Feel the fear, and do it anyway

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I’ve been thinking for awhile about what would be the best way to start off a psychology related blog. I have some great ideas for blog series that I would like to do, but none of them seemed fitting for an introduction to the site.

Then I realised what was happening…

I was letting perfection get in the way of production. I was procrastinating. I was being held back by FEAR.

Dr Russ Harris speaks about FEAR as as acronym for things that can keep us stuck and prevent us from making the changes that we would really like to make in our life:

F – fusion with unhelpful thoughts – An example of this is “that’s not the best way to start a psychology blog – keep brainstorming until the perfect idea or solution presents itself!” By allowing myself to believe what my mind said, I kept putting off what I actually wanted to do, which is share some of the things that I have learnt and found helpful through my eight years of University study and the hundreds of psychological books and journal articles that I have read along the way.

E – expectations that are unrealistic – If I have never written a blog before, how can I know what style is the right way to express what it is that I have to say? I can’t. We learn through trial and error and experience. Sometimes I’m sure that I will write a piece and be happy with it, but other times this won’t be the case. Some articles may get good feedback, and some may not. All I can do is  give it a go, reflect upon it afterwards, get feedback from others, and make changes as required until I find the right voice for myself and my potential audience. What’s more important is that I enjoy the process of clarifying my thoughts and share them with whoever is interested in a way that they can hopefully understand. I believe it was Hemingway who said that the first draft of anything is rubbish (italicised word is my paraphrasing). If a literary great didn’t expect to produce an amazing story the first time he wrote it, is it realistic for me to hope for more?

A – avoidance of discomfort – Does putting my thoughts into writing pose any real threat to me? No. It can actually help me clarify my ideas further and assist the clients that I see by allowing me to get my points across more concisely. Will putting my writing out there expose me to judgment and potential ridicule from others? Possibly. Does staying in my comfort zone and doing what feels safe or easy lead to me living a happy fulfilled life? No. Quite the opposite. It therefore becomes a choice, between discomfort and growth or comfort and stagnation. Whether it is worth it or not is up to the individual, and depends on the situation and how they feel about it.

R – remoteness from values – Values are guiding principles for life. We need to get in touch with what is really important to us or what we care about deep down if we are going to persist through discomfort in the pursuit of a goal. For me, writing a blog is about helping people to be informed about psychological theories and empowered with strategies that can make a difference in their lives. There is so much conflicting information out there about what can help, and sharing what rigorous scientific studies have found in collaboration with my own personal experience will hopefully be useful for anyone that chooses to read it. It will also give any potential clients an idea about the approaches that I have towards my life and work, and help them make a more informed decision on if I am the right Clinical Psychologist for them. By connecting with these values, it is much easier for me to persist in writing this blog and the articles that will follow.

With that in mind, what do you fear and what holds you back from making the changes that you would like to make? Is it any of the four things mentioned above? If so, can you challenge or detach from those thoughts, set more realistic expectations for yourself, get in touch with your most important values, and persist with the discomfort in pursuit of the type of life you would like to lead? Maybe not straight away, but hopefully with practice, reflection, feedback and support from others.

The first self-help book that I ever read was ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers. It transformed my life to think that I didn’t need to stop feeling scared before I did something. Even though anxiety often feels like it is a life or death situation, especially when it comes to social anxiety, it never typically is. So now I embrace whatever awkwardness I can, and challenge myself wherever possible. Through a process called habituation, it actually does get easier in time.

For any anxiety-based psychological treatment, exposure to the feared stimulus will be recommended at some point in the treatment (as long as it is safe and doesn’t put the client at risk of being re-traumatised – otherwise imaginal exposure with a trusted therapist is the way to go, as with PTSD treatment), and is a crucial component to the most successful outcomes. But it is also important to start slowly, and begin with tasks that feel a little bit challenging and scary, and then slowly work your way up to more challenging and scary tasks once your confidence has built up.

If you want to try this on your own:

1. Develop a list of tasks that you are afraid to do, but they would not actually harm you if you were to do them.

2. Rank these from least scary or challenging to most scary or challenging.

3. Starting with the least scary first, set a goal for yourself on when you will tackle the task and be as specific as possible with date, time, location and duration.

4. Attempt the task, and if possible, remain in the situation until the anxiety has subsided (usually about 10 minutes).

5. If you are unable to complete the task, try with something easier that brings a little anxiety or discomfort but not too much, and gain confidence with this before reattempting the initial task.

6. Repeat until habituation has taken place and your are feeling more confident and less anxious doing that task.

7. Move onto the next most scary or challenging task on the list.

To do it in this step-wise manner would take a long time, but as long as you are progressing then you are learning the skills to challenge any fears that come your way.

Remember, feel the fear, and do it anyway (unless it really is too dangerous and unsafe)!

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

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