You probably clicked through to this article because deep down (or really clearly), you know some type of fear is stopping you from moving forward in life. I applaud you for realizing this—it’s the crucial first step! The next question is how to overcome fear so that it no longer runs your life.
At the Fearless Living Institute, I’ve seen my clients’ fears manifest in a thousand different ways. Social anxiety, procrastination, low self-esteem… So many people learned to accept these as just a part of life. But they don’t have to be!
Do you know what the biggest obstacle to overcoming fear is? Most people don’t admit they have it. And I’m the first one to tell you this because, for 20 years, I couldn’t admit to anyone just how afraid I was.
I didn’t even admit this to myself because I was paralyzed by a fear of forgiveness (more on that in a bit), poor beliefs about myself, and a lack of self-confidence. Why? In short, the psychological mechanisms I once developed to protect myself were keeping me from growing.
To better understand what I mean by this, let’s start with the basics.
How Fear Limits You
The fears that limit you the most are usually those buried in the deepest layers of your subconscious. I call them emotional fears. They’re more abstract than being afraid of physical threats (e.g., a speeding car approaching from around the corner) and often point to a lack of psychological safety in certain areas of your life. Examples of the most limiting and common fears include fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of vulnerability, or fear of intimacy.
Learn more: What Causes Fear and How Do We Respond to It?
Fear is often connected to certain core beliefs you developed in the past. At the time, they may have protected you from a perceived threat. Today they most likely limit your potential. They induce the super stressful fight-or-flight mode, even when you’re not in any real danger.
What once kept you safe is now keeping you stuck. You outgrew your past circumstances—but your emotional fears stayed the same!
As an example, imagine a child who was often bullied at school. The poor fellow had to do things to protect himself, like keep quiet in class and shrink to become invisible. With that came social anxiety and a belief that he’s not good enough for others to like him.
Fast forward 20 years, and the same guy may be an amazing manager at a thriving company. He’s liked and respected by his team. However, because of his deeply rooted fear, he can’t see how successful he became. He’s still afraid of opening up in front of others, and that makes him miss amazing social and professional opportunities.
Holding on to your emotional fears doesn’t protect you from danger. Rather, it makes you see threats where there are none.
Luckily, you don’t have to be stuck in your fear forever. Let me show you how to overcome fear step-by-step—not by avoiding it, but by observing it in your daily life!
Step 1: Accept That You Feel Fear
Emotional fears, like the fear of rejection or failure, can be so overpowering that we try to avoid them as much as we can. The fear can be so strong it makes your whole body freeze!
But escaping fear or wishing it away doesn’t help you to overcome it. The point isn’t to erase fear from your experience. Trying to do that leads to repression and emotional denial that usually just adds to fearful thoughts that bubble up even more.
Instead, you need to acknowledge your fear and get to know it inside and out. Take a moment to let this sink in. Fear is a natural human feeling, and there’s nothing weird about it!
Normalizing your experience of fear is the first step to making it less overwhelming.
Many people don’t admit they feel afraid even when they do. Sometimes they’re not aware of it and they interpret fear as procrastination, laziness, or perfectionism. These are actually fear responses—we’ll get to that in a moment.
You may also think that admitting you’re afraid is a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. But do you know what actually makes you weak?
Not acknowledging your right to feel fear in the first place.
I once had a client (let’s call her Maria) who was desperate to go on a solo journey to India. A lot of her friends made a trip like that and came back transformed. Maria also wanted to experience such spiritual growth, even though the idea of going alone made her deeply uncomfortable. She felt afraid but didn’t admit that to anyone, least of all herself.
After all, if her friends could do it, so could she!
So, she boarded the plane to India despite being terrified and having no idea how to cope. Instead of enjoying the trip and trying out new things, Maria stayed around the hotel most of the time, eating American food and reading books. She was afraid to do all the things she thought she would—going to local markets, spiritual sites, and indulging in the local street food.
Once she returned home, she decided she needed help. Her trip might not have been what she expected, but it definitely showed her something important: Her decisions were driven by fear way too often. In India, it became painfully clear how this stopped her from living her life to the fullest. However, she knew this was also true in her life back at home.
She recognized all of the moments in her life when she said no but really wanted to say yes and vice versa. She recognized the times when she didn’t know how to speak up for herself. She remembered the outings with friends when she followed the group despite wanting to do something else. In all of these moments, fear would hijack her decision-making, leaving her feeling miserable, dissatisfied, and misunderstood.
But now Maria had an advantage: She became aware of her fear. With that awareness, she contacted me about working through her fear through coaching. During our first session, I had her practice asking one simple question:
“Am I making it up, or is it true?”
Guided by this key question, we went through her experience in India and all the fears that stopped her from doing what she really wanted to. She soon realized that most of those fears were based on made-up stories (e.g., “I will look stupid not knowing how to pronounce the names of the dishes in an Indian restaurant,” or “I will get ripped off at a local market because I’m so naive.”) This allowed her to look beyond the fear and realize that many of those stories weren’t worth listening to.
Learning the anatomy of your fear is the necessary first step to move past it. The next step is to be a bit more aware of how that fear becomes activated.
