Updated: Nov 22, 2022
We’ve officially entered spooky season! At All Hands In, we’re examining fear and the soft skills we use to help us overcome it. Fear is part of the human experience. In fact, most species experience fear because it is so closely linked with prehistoric survival instincts. On one hand, it keeps us safe, secure and alive. As we evolved, fear helped us avoid predators, poisonous plants and unsafe environments. Even in our modern world, it still serves a valid and necessary function for our survival.
Where fear becomes complicated is when it overrides our ability to thrive. In the extreme, this can show up as a phobia. Even when we’re not debilitated by things like heights or spiders, fear can get in the way of our ability to successfully navigate challenges. On the surface, we may not even notice what makes us feel afraid, especially when it’s masked by procrastination, avoidance or denial.
For years, fear kept me from achieving so much of my own personal growth and development. I was afraid of failure, of other people’s opinions, of being rejected… the list goes on. When fear consumed me, I felt helpless, useless and like I had a total lack of agency. As useful as it can be for keeping us safe, fear can also be a total nightmare that keeps us stagnant. Eventually, I had to learn how to build a better relationship with fear. I had to find the balance between where it is helpful—like in avoiding life threatening situations—and when it becomes a detriment—like not pursuing a career as a creative (yes, that almost happened).
When it comes to overcoming fear, one of the best adjustments I’ve made is actually not focusing on the obstacle of fear itself but on building my courage instead. Personally, I think this shift in thinking has been extremely helpful. The Buddhist philosopher, Thích Nhất Hạnh, said that our first step in overcoming fear is to confront it. When I read that, I realized that the process isn’t about being fearless but rather about finding ways to be courageous. Brené Brown calls this practice, “Couraging.”
Couraging is finding the small ways to build up our courage, which, eventually, becomes the catalyst for helping us overcome our fear. This is not to say that the small, courageous steps we take along the way won’t feel scary or intimidating—very likely, they totally will. As we learn to become comfortable stepping out of our comfort zone, we condition ourselves to lean into courage as opposed to tackling all of our fears head-on (or worse, just letting fear run the show). For me, seeing courage as a skill shifted so much of my perspective and how I related to it.
The process I developed for building courage looks slightly different depending on the situation and what’s being asked of me. However, I have noticed a few broad strokes that apply every time. Below are my top three favorite steps that help me build my courage. Again, I start with small adjustments that feel uncomfortable rather than diving headfirst into something overwhelmingly terrifying.
1) Feel my feelings
This first step can be hard for many of us, especially if we don't have language around our emotions. Often when I’m feeling fearful, what comes up first is similar to a childlike tantrum. The truth is, when I’m in fear, my inner child needs to throw this fit and, thankfully, I’ve finally learned to let her. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I yell or stomp my feet. I realized that I need this moment before I can successfully move on. So I let myself feel my feelings, even if they feel juvenile. The soft skill that is most useful in this step is awareness. Observing how I’m responding, even when I’m uncertain of the emotions I’m feeling, will always give me valuable insight that will help me down the road. The most important part of this step is to do it without judgment and with lots of compassion.
2) Get curious
These days when I'm feeling my feelings, my response tends to be, “WOAH! These feelings are BIG! I’m behaving in ways that feel crummy.” When I observe this in myself, I know that it’s time to step back and get curious. Often, the fastest way to get clarity on our fear is to start by asking questions. When I notice that I’m in tantrum mode or avoidant mode, I know to ask, “What am I fearing right now?” 99% of the time the answer will shoot up as soon as I ask but, honestly, this has taken time and practice. Again, non-judgement and compassion are real lifesavers here.
3) Hold space for discomfort
When I clarify where my fear is coming from, it's not uncommon for me to feel out of sorts for a bit. Fear can show up in all sorts of physical and psychological ways—it can manifest in my body, mind or even just sit on my soul. Discomfort can be as unique and individual as our thumbprint. Here’s the deal... When I make space for my discomfort—with compassion and grace—I start to feel more courageous. Often, my discomfort comes from knowing that I’m feeling afraid and that I have to adapt and evolve to overcome it. I may spend more time journaling or going into nature or leaning into self-care during periods of discomfort to help me process it. This is my way of acknowledging and confronting my fear, while also being tender and nurturing to myself.
What I’ve noticed over time is that when I apply these three steps, I feel much more brave by the time I reach the end. They often fast track me away from fear and begin my courage-building. It may seem small but just acknowledging our feelings is often a truly courageous act. I now believe this wholeheartedly. I’ve found that when I’m feeling fearful without a clear path forward, that stepping back, taking a deep breath and becoming aware of my feelings—especially when it’s uncomfortable—is often the most courageous decision I can make.
Fear is a natural part of life, Kick Assers, but building courage can be, too. You got this!
Kate Katz is the owner and founder of All Hands In, a soft skills development company. All Hands In specializes in soft skills development by using play and puppetry. If you'd like to learn more about the work we do, please visit: www.allhandsinworkshops.com or email Kate at email@example.com.