How to battle the beast that is self-doubt, and emerge victorious
When I was young, I used to be afraid of monsters hiding under my bed, and I couldn’t fall asleep until I checked. Once I knew my room was monster-free, I could peacefully drift into dreamland. Facing my fears just seemed easier as a kid. I realized as I got older that my courage started to disappear. I don’t face my fears like I used to. Now, I’m hesitant to try new things and take risks. When did this start to happen? I’m no longer afraid of those ugly, one-eyed (and ultimately, imaginary) monsters with fangs, but I am afraid of failure, embarrassment, humiliation, and regret. I do everything I can to avoid them, even when it means holding myself back.
My fear escalates when my inner chatter starts. What if I don’t get the job? What if I speak up and look foolish? What if I can’t pull off bangs? I react to these ‘what ifs’ like a deer in headlights. I’m afraid to move so I do and say nothing. Not very proactive, I know.
To quiet my fearful mind, I would avoid certain situations completely. But avoiding situations meant I was avoiding life experiences. What happened to that little girl with guts of steel? If I was brave enough to face a potential monster all by myself at six years old, why can’t I embrace that courage when I’m faced with a fear now? I’m an adult for God’s sake!
There are some things that send my fear meter off the charts. One, in particular, is a real doozie. I’m talking about spiders. I don’t care how little spiders are and how big I am, they are scary. I found a dime-sized, thin, leggy one hiding behind my toilet paper roll last weekend. As I yanked on the roll, I disturbed his web and he went running along the tile behind the toilet tank.
Sure, some people say spiders are more afraid of us than we are of them. But I never heard a spider let out a blood-curdling scream at the sight of me. Usually they don’t even move. It’s like they’re thinking, Big whoop, lady. I’m not afraid of you. If there ever was a spider who would have a reason to scream, it would be that skinny brown one since he got a great view of my butt as he fled his toilet paper hideout.
There are other fears, however, that can’t be resolved simply with my boyfriend’s help and a paper cup. These other types affect my quality of life. For instance, I’m afraid of making a bad career move and not achieving success. I’m afraid of public speaking. I’m also afraid of being tagged in a super unflattering photo on the Internet, which will inevitably haunt me forever. Some of these stop me from taking steps toward my goals. My insecurities keep me stuck. And the way I see it, staying stuck is only going to make my fears come true.
For example, I would love to move up in my job. But every time I see a position that interests me, I talk myself out of applying because I worry it may not be the right career move for what I ultimately want to do. My voice of doubt kicks in and, before I know it, I’m too freaked out to pursue the job. The monster of self-doubt wins again. This accomplishes one thing–my fear of not having a better career is coming true. If I don’t course-correct soon, my fear of living in my parent’s basement isn’t far from becoming a reality. Now that’s a terrifying thought.
So how can I turn this around, stop being a scaredy-cat and find that courage I had when I was six? After reading a stack of self-help books, I think I’ve found the answer.
1. Shoot the hostage
First, ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? How would you handle it? Could you live with the outcome? This is called shooting the hostage. Deciding to shoot the hostage allows you to imagine the worst-case scenario and play out how it may all go down and how you’d react to it. After some trial-runs of imagining worst-case scenarios, I concluded that I could handle whatever happened. In some weird sort of way, I felt like a superhero, up against the odds.
2. Always think positively
Now that you got the negative thoughts out-of-the-way, ask yourself, what’s the best thing that could happen? How fantastic might the outcome be? Would it be worth the risk? For me, seeing all the amazing possibilities psyche me up to make a move, whatever that move may be.
3. Be realistic
Then ask yourself, what outcome is most likely to happen? Now that you’ve imagined both extremes of the situation and allowed your thoughts to run wild, your mind will be calm and settle on a more realistic conclusion. You still may have some fear, but it should be more manageable now. Sometimes a little fear is a great motivator. The important thing to know is that you can handle whatever happens.
After practicing these three steps, maybe I’ll even learn how to get over my arachnophobia. Hey, if a brave spider can run around amongst us giants dodging its near demise from a stiletto at any unforeseen moment, then my fears pale in comparison.