Last week, a great friend of mine came to visit and I took her to explore one of the most beautiful snorkeling places on the island that I was pretty sure she’d love.
It’s this medium-sized natural saltwater tidal pool that’s pretty safe and where locals kids and adults love to spend their summer and early autumn days and tourists can’t resist.
This particular day was perfect- the sun was shining, the sea was glistening in the sunlight and I could see the rainhas (ornate wrasse) dancing beneath the surface of the water.
I’m passionate about the ocean and I couldn’t wait to show her the underwater rocks and features, the hundreds stunning fish like the huge sargos (white seabream) who swim just past your face and let her get a taste of at least a a bit of the Atlantic ocean.
We walked down the pools laughing and chatting, she audibly gasped when she saw the pool itself and she was soon stripping down to her swimsuit and making her way towards the water with a massive grin on her face.
Until she tried to put the snorkel mask on her face and get into the water….
Suddenly, my beautiful, confident and inspiring friend dissolved into a bundle of nerves, anxiety and panic right before my eyes and no matter what we tried, she simply couldn’t get over her fear and get into that water.
Remember, this is a girl who really really REALLY wanted to get into that water (and she is a good swimming with snorkeling experience in the Great Barrier Reef of all places!) but her fears just wouldn’t let her enjoy what we were doing that day.
We’ve all had experiences like this in our own lives.
We’ve all felt really excited about doing things, such as talking to that cute stranger, taking off and travelling the world, launching a new career or even learning a brand new skill like a foreign language, but fear stands in our way, and we just let the opportunity slip through our fingers.
The trouble is, for as long as you allow these fears to hold us back, you’ll only ever be living a fraction of your full potential as a human being. You’ll never know just what you are REALLY capable of. And in the wise words of Mark Twain, you could end up “more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did“.
As you know, I’m all about living life to the full, so here are some tips that can help you overcome your fears, become braver and start living your dream, however big or small they might be.
1. Stop thinking that being brave equals being fearless
It isn’t. Being brave isn’t about becoming completely fearless and doing scary stuff without breaking into a sweat. It’s not about turning into some kind of modern superhero.
Because fear is a normal part of being human- it’s there to protect us from all kinds of nasty things and helps ensure our survival. It isn’t our enemy and it isn’t there to make a fool of you. Instead we should learn to manage it so that the fear starts working for you instead of against you. It shouldn’t paralyse you from taking action that could help you achieve your dreams and goals.
Next time you feel afraid, try to make friends with the fear and understand where it comes from.
Is it a biological fear response trying to keep you safe? Is your fear based on previous experiences? Is your fear simply a lack of confidence in your own abilities? Where can you feel the fear in your body?
2. Notice your bravery and stop self criticism
Stop telling yourself that you’re weak, flawed and hopeless just because you feel scared or even anxious when you try to do something challenging.
You’re not weak.
You’ve already faced numerous challenges and traumas in your life and despite the struggles and the suffering you might have faced, you’ve still got through to the other side in one piece. That makes you very brave indeed.
So when that negative voice tells you that you’re useless and you’ll never do it, tell it to shut up! Remind yourself those times when you were incredibly brave and kept moving forwards despite everything you were going through.
Then tell yourself, “I can do it!”
3. Think about your breathing
When we feel anxious or worried about something our breathing often changes in response to what we perceive as a threat to our personal survival, and kicks off a whole chain of stress responses in our bodies.
Whilst these responses would have helped us deal with the stress of running from a lion on the savannah, they’re pretty useless when it comes to psychological stress and only make it harder for us to think straight or get stuff done.
The good news is that we can control this stress response by doing what my grandmother used to tell me; “Take a deep breath and count to 10.”
Simply breathe in deeply and notice how your chest, your belly and your shoulders fill with air. Now breathe out completely and watch as your lungs empty. Imagine the fear and stress leaving your body with the air. My grandmother would recommend doing this ten times, but you can repeat this as many times as you need to.
This works perfectly for all kinds of stress, anxiety and fear, such as visiting the dentist, having a baby, taking an exam and so on. Definitely worth adding to your life skills toolkit!
4. Take tiny steps towards your goal
Imagine you’re sat in a vegan restaurant and the waitress brings over a massive slice of the most delicious-looking vegan chocolate fudge cake you’ve ever imagined. I’m talking HUGE, dripping with vegan cream and glistening in the light. Are you with me here?
You don’t just pick up the plate, tip back your head, open wide and pour the entire chunk of cake into your mouth (unless you’re so crazy time-travelling cavewoman!). You’d choke, or get indigestion, or vomit and you just wouldn’t enjoy the cake.
Instead you need go slowly. You need to take that tiny fork and carefully remove a bite-sized piece, place it (politely) into your mouth, savour the flavour, chew, swallow, then repeat.
It’s much the same when it comes to getting brave enough to achieve your goals. You can’t expect to climb the mountain or go scuba diving overnight- it’s going to take some time to get there. It takes time to eat that vegan chocolate fudge cake and it will take time to become braver.
I have a great example for you- remember Laura Dekker who sailed solo around the world aged 16? She didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that she was going sailing on a whim. It took years of practice, of preparation and of taking small steps towards reaching her dream. But she did it. And so can you.
5. Fake it before you make it
Did you know that simply by acting ‘as if’ you already have the confidence, the bravery and, (in certain contexts) the skill can actually fool your brain into believing that you are already there?
Of course I’m not suggesting for a second that you should start being silly and leap into crazy situations without being fully prepared, but I am suggesting that you hold your head high, believe in your own power and give it a try.
6. Surround yourself with brave people
When you’re challenging yourself and moving beyond your comfort zone on a quest to become more courageous, it’s really important to be surrounded by brave people who you can lean on when you need it the most and also inspire you to keep chasing your dreams.
You might be thinking: “But there’s noone around me that is brave enough!” and that’s OK because it’s never too late to connect with like-minded people.
Even if you live in the ‘sticks’ and you only have fields and cows for company, provided you can connect to the internet every once in a while, you can connect with plenty of people from all over the world who are following the same journey as you.
First, look out for clubs and activities near you then also explore the many Facebook groups out there, google your passion, watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts and follow blogs that really inspire you. You will find your tribe and grow braver still.
7. Practice often
There aren’t any shortcuts or quick-fixes when it comes to being braver – you don’t simply wake up one morning and feel ready to jump out of a plane, go bungee jumping or travel around the world with your kids. It takes time. And most importantly, it takes practice.
Start exploring how it feels to go slightly out of your comfort zone every day- speak to that person you’re afraid of approaching, admit to yourself that you do harbour bigger dreams, investigate sailing courses, sign up for that teaching course or whatever else it is that makes your heart sing.
Little by little, bit by bit, you’ll learn to manage your fear, grow stronger and more confident as a person and start living instead of just surviving.
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