Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt

In my last blog post (http://www.theheroschoice.com/2015/03/26/deal-with-troubles/), I gave you a method for handling whatever is troubling you. Essentially, the method is to stop ignoring or distracting yourself from a troubling situation and face it. This means being fully present to your inner experience (emotions and thoughts) which are triggered by the situation without acting them out. Facing your troubles in this way offers powerful healing.

I’d like to share an example from my experience. This occurred early in my career. My father and I had formed a company called the Human Development Institute in which we offered counseling, public seminars, and business training. My father had recently acquired a contract to do some leadership and interpersonal skills training with the senior leaders of an electronics company in the Northwest. However, a glitch occurred when he was diagnosed with a serious heart problem and had to receive a life-saving, quadruple by-pass surgery.

Since he couldn’t fulfill the assignment he asked me to stand in for him. Well, I’d been out of graduate school for six months and didn’t have experience teaching this program. My immediate reaction was to ask if David or Richard, a couple capable and experienced instructors who had taught this curriculum, were available.

My father wanted me to do it. So, I sucked it up and began preparing. I felt anxious but pushed those feelings down and went about business as usual. Some ten days before the event I became sick. Initially, it was a cold which got worse over the next several days. Two days before I was to travel to do the event, a fever forced me to see a doctor. The diagnosis was a serious case of bronchitis. I got a shot and prescription for penicillin and was told me to take it easy for the next three or four days.

Oh, no. My event was just a few days away and I had to be ready. For the first time I got really honest with myself. My suppressed anxiety had transformed into physical symptoms which I could not ignore. It was time to face my troubling emotions head-on.

I went home and lay down on a bed and focused on my breathing. After a few bouts of coughing, I was able to relax enough to turn my attention to the physical sensations coursing through my body. My throat was sore, sinuses inflamed, head aching. I surrendered rather than fighting the sensations, allowing my mind to do nothing but notice them. As I did so other physical symptoms emerged, like butterflies in the pit of my stomach and panic in my chest. I allowed and notice all of my feelings—a very real sense of foreboding and anxiety.

And then I focused on a steady stream of negative thoughts. “These are the top leaders. If I blow it we’ll lose the contract.” … “They’re going to be so disappointed that my father isn’t here.” … “I can’t teach like my father, who’s been doing this for years.” … “My father is a master at role-playing. I’ve never done it.” … “What if it doesn’t go well? It’ll be tough to recover.” And so on. Not pretty thoughts, but real.

I simply allowed all of it to surface, the physical sensations, emotions, and negative thoughts. They’d been there, subliminally playing in the background for a number of weeks. I’d ignored them and distracted myself until that day.

It felt like an onslaught for some twenty or twenty-five minutes. And then something happened. A sudden wave of peace came upon me. My brain began refuting the negative self-talk. “I understand these principles and skills.”…“I have something valuable to teach this group.”…“I’m not on trial. I have nothing to prove.”…“The question is whether they’re open and willing to learn.”…“I don’t need to do a flawless presentation. My authenticity is more important than anything.”…“They know I’m not my father.”…“They want me to succeed.”…“We’re in this together, all of us, learning better ways of dealing with hard conversations.”…“They are darn lucky they have me to come up here and work with them.”… “I have good instincts in a group.”…“Nobody can do it better!”

My feelings shifted from fear and anxiety to confidence and excitement. I got up off of my bed knowing that the training would be a great success. No doubts. No questions.

Of course, I still had physical symptoms. My throat was scratchy, lungs congested, and body achy. I coughed once in a while. But it was different now. I was bigger than my symptoms. They wouldn’t interfere with the experience I was about to create.

And it was a great experience. The leaders were very happy with the outcomes. So much so that some ten years later I would be in the same hotel conference room, during the exact same dates, teaching another group of managers from this same company. But now they’d hired me. This employment became my transition from a full-time practice of psychology to full-time consulting.

I want to be clear that my example is rather dramatic. I am not going to claim that by facing whatever is troubling you on a single occasion your grungy feelings and negative self-talk will disappear as dramatically as did mine on this day. As I stated in my last article, sometimes we have to go through the process a number of times. Sometimes we even need help, maybe professional support, to work through particularly troublesome events and their associated feelings, whether related to the past, present, or future. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to talk it through with someone else.

But I can tell you that the process works. If you stop denying and avoiding the underlying causes of your anxiety and self-doubts, if you are able to simply “be with” them and look them in the face, they will begin to diminish in their power. It may take work, hard emotional work. But the work is worth it as you become a calmer person and grow in emotional maturity and the confidence to handle what life dishes up.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

2 responses to “Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt”

  1. Seth Jenson says:

    Nice follow up to the last blog. Thanks Roger.

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