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Feel the Fear


With our “new look” blog, I promised to share something that I’ve been learning each month.  Well, in September I have been rereading the classic Susan Jeffers book “Feel the fear and do it anyway” and thought I’d share some its highlights with you.

I first read this multi-million selling book (which could be subtitled ‘lighten up and deal with it’) before I ever trained as a coach. It is a rousing call to moaners and groaners to accept life’s tribulations, take responsibility for your actions or inactions and conquer your fears.  For people stuck in a rut, ‘fear is keeping all of them from experiencing life the way they want to experience it.’ Jeffers is adamant that subverting the paralysing influence fear has on our lives is the key to living the fulfilling life we want.

Fear is certainly a blocker, paralyser or limiting belief in many of my clients, stopping them from moving towards the unknown; stopping them from creating a career they love.

One of Jeffers’ key tenets is that you are responsible for your own choices and she is remarkably robust in delivering the news; stuck in a loveless marriage? Leave. Hate your job? Get a new one. I find this emphasis on self-reliance refreshing and daring. It has a lot in common with existentialism which places similar stress on this idea of ultimate responsibility for our choices. Sartre would nod approvingly as Jeffers weighs in on the ‘it’s not my fault’ brigade. She states that ‘It’s better to take responsibility in your life than always be the victim.’

A lot of her approach revolves around the power of positive thinking.  This might sound a bit old hat (it worked for Pollyanna all those years ago!) but it is a ‘muscle’ that we’ve all had to exercise recently during the lockdown.  Apparently 90% of what we worry about never happens anyway so why approach things from a position of negativity?

She is also decisive when it comes to people in our lives that may not like the new you. In blazing a trail through fear that once held you back, she warns us that ‘when you rock the boat, someone will tell you to sit down.’ Enemy troops are the saboteurs that want the old you back. In typically candid style, she advocates ditching them and surrounding yourself with new friends who share your outlook on life. 

Negativity is contagious and Jeffers advises its avoidance. My husband found all the Brexit chatter exhausting and depressing. He changed radio stations from 5 Live to TalkSport (which did a sterling effort of cheering the nation along despite the fact there was no sport to report on!) and has never looked back. That’s probably not for everyone but during the pandemic I found myself somewhat depressed by the avalanche of negativity from news media. My solution - switch to podcasts. Listen to something life-affirming and you’ll feel better. I think that the book is spot on here.

The ‘Chatterbox’ is another interesting limitation. Jeffers highlights the internal monologue that heralds doom at every turn, plaguing us with doubt and ‘what ifs’ that stifle personal development. Just being aware of it is a step in the right direction. The ‘Chatterbox’ can take over in a situation like staying in your job or taking a new one that has opened up. Chatterbox fills you with fear and doubt and keeps you in the old job. Jeffers says that being aware of the Chatterbox will help you ignore it. Acknowledge fear and act anyway. Risk the new job and see it as an adventure even if it doesn’t work out. Taking risks is something she is very keen on.

Risk taking is a journey, a leap of faith or following your gut. She extols the benefits of risk taking going so far as to encourage us to plan the risks we are going to take tomorrow. Naturally, her risks don’t include speeding or taking drugs but small incremental ones that push you past fear and forward into the world.

Each chapter is packed with case studies and useful summaries as well as “feel the fear” exercises. This book is a dynamic battle cry against inaction through fear. 

If I were to take away one maxim from this book it would be to reverse the traditional interpretation of fear as a signal to retreat. For Jeffers, fear is the green light to move ahead and this is the piece that has always resonated with me. 

I wonder if all of us have had to face this, to some extent, during the last 6 months.  Certainly, for me, doing things radically differently in my business has been stimulating and scary.  I was going to write “in equal measure” but that’s not true.  For now at least, the change has been more the former than the latter. 

What have you moved towards recently despite your fear?  I’d love to know.

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