Why We Manufacture Fear and How to Overcome It

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” ― Pema Chödrön

Music has always seemed like a natural way to express myself. It’s been like a second language to me. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been drawn to music and performance. I have vivid memories of lining up my stuffed animals and dazzling them with songs from the Lion King and Grease. 

Growing up with both of my parents as artists fortified my interest and infused my spirit with the urge to create. Both of them encouraged my brother and I to explore our creativity through multiple mediums. My mom is a talented painter and sketch artist and my pop is a music man that likes to dabble in any instrument he can get his paws on.

Every year, Pop would wake me up on my birthday singing “Feliz Cumpleaños” and playing the guitar. I’d pretend I was embarrassed but I secretly adored it. I fondly look back and recall how it seemed like every month Pop had a different instrument to obsess over. As a reminder that you can always make time for what you love, I’ll tell you that man worked an insane amount of hours but he would stay up late (even on weeknights) to learn and practice. Admittedly, we weren’t always thrilled to be falling asleep to the sounds of this; there was a sigh of relief throughout the household when he had mastered the Native American flute and could play it beautifully.

My interest in music caused my folks to get me in piano lessons early. I did it for a bit but quickly lost interest in solo lessons and wanted to be apart of a big ensemble. I remember being in 3rd grade and feeling so stoked that it was finally the year I was allowed to play a musical instrument at school. I had seen my older brother maneuver his way through the violin, cello, and saxophone before he eventually landed on the drums.

Watching his process made me want to experiment with the different sounds these instruments produced as well. I couldn’t wait to be one of the kids walking down the halls with a clunky case that held the key to this form of self-expression. After much debate, I chose the clarinet. I don’t remember having any fears about it…I simply wanted to pick up my instrument and go to town.

Remembering that innocence and excitement I felt as a child to try something new without any fear of failure or disenchantment got me thinking about when and why we start to manufacture fear. As soon as I felt what true humiliation felt like, I wanted no part of it. Although I struggled through it for a few years, playing with the other kids at school ended up being the opposite of what I had been hoping for. The competitive group atmosphere paralyzed me with chagrin. I felt shameful, became afraid of judgment, and didn’t want to feel those physical feelings of humiliation. For these reasons, it was difficult for me to practice. I didn’t realize that there’s always a beginner phase and you are supposed to sound terrible so I would get discouraged easily. Hearing the other kids snicker and poke fun at the newbies scared the crap out of me. I didn’t have the willpower to face the challenge and put myself up for ridicule. Instead of taking action and being consistent with my practicing, I dreamed about first chair and only managed to land it once in all the years of playing clarinet.

Those childhood memories inadvertently prevented me from pushing through fear later in life. Even though I wanted to play guitar, write songs, and sing in public, I was terrified to do it. I got comfortable in my cocoon.

Why are we so afraid to try anything new that could be intimidating and challenging because we’re afraid of the judgment of others? Doesn’t leading a rich life sound more appealing? Even if you are setting yourself up for humiliation and failure (because it's inevitable when you're doing hard shit)…is it really all that bad? Fear and failure get us closer to our truth. You're going to get to know yourself a lot when you try and fail at things that are important.

Self-expression makes my heart happy and I kept myself from doing it for far too long because I was overcome with fear, but thank goodness I’ve been lucky enough to have people in my life that thrust me out of my comfort zone…Or else it would’ve taken me a lot longer to pursue my goals. My boyfriend Thomas is an incredible guitar player and I was always envious of his passion and drive for it. When we were in college, he’d hear me saying, “I wish I could play guitar!” like a broken record. He’s the type of person that takes action with little consideration for fear; so he gifted me a starter Yamaha and some encouragement. I let it collect dust for a few months until it became agonizing to see his sweet gesture lying dormant. Yes—I locked myself in my room and played lightly so my roommates didn’t have to hear me struggling—but I didn’t want to let him down so I pushed through.

Guess what? Along with endless frustration, tears, sore fingers, and some broken strings that may or may not have hit me in the face...this magical thing happened. After a few months, I started to really enjoy it.

I hit a groove and it began to flow. Maybe I’m no Clapton, but I pushed passed the beginner’s stage of pure discomfort and frustration. I escaped no man’s land and now I’m able to jam and write my own songs.

All of this reminiscing about my fears and setbacks with guitar has reminded me that you cannot out-think your fears. Taking action is the only option.

I come across this same ambivalence and fear of failure and judgment a lot as a fitness coach. I know it seems daunting to begin a new movement regime, especially if you don’t feel confident and comfortable in your own skin. However, sitting around and meeting your fearful thoughts with fearful answers is only going to spin you in circles. You have to break the cycle and take some action.

Here are a few things to ponder when trying to overcome fear:

1)   This is the just beginning. You have to start somewhere, so stop thinking about the end results. Take your laser focus off of having six-pack abs and start with the goal of showing up. The first step should be your only concern. As humans, we tend to focus on the end result more than actually getting started. Be aware of when you’re getting tripped up on thinking of all the things you need to do in order to get that end result.

2)   Small steps count. It all counts. Every step you take each day toward your goal is a step in the right direction. Even if it’s waking up a little early to do some stretches or taking a walk before work. Don’t listen to your animal brain when it’s telling you that these little things don’t matter today. It’s lying to you. Every big achievement is made up of hundreds of little achievements that add up.

3)   It doesn’t matter how you feel. It’s okay to feel afraid when you’re showing up for things you’ve never done before. You might feel it in the pit of your stomach, have shaky hands or a racing pulse. That’s okay and you won’t die from continuing to move through that. Just remember that it’s the way our bodies are designed to protect us and you don’t have to let it stop you. Don’t judge yourself for feeling physically nervous.

4)   Taking action builds your confidence. The more you show up, the easier it becomes. Try to do one thing every day that scares you. Your courage and confidence will grow little by little each day. It chips away at the barriers that hold you back and soon enough you’ll be comfortable with discomfort. You’ll grow quickly if you take on a role as a fighter that steps into the ring and combats fear.

5)   Planning can maximize potential. For me, it helps to map out my month and have clear goals. I’ll break it down even more and have 3 things I focus on each day that get me closer to those goals. Being armed with a well thought out plan prevents me from overanalyzing and worrying about things that might come up.