2 Need-to-Know Ways to Handle Fear

This post is for anyone who ever had the following thought: So I want to do this thing, but I’m afraid I’ll fail…


And if I fail, they’ll think less of me. They won’t respect me. They’ll criticize me (and I’m so afraid of the jerk-wads and haters). And that would be awful, right, being criticized and not respected?

I was talking to another coach about how we (as in, most humans) create the perfect formulae to live small, safe lives. Work hard, but don’t get too big for your britches. Put yourself out there, but not too out there…

Playing small is a kind of armour. It keeps us just under the radar, seemingly impervious to criticism, rejection and failure.

Playing small can show up like this:

Not prioritizing yourself – constantly choosing seemingly urgent tasks that override the real stuff: social media over meditation; shampooing the cat over writing the business plan; laundry over laps; KFC over kale. Tomorrow, I promise I’ll start tomorrow….And before you know it, mañana is the busiest day of the week.

Glorifying busy. I’m SO busy is a toxic badge of honour, as if life is happening to us, leaving us responding like automatons. The reality is, it’s on our to-do list because we said YES to it. The funny thing about being too busy and overwhelmed is that it gives us a crafty, guilt-free way to avoid what is really calling to us. Hand on heart question: Is at least some of my “busy-ness” really a form of distraction? #dancingchihuahuavideos

Replaying stories of when things went wrong (and fixating on them). These stories are incredibly seductive because they lie with a poker face. We can convince ourselves that we’re not brave or talented enough, because (cue ominous voice) remember that time when…?

We focus on all the occasions when the shitake hit the fan, not the times we rose to a challenge.

So how do we cut it out already?

I’m not going to kid you. It takes chops.

Fear is at the core of all the ways in which we stop ourselves.

Consider a few possible scenarios.

Exhibit A: I want to make videos, but I cringe hearing my own voice. I’m scared to suck in public.


Exhibit B: I want to write my book (or start my kale smoothie business; or record my harpsichord CD), but I’m scared it’ll fail. That’ll mean I’m a failure, right?


Exhibit C: I really want to ______(fill in the blank), but I don’t know where to start. I’m afraid that if I proceed, my pristine un-lived dream, you know the BIG one, won’t work or turn out like I thought. What if it flops, and no one cares? Then I’m dreamless, plus I’ve pancaked in public. This terrifies me.

How is fear-avoidance working out for you?

Fear rules the roost when our critic is in charge. The critic would happily have us cleave off all the “less-than” parts of ourselves to avoid failing or sucking in public.

Truth is, those curious, creative parts of ourselves that long to unfurl, come with no guarantees. But they are also the propelling forces of our dreams and unborn creative projects. We simply can’t make stuff without them.

So what can you do? Take a step, one small step, and try this when fear starts closing in.

Cancel-cancel. D.C. Gonzalez is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a former federal agent and naval aviator. During his aviation training, his flight instructor was tasked with trying to discombobulate the pilot, trying to break D.C’s laser focus and fuel the nasty self-talk that we all get when pursuing a dream.

But D.C. had a trick up his sleeve, something he’d learned from his Brazilian Mr. Miyagi. When the negative self-talk started, D.C. disrupted it by saying, “cancel-cancel.” He then plugged in an alternative reality, something like, “I am powerful.” It worked for him in his Top-Gun training, where lives and expensive machinery were at stake.

Curious and intrigued, I wondered if “cancel-cancel” could work for my clients and me too – and it does.

I don’t know how, or why you have to say it twice.

And in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t need to be said out loud.

I’ve been known to mentally utter “cancel-cancel” dozens of times in a single conversation, plugging in “I’m brave” instead, even if I’m trembling.

The beautiful thing is, you need to use “cancel-cancel” less and less as new neural networks develop. But don’t believe me. Try it for yourself.


Connect with your core values. In 2005, David Creswell and David Sherman conducted some research, which showed that affirming personal values buffered neuroendocrine and physiological stress responses.

That’s geek for personal values can prevent you from having a wobbler in a stressful situation.

The scholars created a Trier Social Stress Test, designed to maximize stress to see how people responded to it.

Participants were asked to deliver an impromptu speech before a panel of seemingly stern, unapproachable judges. If that wasn’t bad enough, participants were then asked to count backwards, in increments of thirteen, from 2,083 for five minutes. This is my idea of hell.

Prior to the experiment, one part of the group had been asked to write about a value that was central to their self-definition. The other part of the group was asked to write about a value that was not deeply linked to their sense of self.

After the experiment, both groups took a saliva test to measure their cortisol levels (cortisol is a hormone released when we are under stress, particularly stress that’s related to social judgment).

Now here’s the cracker. The group that had written about a value that was central to their self-definition showed no increase in cortisol after this harrowing exercise. The group that did not write about a core value had a cortisol spike.

Consider your core values, the ones that really make you who you are. One of mine is courage. So when I’m faced with fears of failure, rejection and criticism from jerk-wads and haters, I dig deep on what it means to be brave.

Before I start a potentially stressful task (like giving an important speech), I might write a few sentences about being courageous, or even think about past times when I’ve rocked the mic.  This helps me to stop stopping myself.

And handily enough, I can use that core value in the cancel-cancel reframe. “You might suck” becomes “I am brave.”

Have a go with these tools, and drop me an email or a tweet how you’re cancel-canceling your negative self-talk, and braving up with your values. I’m curious, and just a wee bit nosy.