Leo Babauta – USA
Overcome the Fears That Stop You From Focusing
This special bonus chapter was written by Gail Brenner who is a psychologist with 17 years of therapy experience who practices in Santa Barbara, California and blogs at A Flourishing Life.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In
that space is our power to choose our response. In our
response lies our growth and our freedom.”
– Victor Frankl
You may be on board with the value of focusing and may have had some success in eliminating distractions. But maybe you’ve noticed that fear is blocking your progress.
Simply by committing to focusing, your fears about what may or may not happen as a result are triggered. Do any of these sound familiar?
- I’m afraid I’ll miss something.
- I’m afraid I’ll fail.
- I’m afraid I’ll succeed.
- I’m afraid others will think I am uninformed.
- I’m afraid of losing someone’s approval.
- I’m afraid of working hard.
These boil down to the three major fears: being disapproved of or rejected by others, lack of control, and the unknown.
Don’t Be Afraid of Fear
Feeling afraid is natural when we break a habit. Even though we can identify the benefits of changing, fear stops us in our tracks, and here’s why. Doing something new means leaving familiar ground and stepping out into the unknown. Not knowing what will happen is the danger zone, and fear is the result.
The intent of fear is to protect us, and it accomplishes this by dreaming up every potential negative outcome, then repeating them over and over in our minds. It keeps us stuck in our old behavior, when we long for change. No wonder fear is paralyzing.
You have probably already recognized that ignoring fear doesn’t work. You can’t move forward if you pretend it isn’t there. Besides, fear thrives on inattention. Unexamined fear feeds the tendency to distract yourself. Until you stop, turn around, and take an honest look at it, you will continue to act out your fear-based behavior, and the joy of focusing will elude you. Exploring fear is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself.
Are you resisting focusing because of fear? Is this what you want?
If not, then the opportunity is available to learn how to deal with fear. Meet it. Welcome it in. Be curious about it, and you will see that what you think is the monster in the closet is actually your friend and ally.
Establish a Plan
The first step to coping with fear is to establish a plan. The purpose of the plan is for you to feel prepared when you are trying to focus, but fear intervenes. Take a look at the tools I’ve outlined below. Choose the ones that resonate with you. Practice them. Print them out or put them in a file on your desktop. When you feel the urge to distract but you really want to focus, they will be available.
Prepare to Meet Fear
Here are five guidelines for getting acquainted with your fear.
- The goal of coping with fear is not to eliminate it. Fear is natural to being human. Your experience of fear may lessen over time, but this is not the goal. Rather, the goal is awareness and understanding. When you make a practice of becoming aware of fear and learning how it operates in you, you can make a conscious choice that reflects what you want for yourself. You can choose focusing over emails, twitter, or any other distraction, and your life will improve. Awareness disempowers fear. Fear can’t motivate you unconsciously if you allow it to be present with full recognition.
- Fear is trying to help you. Its intent is to protect you, to keep you safe, to prevent you from mistakes and unpleasant experiences. However, the result of fear is that we end up feeling stuck and limited. It is rarely a good idea to make decisions based on fear (checking email for the tenth time in an hour?), but know that the purpose of fear is to help.
- Bring an attitude of openness, willingness, curiosity, and compassion to your exploration of fear. Let go of resisting it.
- The actual experience of fear is not as bad as you might imagine. You might be afraid of fear in the anticipation of it, but the direct experience of it is not nearly as difficult as you think it will be. It is only thoughts and physical sensations. And remember, knowing it is the path to freedom from it.
- Coping with fear is an ongoing process. Fear may continue to arise for the rest of your life, but this is not a problem. It doesn’t mean that you have failed. Your goal is awareness and understanding in the moment. Every time fear appears, you get to reinforce your awareness of it and deepen in your understanding. Go with the flow of it, and I guarantee you will feel happier and more peaceful.
Tools for Coping with Fear
Try on these tools. See what works. Then keep them in your back pocket so you can use them when you need them.
- Notice fear. Noticing fear is the most important step because the other tools are useless without it. Your fear might be obvious to you. If not, notice the urge to distract and see that fear is driving it. Celebrate the moment of becoming aware of fear as it is now possible to be free of it.
- As soon as you notice it, stop. Take a breath. Stay open.
- Think of yourself as an explorer going into new territory. Mentally put on your headlamp and bring your attention into the fear. Forget about what you think it may be like, and be curious about what it is actually like. What triggers it? What sensations do you feel in your body? What thoughts appear in your mind? What urges do you have? Study your fear without acting on it so it becomes a known quantity to you.
- Self-soothe. Tell yourself soothing thoughts, such as, “I can do this,” and “This will pass.” Ask yourself how old the fear is. Usually, fear comes from a very young part of you that needs love and reassurance. Self-soothing is the perfect medicine.
- Don’t pay attention to your thoughts. Fearful thoughts are irrational and unhelpful. They make you think that bad outcomes will occur when the truth is that you don’t know what will happen. In fact, the outcomes may be more amazing than you could ever have imagined. Instead, move your attention to your breath, get up and walk around, and follow step 6.
- Connect with what you want. For change to happen, your desire to be free of an old habit needs to be stronger than the momentum of the habit. Continually remind yourself of your desire to focus and the reasons why it is important to you.
- Consider the consequences of distracting vs. the consequences of focusing. Again, what do you want? You get to choose.
- Make a wise, conscious choice. Congratulations! You have reasoned your way through the fear and can make a choice that comes from your true desire. Let yourself bask in your success. Feel the freedom that comes from no longer being a victim to fear.
This process might seem long, but it actually can happen in a minute or two. It gets easier as you practice it. Once you notice the fear and stop, you are well on your way to moving through it.
I want to reiterate that you may never be finished with fear. Don’t expect it to go away completely. Each time it appears is another opportunity for you to be kind, open, and loving. When it shows up, receive it like a friendly visitor. Know fear so it doesn’t hold you back, then go and enjoy yourself.
To be continued