Updated: Feb 28
This week I've been reminded of the saying ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. It's been said so much, I think it starts to lose its meaning. But when it's used in a specific relevant situation, it can be the guidance that we need to hear. That little bit of motivation to push us over the line to do what it is that we need to do.
But I wanted to know why we need to feel that fear to achieve it. So, I thought I might explore this a little further.
The phrase ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, became popular due to a book by the same title, by Susan Jeffers over 30 years ago now, in 1987. It was revolutionary in the self-help field and has sold millions of copies worldwide since.
The book has lots of advice, suggestions, and tips on how to live with less fear and anxiety. However, it doesn’t fully explain why we feel the fear in the first place.
Fear is induced by either an immediate threat to our life or a longer-term risk to our survival.
We may find it easier to conceptualise the immediate dangers, for example an accident, an illness, an attack etc. But our brilliant brains can imagine. Can think about the future that hasn't been yet or may never be. Often this can happen outside our conscious awareness.
This imagined future, the one where you are abandoned by your partner, or whole tribe in evolutionary terms, and left without means to supply food or shelter. Without means to defend yourself against another tribe. Left lonely, outside, deserted, destitute. Unlikely to survive. Not in immediate danger, but it is extreme. Our brains still allow us to feel that fear too, even though it's not something that's very, very, likely to happen.
Whether the source of the fear is in the present, or in an imagined future, it creates the same chemical, hormonal, sensory signals in the body that tells the emotional centre in the brain there's a threat to your survival.
Complex, more complex than any computer we've managed to build yet, we have more than one programme running at a time. If you think of System One as a survival System. And System Two, as the day-to-day decision system. Both are always running. But if a threat is sensed System One will always be heard above System Two. It will sound the alarm. This is what we experience as fear or anxiety.
When System One does this, System Two is drowned out, so we can't make day-to-day decisions, problem solve, plan, et cetera so effectively. We doubt our own abilities. We think we can't remember. We think we're not very good at planning. We think we're not very capable in our everyday life. This causes another potential threat. Because how can we provide food and shelter if we can't plan, problem solve or make decisions?
System One kicks in again and gets louder and causes System Two to be drowned out even more. You can perhaps see why we then become more and more anxious overtime. And why we may stop putting ourselves in positions that potentially cause System One to sound the alarm.
The result being a worsening of the anxiety. And often we end up doing less and less. Avoiding more and more. And our mood gets worse. And our life opportunities narrow further.
It's like a cycle.
POSSIBLE THREAT leads to ALARM leads to leads to
WITHDRAWAL leads to REDUCED TRUST IN SELF -
So how can we stop this?
We can't change the hardware in our brain. We can't take out System One. We need it to know when not to cross the road. When to act quickly to avert death or real immediate harm. But as you may already be thinking, there are lots of times that the alarm is set off when the threat is not likely to happen. Times we avoid doing things due to the fear of a potential, very unlikely outcome. Due to a false alarm.
Let me give you a quick example. Yesterday I offered a free Relax Your Body, Relax Your Mind class in my Facebook group. I was aware I felt anxious. I was also aware I did not want to let the group down. What was my System One fear? “I'll mess it up. The tech won't work. People will think I don't know what I'm talking about. They'll tell others, then my business will collapse, and I’ll be left without income. I won't afford the mortgage or food. We will become homeless and die of starvation or exposure to the cold”. Eek!! Catastrophizing or what?! (See I’m human too 😊)
Good job all that was mainly outside my conscious awareness. For some, it isn't always. But we can always work on that in therapy.
No wonder I felt a bit anxious. The only bit I was aware of though was “I hate tech”. This highlighted my concern.
How did I change my perception? How did I manage to go ahead with the situation? ‘Cos, I had no proof whether other people were going to think anything bad of me or not. I had no proof of whether the tech was going to work or not. I had no knowledge of whether I would end up homeless or not. Or die of starvation because of my incompetence. At that point they all felt like possibilities.
So, knowing what I know. I had to reset my alarm. System One was just being overly conscientious. Just like I can be sometimes. The fact that I could notice that I was a little anxious allowed me to step back, track the thought back, workout what was underneath the thought, realise it was a survival threat. That was not immediate.
I realised I had to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, knowing that the likelihood that I will die, lose my home, family, or business were just my System One talking and not true threats. My System Two mind was able to be heard saying “If the tech doesn't work, I will apologise and try again. Or I'll find a work around” because was System One had been quietened down.
So, I did exactly that. I felt the fear. The tech went wrong. I found a work around. The class went OK. I survived. Nobody died.
I know it's not always that easy. It wasn't when I first started this. But it does work. And it does get easier with practice. So, if there's something that you are worried about, something that you fear. Track that fear back. Is it something that could be an extremely unlikely, evolutionary threat? If it is. Could you try feeling the fear and doing it anyway?
To help System One to quieten I have created a FREE resource for you