Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.
–Karl Augustus Menninger
If you had to describe your biggest fear with just one word, what word would you choose?
Your response may describe the fear itself — failure, rejection, humiliation. Or, your response may describe the feeling that your nagging fear injects into your very being — debilitating, unpredictable, constrictive.
Everyone I’ve met struggles with fear at some time in their life. What do people fear most? The 2015 Chapman Survey on American Fears included 1,500 participants from across the nation and from all walks of life. The research team leading this effort pared the information down into four basic categories: personal fears, crime, natural disasters, and fear factors.
Top Five American Fears
- walking alone at night
- becoming the victim of identity theft
- safety on the internet
- being the victim of a mass/random shooting
- public speaking
Not too long ago I met someone for whom “walking alone at night” was a great fear. I was at a local ballroom dance venue and when the music stopped at 10:30 p.m., she asked how she could get an escort to her car. After I learned that we were parked in the same lot, I offered to walk her. While I’d never been frightened of walking the short block from the venue to the car lot, I understood how real this fear can be—especially for women.
Only public speaking is a fear that has surfaced repeatedly—not just for Americans, but for businessmen and women around the globe. I can certainly relate. At one time in my life, I was one of the many who feared the podium—to the point where I felt as though I would hyperventilate at the moment I began speaking. I successfully conquered that fear and now speak with confidence and enjoyment every chance I get.
Am I fearful of identity theft? You bet. I shred everything and have long, complicated online passwords. Do I fear becoming a victim of a mass/random shooting? Not really, but it has crossed my mind once or twice.
How do you stack up against these fears? Can you identify where and when your fear originated? In other words, was there a particular event or individual that led to your first experience with these feelings? Often when you can identify the source of the fear, you can more easily come to terms with it and move on.
To Combat Fear Control Your Thoughts
Fear is a derivative of the thoughts you allow to occupy your mainstream thinking. If you spend most of your time thinking about all the things in your life that displease you, your mindset will be one of worry because you’ll be in a constant state of anxiety as you wait for the next thing to go wrong.
Mike Dooley says it best with his motto, “Thoughts become things…choose the good ones!” Dooley, a New York Times Bestselling author, speaker, and entrepreneur travels the world sharing his message and helping others understand the power that mindset can have in how much joy one experiences in life. Bearing Dooley’s philosophy in mind, if you’re focused on feelings of fear, you’ll create more reasons for which to feel fearful.
The transformational opportunity is to shift your thoughts away from the fear and the worry to the circumstances and feelings you do want to experience. Afraid of rejection? Focus on how wonderful it will feel to be not only accepted but also sought after! Allowing yourself to marinate in the good feelings is enough to help release good-feeling chemicals in your brain that will counter the fight or flight feeling.
Want to move through fear? Think brave thoughts and get the ball rolling!
Sheila Callaham is an author, motivational coach, and longtime communications and change management professional.