change these thoughts for better results.

For example, if you consider yourself too scared to step outside of your comfort zone, force yourself to do something that feels a little uncomfortable. Or, if you think you’re not good enough or don’t deserve to have success, do something that helps you to feel worthy.

Additionally, recondition your mind with thoughts and beliefs that are empowering, that serve you, and that get you closer to what you really want in your life.

Let’s say you’ve decided to stop eating sugar for health reasons. It’s not so bad after you get through the first few days of withdrawals. But after a few weeks of feeling full of energy and proud of sticking to no sugar, you don’t feel well, maybe you’re catching a cold, and a thought goes through your head as you spot what used to be your favorite cookies in the grocery store, “if I eat this cookie I’ll feel better”. 

Logically you know this isn’t true, but the thought and urge are strong. Maybe your Mom would give you a cookie if you hurt yourself as a child, to make you feel better. But it doesn’t really matter what happened in the past, just stay in the present.

You now have a choice to make, and it’s always about what you choose to believe and then what you choose to do. You’re responsible and in charge.

You can change that thought to “if I eat this cookie, I’ll feel even worse” or “if I have some nice hot tea with lemon I’ll feel better and recover more quickly” or for more emotion, “sugar is poison to my body, I’d rather nurture my body and start feeling better another way”. Think about how you’ll feel too: bringing strong emotions and feelings into these thoughts will empower you.

Harness the power of your thoughts & recondition your mind

Your mind is very powerful. If you’re like most people, you probably spend very little time reflecting on the way you think.

But negative thoughts that you don’t challenge and change can have damaging effects to your wellbeing and prevent you from ever achieving your full potential in life.

It all comes down to being aware of your thoughts, deciding what you’re going to choose to believe about those thoughts (is it serving me or not?), and changing any limiting thoughts and beliefs to ones that benefit you.

Making the conscious decision to harness the power of your thoughts and recondition your mind with empowering thoughts and beliefs is key to your success. 

 

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash