If the ‘what ifs’ are holding you back, it’s time to confront them.

Some people get a buzz from stuff that scares the bejezzus out of them. Rollercoaster rides, leaping out of planes, bungee-jumping, motor-racing, skiing down vertical drops, climbing sheer heights. You name it, if it can kill you, there are those who will pitch themselves up close and personal with it.

I’m not one of those people, and if you’re reading this article you’re probably not either. I don’t like the feeling of fear and yet I am full of it. You name it and I’ve probably got a fear of it.

As humans we’re hard-wired for fear. In ancient times it kept us from being eaten. Nowadays the world has become so chaotic and stressful we often find it impossible to switch off our safety valve and so we experience a rumbling of low level fear or anxiety much of the time. Sometimes something will cause it to spike and suddenly we are aware of our vulnerable mental state. We are damned by the ‘what ifs’. What if I fail, what if I succeed, what if they hate me, what if I die. We freeze in the headlights of a challenge, or run away from it because it’s too big and scary for us to cope with.

In fact you need to find your inner cave woman, take the object of your fear, club it over the head, slice it into bite-size pieces and munch through it morsel by morsel. The more you confront your fears – ie feel it and do it anyway – the less it holds its power over you. Accept that fear is there but turn its powerful energy into a force that works for you not against you.

Which is all very easy to say isn’t it? But what if, in a hawk-like way, it has buried it talons deep into your psyche and you really are having a tough time shaking it off? Are you really going to give up in the face of fear? If we humans had done that in the early days, we would still be pond-weed. No, we are made of sterner stuff. We have evolved in spite of and often because of our fears. They have made us what we are.

“”Have a Big Why that propels you through fear so you are able to achieve that which you are afraid of.””

So what is the key to fear-busting? Well, I believe, it is having a stronger “Why” than the “It’ll kill/humiliate me” type scenarios running through your brain. Have a Big Why that propels you through fear so you are able to achieve that which you are afraid of. For instance, say you are in the corporate world and are fed up of the rat race but you are terrified of going it alone, starting your own business, becoming a free spirit. You have steady income, structure, sociable environment hanging in the balance against autonomy, freedom, pursuing your dream and the option of working from your bed.

The only way you are going to ditch the safe option is if it’s so horrendous and painful that you can’t bear it anymore, or the alternative option holds so much positive power for you that you are willing to ditch the safe and hitch a ride on the scary. And you make that choice based on your values. If financial security, sociability and structure are your core values then maybe the corporate world is right for you. But if autonomy, freedom and excitement define your DNA then becoming an entrepreneur, self-employed or a world-wanderer may well be the way to nirvana.

I recently heard a talk with a former CEO. She had run that company for twenty-five years. It was her life, she had transformed it; it was her baby. But her baby had grown up and over a period of three years she started to feel that perhaps it was time to move on. She was torn. She loved her job, the challenge of evolving the brand, her team and the opportunities her role afforded her. She felt the itch for change but couldn’t summon the courage to leave.

Until one day she woke up and instead of running through all the things that she would miss about her job, she suddenly thought about the possibilities that leaving would open up for her. In that moment she took a grip of her fear and she handed in her notice. Of course that wasn’t the end of the story. Critically, she admitted, there have been many times since that she has been engulfed by fears, but she talks herself through it “You have achieved a big thing in the past, you can do this next little thing.” She reminds herself of what is valuable to her in her new life and she uses that to guide her through her insecure moments.

Whether your fears arise in health, work, love, relationships or life goals, use the same litmus test. Why is it important to you, what values does it hold for you and how does it fit with your purpose and life mission? Then take the task, problem or challenge and break it down into manageable chunks and work through it little and often.

Surround yourself with cheerleaders and supporters and gentle challengers who know your values and aren’t afraid to encourage or give you a kick up the butt when you need it. Forgive yourself for your fears but don’t let them come between you and what is important to you. Life is one hell of a scary ride but cling on to your values and give it all you’ve got.

Words: Lou Hamilton, creative life coach and author of Fear Less: How To Envision Your Future & Create A Brave New You (Orion Spring)