There are things in life that are good to be scared of, like a hot stove or falling on the subway tracks or a neighbor who dresses up like clowns for fun, you guess? There are also things in life that are not good to be scared of, like saying "no" to a task when you're overwhelmed at work or refusing to hit "submit" on a application.
Despite your best intentions, deep-rooted fears about yourself or the world around you can be a big barrier to living a fulfilling life, complete with real growth potential and genuine expressions of self. How can you know fear is holding you back? These five signs are a good place to start.
1. You settle.
The first way to know fear is holding you back? It's making you throw in the towel. If you're settling in a job that's just OK, a relationship that's lost its spark or a living situation you're not excited about, stop fooling yourself: you aren't resistant to change, you're scared of it. If fear is keeping you from taking risks and going after what you want, it's keeping you from reaching your full potential — probably in more than one sphere of your life.
2. You procrastinate.
If you're constantly putting off important tasks or projects, you may be suffering from a serious case of fear. Procrastination can be a sign that you're afraid of a host things: how you will perform, what others will say about your performance, how it will stack up to expectations, etc. Procrastination keeps you from seizing opportunities and making the most out of your time — two things that are necessary to be your best self.
3. You say "yes" way too often.
If you're always saying "yes," it's time to consider if you're afraid to say "no." If you are unable to turn down an invitation, a task at work or an extra favor for a loved one when you really need to, your fear of what others think of you or what will happen if you say "no" is holding you back. It's holding you back from protecting your time, your mental health and your ability to decide what's best for you. That's no way to reach your highest potential.
4. You’re an extreme perfectionist.
If you are obsessed with the nitty-gritty of every project you work on, unable to delegate tasks or harshly self-critical of every action you take, it may be a sign that fear is running your life. Extreme perfectionism is an attempt to exert control when being out of control feels terrifying. But if you're unable to cede control over the minutia of everyday life and dedicate your energy to the things that matter, your fear is holding you back.
5. You don’t voice your opinions.
Similar to saying "yes" too often, refusing to voice your opinions is a sign that fear controls your life. If you're too worried about how others will react to say how you feel, you aren't experiencing the world as authentically as you could if you spoke your mind. A scared communicator doesn't receive the interesting conversations, growth opportunities or purposeful interactions that a confident communicator does.
If you've read the points above and totally relate, there are small steps you can take to start curbing your fear and expose yourself to healthy risks. Here are just a few ideas — although a licensed counselor or therapist knows more than me!
1. Focus on what you’re good at and what you love about your life.
To boost your confidence and begin to take risks, focus on what's going right as the result of your confidence and abilities. Remind yourself of your special skills and talents next time you're worried and delaying a pressure-filled project. Remind yourself of how awesome you are at interpersonal communication next time you're too scared to send a networking invitation. And tell yourself you would've never got that apartment you love or that position you're great at if you didn't leave your last one.
2. Question your thinking processes.
Next time you find yourself thinking about how scary or impossible a task is, ask yourself why you feel that way. Chances are, your worries are pretty baseless. If you're worried about saying "no" next time your friend asks you to watch her daughter, ask yourself why. She's not going to hate you if you're busy or need some time to yourself. Similarly, if you're worried about sharing your opinion in a meeting, ask yourself if your boss is really going to remember if you say a word wrong or share an opinion she disagrees with. Remind yourself she has so much going on — including her own fears.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness practices, like meditation or yoga, can help manage fear by connecting to your body, slowing your heart rate and thinking more calmly.
4. Consult your support network.
One of the best ways to quell fear is talking through them with a network of people who support you. Talking to people who will remind you of your skills and talents, and encourage you to act on them, can be key to letting go of fear and seizing the opportunities life offers. Next time you're worried about taking a chance, talk to someone who you know has your best interest at heart and ask their opinion. Chances are, they will tell you to go for it — and pinpoint the things about you that make them confident it will go well.