There are a lot of people out there who believe pushing through fear is the key to success. A quick search for fear-related quotes brings up statements like feel the fear and do it anyway, don’t let fear win, everything you want is on the other side of fear.
Of course, there are times when this advice is accurate. Those times when self-doubt is holding us back from what we really want, times when our brain sees risk instead of opportunity, times when we have to do something new to show ourselves that we can.
But there are other times when pushing through fear is detrimental, triggering anxiety and/or leading to burnout. There are times when our fear truly is protecting us. The difficulty is knowing when pushing through will help us grow, and when it wont.
I’ve definitely done both. I’ve said yes to things that scare me and grown in the process, and I’ve said yes to things that scare me and felt destroyed after. It’s like skating on a frozen lake, the feeling is incredible when you realise the ice will hold you up, but one wrong turn could lead you to a patch of thin ice.
So how do you know when to push through fear and when not to? Unfortunately there’s no definitive way to know for sure how an experience will affect you, the unknown is part of the risk. But I do believe we can make more educated guesses if we take the time to check in with ourselves before making a decision. Here are some journaling prompts to help with this.
1. What was your first reaction when you thought about doing this thing? How did your body and mind respond?
This can be a tricky one, but I can usually feel a subtle difference between the different types of fear in my body and mind. There’s the fear that has a tinge of excitement when I know I’ll regret saying no. This fear resides in my gut, like butterflies. It’s palpable, but it has soft edges. My thoughts might race a little initially, but they quickly settle. This is the fear I’m happy to push through.
Then there’s the fear that takes over my whole body. This fear is hot and sharp, it makes my mind whir like an overloaded computer that’s about to crash. Generally, this is the fear I choose not to push through.
2. What opportunities for growth are there?
Shifting your mindset from perceived risk to opportunity is incredibly powerful. How will you grow as a person by doing this thing? This is important to pin down, because sometimes we do things because we think we should, even if it won’t help us grow.
3. What opportunities for harm are there?
As we consider growth, it’s also useful to consider harm. For example, if you have anxiety and you already feel triggered by the thought of doing this thing, could it cause you more harm doing it? Our brains will often see harm where there is none (remember, we are terrible as realising how resilient we are), so I implore you to take your time with this one and think realistically about how harmful it could be.
4. Why do you want to do this?
Are you doing this to bring you closer to a personal or professional goal? Will it help you grow? Or are you doing this because you think you should? Or because someone else wants you to? It may seem simple, but checking in with why you actually want to do this thing is crucial.
5. Think about a future you, the you who has done the thing… how are they feeling?
This is the prompt I use as a quick check-in whenever an opportunity that scares me comes up. I think back to the times I’ve pushed through fear and felt amazing for it and ask myself how future Kat will feel after doing this. Try visualising yourself doing it, how does it feel?
6. Think about a future you, the you who decided not to do thing… how are they feeling?
Another future you exercise, but this time you didn’t do the thing. How are they feeling now? Do they regret not doing it? Are they feeling stuck and stunted? Or are they feeling relief, calm and content with their choice?
7. What feels scarier to you, doing the thing or not doing the thing and regretting it?
This is where you can play with fear a bit. What feels scarier? Again, sometimes doing the thing is genuinely scarier than the regret you might feel. Only you can answer this.
8. What else is happening in your life right now?
An important nuance that often gets left out of the picture when people encourage you to push through fear. What’s framing your life right now? What stressors are present? How will this affect you if you decide to do the thing?
9. What support do you have in place?
As well as considering what stressors are in your life right now, it’s helpful to remind yourself of what support systems you have in place. Who do you have in your life that can cheer you on? Who can you turn to when you’re feeling scared? Who can remind you of how capable you are when you need a boost?
10. If doing the thing isn’t right for you right now, but you want to do it eventually, what small steps towards it can you take?
If you’ve worked your way through these prompts and have come to the conclusion that doing this thing isn’t the right step for you right now, please know this is totally OK! There’s no shame in making choices that are best for us. If however, you do want to do this thing at some point in the future, consider what small steps you could take towards it so that one day, doing it will be the right move.
I hope these prompts are helpful, I just think it’s so important to recognise the nuance in this conversation of self-doubt. We’re all different and the blanket advice of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ isn’t right for all of us.
This is going to be the last blog for a little while as the podcast is coming back for season four! And as much as I wish I could continue doing both the blog and the podcast, I’ve learnt my limitations during my burnout last year and recognising that I can only do one at a time. Transcripts of the podcasts will live here though, so if listening to them isn’t your thing, you can read them here instead.
Let me know if you try these prompts over on Instagram (@katbluejay).
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