Fear has a purpose in life. As the character Joy in one of my kids favorite Disney movie Inside Out said, “Fear keeps Rylie alive.” Fear warns us of danger, helps us take another look at a choice and decide if it is a wise decision. However, when fear prevents you from learning a new skill, reaching out to someone, asking for help, or taking a chance on yourself, fear is detrimental to your growth.
Learning a new skill is like learning to ride a bike and can be a traumatic experience. My father loves and I really do mean loves dramatically retelling the story when he removed my training wheels for the first time. Apparently, I bawled hysterically and pleaded with my father, “Daddy please don’t take off the training wheels! Please don’t do it!” over, and over again…. Rightfully so, I was terrified of the unknown. How would I ride my bike fast without the security of those two extra wheels keeping me balanced? Good gravy! I cringe at this adolescent self cowering in fear.
My four year old decided to learn how to ride his bike without training wheels this month. We took a family outing to the church parking-lot where there was plenty of safe, flat space and took off his training wheels. Once the wheels were removed, Link was suddenly completely against riding his bike and began to cry. My heart sank as I saw myself in his shoes years ago. I tried to reason with myself as the trauma of bike riding came to me. Both Linkin now, and I then, were completely capable of riding our bikes without training wheels, we just didn’t know it.
After some bargaining for ice cream Sundays, several pushed starts and failed “take off” moments on the bike, my husband stopped Linkin’s bike and sat on the concrete. Their eyes met and Shane asked, “What are you afraid of?” With tears rolling down Linkin’s adorable little cheeks he said what many other children before him have said, “Daddy, I will fall without my training wheels.” My heart broke recalling the same fear when I was his age. Shane with a smile said, “Buddy, I’m your training wheels.” Then with exasperation Linkin said, “But Dad, you can’t be split in half!” With half chuckle Shane replied, “No, I can’t be split, but I’m better than training wheels because I won’t let you fall.” Little Linkin bit his lip, put trust his father’s words and the bike riding process started again.
Too often we ask our children to set aside their fears, trust in us or themselves and move forward with the task. I find myself telling my children out of exasperation to not be afraid of the dark when I’m half asleep or to be brave to try something new although they are afraid. When was the last time we put ourselves in their shoes and tried something scary even though we were terrified inside?
Thankfully I have not repeated learning to ride a bike, but I still deal with my fears of the unknown. I am happy to say that although there were way too many tears shed for both bike-learning experiences, both Linkin and yes I- are training-wheel free. There was lots of patience that was required for us tearful kids as we learned to conquer our fear from within.
How does one successfully silence the fear from within? The answer of conquering fear from within and riding a bike is the same…address and understand the fear then move forward! Don’t run away or shirk in a corner until the problem is gone. Face the fear with courage and seek to understand the fear with these six questions to help you move forward.
Address and Understand:
- Identify the source of fear. – If you are deciding to do something that risks your life- that fear is good! Listen to that fear, think through the consequences and then ask for help from the right source. However, if this fear comes from a social interaction, speech you are giving, anxiety of the unknown… proceed to the next question.
- What can I control? – Think about the circumstance that you are feeling fear and write down what you can control. If your fear is public speaking, identifying what you can control for this speech, like preparation and rehearsing the speech to a family member or the mirror will help lower your anxiety.
- What am I missing out on if I let this fear hold me back?—Again, writing a list of the moments, experiences or life-opportunities missed on because of fear- just might propel you forward into change.
- Who does this fear serve?– Strange question right? The “who” is important. Allowing fear to stop you from doing something you would ultimately like to do is not serving you. So who or what is benefitting from fear crippling you? Or the lack of courage?
- What is the worst that can happen? Allow yourself the opportunity to be pessimistic for a second and write/think about all the terrible things that could happen if you mess up your speech or fall off your bike.
- What is the best that can happen? Now, allow yourself to think optimistically and write down everything that could go right.
I am not perfect. Oh heavens, I am far from it. In fact, fear rules a large part of my decisions. There were points in my life where I would get so physically ill that I wouldn’t feel better till AFTER I performed. I know- shocking! I look so confident in person and on stage, I got my degree in Piano Performance… makes sense right?
My mother and I wrote that six questions above process. We analyzed my fears over and over until- my fear made sense. But how does one move forward? Just because you address and understand the fear- how can you move forward? The answer is simple but stated multiple ways: fake it till you make it or pretend you are no longer afraid or trust yourself or like Nike suggests: just do it!
When Linkin was learning to ride his bike I watched him trust his father and move forward. Linkin would start pedaling then he would look behind him to make sure Shane was still holding onto his seat. Linkin felt he needed to look behind him for reassurance, but Linkin’s balance would waiver and he would tip off his bike. Looking behind, prevented Linkin from moving forward. You can not move forward when you take your eye off the target in front of you.
- Forget the past. Whatever past experience you had with that fear, let it go and look forward knowing more than you did before.
- Let the fear you feel fuel you to conquer the fear.
- Sing a song. In college, right before I performed my piano pieces on stage you could find me in the practice room belting the song, “I have confidence” from Sound of Music. This song works!
- Physical contact- getting a hug or calling a friend is magical in boosting the confidence.
- Acknowledge what you can control, what you have accomplished, learned and trust in yourself.
- Lastly- fake it till you make it.
There is this song my mother and I sung from The King and I, it’s called “Whistle a Happy Tune”… the phase- whenever I feel afraid, I whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I’m afraid…. The song promises- pretend not to be afraid, you can forget the lie of fear and have courage. And although my courage is not a lie, I rely heavily on pretending fear does not rule my life. Taking a chance on yourself can be scary. Putting yourself out on the line for others to judge can be threatening to our well-being, but by addressing and understanding the fear then moving forward WILL help you silence the fear from within. You can do this!
Keep on trying,