Most people approach facing their fears as though it’s something they can logic their way through. They think things such as, “If I make a list of all the reasons why failure is unlikely, then I won’t be afraid, anymore!”
But fear doesn’t work that way. Fear isn’t logical; it’s primal. I’m not just talking about the fear you feel in your body as an elevator-dropping sensation when you’re watching a scary movie. Spend too much time ruminating in thoughts such as, It might not work out; everyone will see me fail; that’ll be embarrassing; I’d look ridiculous, and before you know it, you’ll feel your pulse rising, your palms might grow sweaty, and a tiny knot of anxiety will tighten your heart.
If you’re trying to change the old, habitual way of responding to fears, you need to identify the actual fear cues associated with a limiting fear pattern. This work begins in the body, where there’s that first sensory experience of fear. When you start to regularly access the body, you pick up on the first signs that fear is about to be triggered, and then you can use body-based practices to slow down, get clear on what’s really driving self-doubt in that moment, and make different choices.
Before I integrated such practices into my life, I never slowed down enough to feel anything. As a result, I was completely unaware that I had fear patterns of overwork and keeping myself busy as a tactic to avoid feeling insecure or emotionally vulnerable in my life. I was using fear patterns to push away insecurity or emotional vulnerabilities, instead of dealing with them squarely.
This coping strategy worked—until it didn’t. At least a few times a year, my harried pace of life would get so chaotic that I started to shut down. At those times, feelings rushed in like flood of water through a broken floodgate. There wasn’t enough logic in the world to cover over what I felt.
Bypassing your felt experience can only work for so long. Fear that runs in the background is still fear that’s controlling your life.
Taking time to access the body will help you to access your courage.
Access the Body
The process to access the body doesn’t need to be complicated, doesn’t need to involve setting up an altar or visiting a special temple every day, and doesn’t even need to be a ceremony of sorts.
Access the body starting with the breath. Notice what your breath is doing, and what you feel. In The Art of Somatic Coaching, people are asked to notice a number of sensations and somatic experiences, such as the temperature that they feel.
As you do this more and more, you’ll be developing somatic awareness, which is an understanding of what the sensations and feelings in your body actually translate to. It’s the realization that “that tense feeling in my shoulders means I feel like my boundaries are being pushed” or “that lightness I feel in my knees means that I like being around her.”
Slowing down enough to simply take inventory of the sensations that you feel, keeping a light, “No pressure, just curious” attitude about it is enough to engage your nervous system, differently. Remember: Fear isn’t logical; it’s primal. If we feel it in the body, we need to deal with it in the body. No cognitive-behavioral trick can subvert the body’s wisdom on this point, forever.
If you make it a regular practice to just slow down your impulses when nothing in particular is “up,” then it becomes easier to do in the midst of fearful circumstances (or a stressful or challenging situation, a moment of self-doubt or times when your inner Critic is raging).
Of course thirty minutes daily of meditation would be beneficial to you…but if you don’t have time for that, simply taking time to access the body on a regular basis is the next best thing.