Step 2: Identify Your Fear Responses
After accepting that fear is present, you also need to understand how it works. Let’s talk about the Wheel of Fear. In short, it’s a psychological loop that makes you replay certain wired-in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to protect yourself.
But what it really does is limit your potential in the present. My purpose here at Fearless Living is to help you break out of that loop.
Even though there are four stages on the Wheel of Fear, we’ll focus on the first two for now: the trigger and the fear response. One leads to the other as it brings up a fearful situation from the past and makes you act on it in the present.
When this happens unconsciously, you end up being driven by fear. You act on autopilot. But when you bring some awareness into this process, you stop letting fear control you.
Again, it’s best to understand it through an example. Let’s say that your core fear is the fear of intimacy, and it’s fueled by a core belief that you’re not good enough. You secretly believe you’ll never be able to create a loving relationship. Once you become intimate with someone, they’ll eventually discover how flawed you are. That’s when they’ll abandon you because they’re not interested in building a life with someone so broken.
If this is the fear-based story you tell, it’ll eventually manifest its way into reality! Your partner may accept you exactly as you are, but you’ll still notice (or project) signs in their behavior that they’re rejecting you. For example, they’ll be out with friends and you’ll interpret this as a sign that they don’t want to spend time with you anymore. Or they’ll make an innocent joke that you interpret as a huge criticism.
That’s what the trigger looks like. If you believe the fearful thoughts that come with it, for example, “they’re losing interest in me,” or “they must think I’m lame,” you’re very likely to engage in a fear response.
A fear response is what you do when you’re trying to protect yourself from a perceived threat. Usually, you do it through a coping mechanism you developed in the past. In the example above, you may start withdrawing in intimate situations, claim your partner did something wrong, or even flee the relationship—all in an effort to avoid being abandoned.
Whether your biggest fear is intimacy, public speaking, social anxiety, or something else, the fear response always has the same principle. It once emerged to protect you, but now it’s sabotaging your life.
But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: Fear can only do that when you’re unconscious. Becoming aware of your fear response as it happens shifts everything. If you manage to see what you’re doing, you empower yourself to take control of your life rather than resigning it to fear.
But there’s one more element you need for that.
Step 3: How To Overcome Fear for Good With Self-Compassion
Okay, so you allowed yourself to accept your feelings of fear as well as noticed your fear responses. Now what?
The last step is to trade your fear response for a freedom response. This cannot happen without self-compassion.
The challenge here is the following: When you take an honest look at the extent of your fear for the first time, it may overwhelm you. Most people don’t realize how much fear has been running their life before they start working on their mental health. Once they do, they’re shocked by how strongly fear is rooted in their lives.
This is typically when their self-confidence takes a dip. They start beating themselves up for “being so weak” or promptly diagnose themselves with an anxiety disorder.
Not so fast!
Understand this: When you’re unconscious, you interpret fear in a myriad of ways. You tell yourself (and others!) that you can’t address your fears because you’re lazy, unmotivated, disorganized… or that you simply don’t have the time to do what you want to. You build stories and find excuses so you don’t have to face your fears.
That’s why when you start observing your inner life, it’s important to be prepared for what you might see. The best way to do it is to cultivate self-compassion and realize that your negative thoughts are just that: thoughts.
Self-compassion means that you choose kindness over judgment, feelings of belonging over isolation, and non-judgmental awareness of fear over thinking you’re weak or terrible for feeling it. Being compassionate allows you to rewire your core beliefs about yourself and realize you’re not “bad” or “broken.” All you are is afraid, and there’s nothing strange about it, remember?
The problem is, many people judge themselves based on how they believe others see them. They’re afraid that someone may not like them or see them as inadequate or silly. I had many clients—especially women—who spent years in toxic relationships or abusive workplaces just because they worried what others would think if they spoke their minds.
This is what compassion for yourself changes, without fail. I like to say that the core of self-compassion is accepting yourself more than you want others to accept you. Only then are you able to see your fear response and not beat yourself up for it.
And that’s when the magic happens. When you look at yourself through the lens of compassion, you suddenly become in charge of how you respond to any situation. You see your fear responses as they’re about to happen, but you don’t judge yourself for having them. Most importantly, you know what to do when one starts creeping up on you.
That’s why I call it a freedom response. Suddenly, you stop running on autopilot, trying to protect yourself from imaginary threats. You no longer feel like you need to withdraw or escape the situation. You realize how unlikely that worst-case scenario your mind projected actually is.
This may be the first time in your life when you realize you’re free to choose. The freedom response allows you to act based on what’s happening in the present, not your fearful memories.
When this type of breakthrough happens even once, you’re well on your way. You now know how your mind works, and this shows you how to overcome fear in literally any situation!
Nobody Becomes Fearless Alone
Rewiring your core beliefs to free yourself from fear isn’t easy. But it can be made easier by doing this in a community. Imagine having a support group of fellow travelers who always have your back!
For this to happen, a great act of courage is required: asking for help. Remember that even though the Internet is full of self-help articles and videos, this isn’t always enough. Sometimes you need real people to share experiences with. This makes you realize that you’re not alone in your quest to overcome fear.
This is what the Fearless Living Training Program is designed for. The 10-week-long journey brings together a group of courageous individuals who love themselves enough to ask for help. Together, we crack the code to fear and help you find your unique way out of the fear loop.