Of all the self-help books I’ve read, Feel the Fear and do it Anyway has easily had the most lasting impact on my life. The title alone, is a mantra I regularly use in my life when I feel myself backing away from things that scare me rather than facing and overcoming them.
Deciding to go and live in Hong Kong for six months, for instance, involved a lot of fear for me: change, living in a new place (and a completely different culture at that), starting my first job after university, uprooting my life. In the run up to leaving, I had to regularly remind myself of Susan Jeffers’ advice: “feel the fear and do it anyway” and each time I did, I felt a burst of courage.
Here are some of the most important lessons I took from the book…
1) Fear is an epidemic in our society
Susan Jeffers begins the book by making the argument that fear seems like an epidemic in our society: “we fear beginnings, we fear endings, we fear changing, we fear staying stuck, we fear success, we fear failure, we fear living, we fear dying.” Basically, we fear anything and everything!
The problem with fear, besides making the world seem like a more threatening and miserable place, is that it has the tendency to affect many areas of our life at one. Jeffers gives the example of being afraid to make new friends. This is likely to make you scared of going to parties, having intimate relationships, applying for jobs, and so on.
But, she argues, it is possible to re-educate the mind and see fear simply as a fact of life rather than a barrier to success. Changing your relationship to fear is what this book is all about.
2) Fear is a normal part of life
An important point Jeffers makes, is that fear is a very normal part of life. She argues that you’ll feel fear as long as you’re growing, taking risks, stretching yourself, moving into unfamiliar territory. It’s not just you either, everyone else will be experiencing it too!
When I decided to move to Hong Kong, I definitely experienced a lot of fear. The thought of moving to a country I had never been to for such a long period of time seemed terrifying! But I managed to push through the fear and I’m so glad that I did.
3) Don’t let fear stop you
The trick in life, Jeffers explains, is to feel the fear and do it anyway. Often, we are held back by fear and kept stuck in one place as we fear taking chances in our lives or entering unfamiliar territory. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Jeffers explains that while we cannot escape fear, we can transform it into a companion on all our exciting adventures in life. This way, we won’t be held back by fear and our lives will work out wonderfully regardless of whether we feel fear or not.
4) You can handle it!
If you’re looking for a way to tackle your fears, Susan Jeffers has the answer. She explains that the way to overcome the things that scare you without trying to control everything in your outside world, is to tell yourself: “I’ll handle it.”
What does she mean by this? Those three little words are a shortened version of the powerful statement: “Whatever happens to me in any given situation, I can handle it!” If you truly trusted yourself to be able to cope with anything life could hand you, what would you have left to fear? Nothing, she says!
During my final year of university I had to do a presentation to a group of fellow students on what I had prepared so far for my dissertation. It was a 15 minute speech and I was terrified before. Dry mouth, shaky hands, pounding heart…all the typical symptoms of fear. But I knew that I could handle it. I would physically be able to get through the speech even if I hated every minute of it. And I did manage it!
5) Pushing through fear is less scary than feeling helpless
I remember in the lead up to leaving home for university, I definitely had a lot of fear and a big sense of helplessness. I remember thinking constantly that I wouldn’t be able to handle such a big change: moving to a new city, living independently for the first time, starting a new course.
I wished that there was some way that I could avoid making the first scary step into adulthood and remain a child where it was safe and certain. But then I realised that even if that was an option, my life would feel incredibly small. I’d have willingly trapped myself within the boundaries of my fear of change. So I pushed through the fear, went to university, and loved it!
Jeffers explains that the only way to get rid of a fear of doing something is to do it. Through expanding our comfort zones (that zone within which we feel comfortable and safe), our world expands massively. We are able to cope with more and more and our lives become much more rich and varied and exciting. And the more we break out of our comfort zones, the bigger and bigger they become!
6) Become a positive thinker
A lot of our fear, Jeffers explains, comes from the incessant negativity of our chatterbox (that inner voice of doom in your mind that sees the worst in everything). What if we could find a way to turn off the negativity and see the world in a more positive and life-affirming way?
Jeffers provides some very tangible strategies for outtalking your negativity. Things like listening to positive audio tapes and CDs; reading positive books and highlighting the parts that really stand out to you (I’m a big fan of doing this!); and building up a collection of positive quotes and affirmations to put round your house.
The aim is to continually practice being positive and treat it much the same as an exercise regime that requires ongoing commitment in order to see the results of your hard work. According to Jeffers, the benefits of retraining your mind to think more positively are endless: you’ll have more energy; you’ll laugh more; you’ll draw more positive people into your life; you’ll be physically healthier; you’ll be happy to be alive.
If that’s not enough incentive for you, how about the fact that according to research, 90% of what we worry about never happens. This begs the question: why waste so much time fixating on fears and worries that have a less than 10% probability of being correct?
7) Follow a no-lose model when making decisions
Jeffers explains that a big barrier to being able to feel the fear and do it anyway, is people’s difficulty in making decisions. She argues that our need to be perfect and to control the outcome of events, keep us terrified when considering making a change in our lives.
The trick is to follow a no-lose model when making decisions. Typically, when faced with a decision, we are trained to follow a no-win model. We think about the decisions that need to be made and obsess about the “what if’s” and even after the decision has been made, we obsess over the possibility that we’ve made a mistake.
A no-lose model, on the other hand, is based on the understanding that whatever path you choose will have benefits. Whether it’s opportunities to experience life in a new way; or to understand something new about yourself; or to learn and grow, there will always be things to gain…no matter what choice you make.
8) Create a rich and varied life for yourself
To create for yourself a life that is rich and varied, Jeffers explains that you must learn to commit yourself 100% to each aspect of your life and act as if you really count in each area. She calls these qualities the ‘Magic Duo’.
When at work, for instance, you must be there 100% and recognise that your contributions count. This means always being punctual; completing daily goals; creating a pleasant working environment; and so on.
During my time in Hong Kong, while working as a kindergarten teacher, I made a conscious effort to commit myself fully to the work while I was there. The tasks were often tiring and repetitive and mentally draining but I still gave them my best effort and over time this gave me a sense of pride over the work I was doing as opposed to dwelling on the negatives and feeling sorry for myself. As a result, my time at work was more fulfilling and I was happier because of it.
9) Nurture your Higher Self
Throughout this book (and many of her others), Jeffers talks about the Higher Self, the spiritual part of ourselves that contains all of the best virtues: creativity, trust, love, joy, inspiration, caring – all the things we want to experience in our daily lives. From this place, we are able to drown out our chatterbox and live in a state of joyness, satisfaction and connectedness.
We must learn to nurture this part of ourselves using tools such as affirmations, meditation, inspirational audios, tapes, books, sayings, or whatever else works for you, as reminders.
10) Say “Yes’ to the universe
One of the most valuable lessons in learning how to diminish fear, according to Jeffers, is to say YES to your universe. By this, she means choosing to accept the things that happen in our lives; letting go of our resistance when things don’t work out the way we wanted them to; and calmly surveying situations from a place of relaxation as opposed to upset and anxiety.
She wisely explains that: ‘we can’t control the world, but we can control our reactions to it. Saying yes means getting up and acting on your belief that you can create meaning and purpose in whatever life hands you’.
I’ve recently experienced a big change in my own life which has left me in a less than ideal situation and I’m doing my best to accept where I am in life and move on from a place of peace as opposed to anger, frustration and resistance. It’s an ongoing process of reminding myself to focus on the good that could come of this change, and I’m relying on the wisdom of Susan Jeffers to help me move through the fear and come out the other side.
– Tiger Lily –