A fear mindset could be the main cause of your stress
Your mindset is how you think and what you believe about yourself and your environment. It plays a critical role in how you cope with life’s challenges.
What you think determines what you believe, and what you believe influences what you experience in life. Thoughts shape your reality.
The ancient Chinese philosopher and writer Lao Tzu wrote: “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
If a majority of your thoughts are fear-based, you’ve got a fear mindset. It could be thoughts and even statements (your words) about fear of rejection, fear of failure, or fear that you’re not enough.
This fear mindset saps your energy. It keeps you in the predictable and comfortable, preventing you from challenging yourself to achieve your full potential.
Fear is a normal emotion and has its function. It serves as your natural response to possible threats to your physical or emotional safety.
Unfortunately, in our modern world this response can be misused, overused or chronic. (See my previous blog called Letting Go of Fear.)
Too much fear causes stress. A fear mindset is contracting, and exemplified in chronic tension, struggle and hardship. This unhelpful energy is energy you could be investing in growth, in achieving your dreams and desires.
People often give up on what they want because they believe that reaching their goal is beyond their abilities. They continue living in fear and settle into their lives, thinking they shouldn’t try at all.
Fear is part of the fixed mindset
Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, writes about the power of mindset. She states that success is influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities.
People with a fixed mindset – those who believe that abilities are fixed – are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset – those who believe that abilities can be learned and developed. Fear is part of this fixed mindset.
The most successful people have a growth mindset. They don’t freeze up or flee when fear shows up, they embrace it and leverage that fear into taking action. When faced with a setback, they try harder.
They keeping looking for solutions and trying new strategies. They adapt and grow.
What mindset do you have?
What are your predominant thoughts and actions? If they seem fear-based or fixed, there’s no need to worry. The best part about your mindset is that you can change it.
You can move from a fixed, fear mindset to a love-based, trust-based, growth mindset where you’re more likely to flourish. Trust and love drives out fear. They can’t exist at the same time.
Intentionally Expand and Grow – Take Action
Use one or more of these techniques to move from a fear mindset that’s causing your stress to a new mindset of trust and growth.
1. Watch your thoughts.
First off, pay attention to your thoughts and the words you use. Are you frequently telling yourself fearful or limiting things? Things like: “I’ll never be able to get that promotion, I’m not experienced enough.”; “I’m not smart enough to lead this project”; “What if I fail – will they fire me?”
2. Choose to adopt a new mindset. Change your limiting thoughts and beliefs.
Start by challenging your thoughts the next time you don’t do well on a task. For example, if your presentation at work didn’t go well, and you hear yourself thinking “I never do anything right”, “I’m not good at my job”, or “I’m such a failure”, stop and ask some prodding questions.
What is the evidence for and against your conclusion? You can create a list of all the times your presentations were successful and when you were great at your job in the past.
You could think of reasons why it didn’t go so well this time, rather than concluding you’re a failure. Did you get enough quality sleep?; did you plan and prepare enough?; are there other things going on in your life right now causing you to be off your game?
Answering these questions leads to the new mindset. Figure out what new beliefs are more supportive and adopt those beliefs. Your internal dialogue of “I’m such a failure” can change to “If I’m prepared and feeling well physically and emotionally, I’ll always succeed.”
Keep in mind, these new beliefs take their place alongside the old ones, and as they become stronger, they give you a different way to think, feel, and act.
3. See everything as an opportunity to grow and develop.
Another way to change your mindset is to see every situation and person you encounter as an opportunity for expansion and development. When challenging events happen, ask yourself: “How is this calling me to expand and grow?”, “What am I learning?”, or “How can I improve?”
This strategy works well if you have a demanding or controlling leader at work. You can switch the focus of being judged or criticized to how this is calling you to develop.
It could be as simple as witnessing their behavior and realizing you never want to treat others that way, or maybe it’s a challenge about developing a relationship with a difficult personality.
If you stay in a fear mindset, the stress of living every day in fear of disapproval or of doing something wrong can become toxic. You may become paralyzed from moving forward in attempt to protect yourself.
Changing your mindset to embrace the challenge and grow allows you to take back control in what feels like a powerless situation and live up to your potential.
4. Use the word yet
Adding yet to your inner dialogue may be enough to change your beliefs about yourself and what you’re able to do. It helps with motivation too.
You can change:
- “I can’t do this” to “I can’t do this yet”;
- “I’m not good at this” to “I’m not good at this yet”;
- “This doesn’t work” to “This doesn’t work yet”.
