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Learning to deal with fear

In order to learn and grow it is necessary to step out of your comfort zone. This can be very intimidating, like self-sabotage! You can get beyond the fear.
Written Oct 06, 2008, read 1724 times since then.


Getting Free from Fear


“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

The above quote from Henry David Thoreau is inspiring. It is also incomplete, for it is also true that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams he will meet with homeostasis.

Homeostasis is the tendency of a system or organism to stay the same. It’s like a thermostat that keeps your changes within a certain range. Call that range your comfort zone. In order to learn and grow, it is necessary to step out of your comfort zone, yet every time you do, homeostasis kicks in, slowing your progress or halting it altogether.

Homeostasis often shows up as fear. You’ll be moving along nicely toward a certain goal when, seemingly out of the blue, you get panicky and stop. You get an interview or you have a proposal accepted, and once the initial excitement wears off you are left with the sick certainty that you cannot live up to the opportunity.

Because homeostasis is a systemic response to change, it can feel like self-sabotage. There is an important difference: sabotage implies that some part of you has an active desire to undermine your progress. In contrast, homeostasis is a value-neutral, automatic response to change. It is not the result of a secret desire to fail or of any hidden agenda other than the built-in tendency of the system to stay the same.

If you mistake homeostasis for self-sabotage, you may waste precious energy beating yourself up for limiting beliefs or hidden agendas. If, indeed, you have such issues, it will be well for you to address them. However, you can be in marvelous mental and emotional health, free of limiting beliefs, and still run into a brick wall when homeostasis kicks in.

Fortunately, the better you understand homeostasis, the less power it will have over you. Here are some key points to keep in mind.

a. Homeostatic fear shows up whether the change involved is good or bad. The intensity of your fear and resistance is related to the size and pace of the change, not to the quality (good, bad, wise, unwise) of the change.

b. Homeostatic fear can crop up in family, friends, colleagues and clients as well as in yourself. Remember, this does not have to mean that these people have a secret desire to sabotage you. Their concerns may simply be the way the family or group is expressing its natural resistance to any change.

c. While you cannot root out or prevent homeostasis and its attendant fears, you can negotiate with them.

•    Break the change in question down into smaller steps. This reduces the intensity of the resistance. (Remember, homeostasis increases with the SIZE of the change, not the NATURE or VALUE of the change.)

•    Pace yourself. Making the change over time also reduces the intensity of the homeostatic reaction.

•    Analyse the actual risk. Remember what you learned about Fear 1 and Fear 2 last week? Fear 1 magnifies danger as it minimizes your competence. Seek reliable information about the scope of the risk you are taking and the best means to meet it. The better your information about the actual risk involved, the less huge it will seem.

•    Set milestones and celebrate when you reach them. This gives you a conscious history of successful change and makes it easier to move into scary territory in the future.

d. Design an environment that supports learning and growth and avoid people, places and things that undermine learning. While a certain amount of resistance is inevitable (that’s the whole point), why waste any more of your energy and attention than is absolutely necessary on overcoming the tendency to stay stuck? Make a list of aspects of your environment and brainstorm the choices you can make in each to support stepping out of your comfort zone. For example, you might choose to ask your friends to support you in using empowering language or you might choose a gym based on its culture and values.

e. Commit to fundamental personal practices that keep you centered, whole and flexible. Such practices instill in you a sense of stability and groundedness that minimizes the feeling that you are at grave risk when you step out of your comfort zone. Helpful practices include exercise, meditation, journaling, participating in a support group and having a personal coach.
f. Reframe setbacks as perfectly created exercises in the workshop of your life. It will be easier for you to move through homeostasis if you let go of the fantasy that there is or should be a point in your life after which you will have “arrived” and will no longer need to change.

Learn more about the author, Molly Gordon.

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