One last thing. Make sure after you change your thoughts you step into those new beliefs. Take an action step in that direction to support the new thought.
Changing the fear mindset that’s causing your stress will change your outcome and results. With a new mindset, you can transform your life and the lives of others.
Photo by Bram on Unsplash
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
Worrying can become a self-sabotaging habit that drains your energy. When you’re in uncertain times worry can make you more anxious and prevent you from being fully there, in the moment and present, for yourself, family and friends.
We are in the middle of a global pandemic right now, COVID-19. People are worried about their health and the health of their loved ones, especially those in high-risk groups.
They are worried about the financial implications as the stock market crashes lower and lower each day and 401K accounts reaching new lows.
They are worried about what this means to their careers or businesses. Depending on your industry, there could be less demand for goods and services and potential layoffs or business closures.
But worrying too much increases anxiety and fear, and can take away your power. Focusing on what you can control and harnessing that for your benefit is a surefire way to feel better.
How to Worry Less, Especially Now
One thing you always have the option to control are your thoughts. Your thoughts create the feelings and moods you experience. And they influence the decisions you make and actions that you take.
Here’s an example of an unhelpful thought: “I can’t believe I have to stay isolated and homebound for weeks. This sucks. I’m going to go crazy after a few days.” The feelings this kind of thought brings up is pessimism, doubt, worry, and discouragement. No surprise the actions following these kind of unhelpful thoughts and feels could be: fighting or getting annoyed with loved ones that you’re spending so much time with now, checking out and binge-watching TV shows, or not doing anything productive at home while you have this opportunity.
Contrast that with a helpful thought: “This isn’t ideal, but I’m going to make the best of this situation.” The feelings from these kind of thoughts might be enthusiasm, empowerment and positive expectation.
And typical actions following these kinds of thoughts and feelings may be: catching up on all the reading you never have time for, calling relatives and friends to check in on them and show them you care, and finally decluttering and organizing out your home office or desk that’s been on your to-do list for a while now.
Or you may find yourself able to work better if you’re now required to work from home due to social distancing. The quiet and lack of office distractions can lead to increased productivity and creativity.
If you find yourself working from home for the first time, or struggling with it, read my blog about how to be more productive while working from home here.
Thought-Work to the Rescue
I recommend thought-work to my coaching clients, a lot. It’s the process of becoming aware of your thoughts and changing them to serve you and your best interests. It’s the opposite of allowing your mind to take over, which can lead to feeling out of control and wondering why you’re more anxious or fearful.
Here’s the 2 Step Process
1. Notice your thoughts. For some people, it may be easier to back into what the thought was by noticing how you’re feeling. In that case, ask yourself what you were thinking right before feeling a certain way. That allows you to find the root cause, or thought, that precipitated the feeling.
2. Change your thoughts and repeat. Stop yourself and change it to a better thought, and repeat it over and over throughout the day.
Choose a thought that is positive to elicit useful and optimistic emotions.
One way is to create mantras (thoughts) that you repeat on a regular basis to bring calm when your mind tries to take over. One of my favorites in uncertain and fearful times is: “This too shall pass”.
Another idea is to attach your mantra to a daily activity and say it/think it during that activity. For example, when washing your hands frequently, like we’re being advised to do to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 spread, think about the positive reason behind it: it’s keeping me and my loved ones healthy.
Instead of singing some random song like happy birthday to make sure you’re washing long enough to be effective, sing “washing my hands keeps me safe and healthy”; or if you’re spiritually inclined and a student of A Course in Miracles, like me, sing “I am the Light of the World, Love is my only function, That’s why I’m here”.
Sing the same mantra over and over until you reach at least 20 seconds, the recommended minimum time when washing hands.
The point is to find an uplifting and comforting mantra to sing that reinforces the feelings of being empowered, hopeful and optimistic.
Take Advantage of this Time
One positive of social distancing is that it’s slowing things down. You’re being encouraged to take stock and find more appreciation for the simple pleasures in your day-to-day life.
Take advantage of this slower pace and don’t forget about self-care. Give yourself permission to rest, and to take time for you. Here’s a blog to give you more ideas you can try.
Stay Present to Lessen the Worry
Stay present. If you catch yourself worrying about the future, all the uncertain what-ifs that your mind makes up, remind yourself that you are safe at this moment, and that nothing bad is happening right now.
As you repeatedly work on your thoughts and practice some of the suggestions mentioned here, you’ll keep your worry in check so that you can live your life with more appreciation and less fear.