Evolutionarily, fear is meant to keep us safe and help us survive. But that doesn’t mean we should let our fears be in the driver’s seat of our lives. Remember how oversensitive the earliest car alarms were, so easily set off by the slightest touch or sound? Sometimes our internal fear alarm is just as touchy — even around thoughts and opportunities that aren’t actually dangerous.
While we appreciate that our fears are only trying to protect us, we can’t let outdated beliefs, irrational fears, past bruises to our egos, or anything else that isn’t a “sure thing” get in the way of our personal growth just because the alarm bells are sounding in our head. Just like those car alarms weren’t always able to to determine “real” danger, our personal alarm is not always the best tool with which to determine whether we should take a risk.
These deep-seated fears that trigger our inner panic button are what keep us in our comfort zone and hold us back. It’s hard, when your heart is racing and your palms are sweating, to stop and ask yourself, “What am I so scared of?” “What am I trying to prove?” But that’s exactly what you should do.
So the next time you’re feeling self-conscious or like you’re outside of your comfort zone, rather than panic, take notice. The below chart demonstrates some core fears and interpretations of them that one might find when one takes a closer look.
Let’s start with our “bright, joyful” moment, which is “I got the job!” On the surface, that merely looks like something to celebrate. But for some people, they might dig deeper and determine that the true meaning behind that particular thing being the chosen moment of joy is “That must mean that I am smart after all!”
As you can see, any of your experiences may be being interpreted through a lens of your fears without you even knowing it. If the example had been, “He wants to marry me!” What that could really be saying, if you look closer, is “That must mean that I’m lovable after all!” What this tells us is that our thoughts, feelings, and even happy moments are often attempting to substantiate whether our core fears are deserved. But because we often don’t want to face the root of those core fears, we tend to glaze over it so that we don’t set off any alarms. This unconscious behavior keeps us in our comfort zones, which cripples our personal growth.
Now, keeping that in mind, use the below questions to fill out your own chart.
- Core fears are often related to our sense of identity and what we believe others find valuable about us (e.g. Am I lovable? Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Am I beautiful enough? Am I interesting enough?) You likely formed these beliefs at a young age based on what qualities our family and friends taught us to believe were most lovable and valuable. Which is why we fear not possessing those qualities — we’ve come to believe they are required for others to accept and appreciate us. So, keeping that in mind, what are your core fears? Be honest with yourself (this chart is just for you, after all!). Write them in the center circle.
- Look at the core fears you’ve written down. What are some of the thoughts those fears stir up inside of you?
- Which of those thoughts seem to confirm or deny your core fears?
- What are some feelings you have that relate to those core fears?
- Which feelings seem to validate or invalidate those core fear?
- What are examples of bright, joyful moments?
- Which of those joyful moments validate or invalidate your core fears?
See your dreams and purpose? They are right there waiting for you to reach them. All you have to do is break out of your comfort zone and wade through your Big Bad Saboteur to get to them.
Here’s a pretty common experience: You start out feeling confident and able to express your wants and dreams. Then your Saboteur shows up and undermines all of that. When that happens, remember this: The Saboteur wants you to keep the status quo. It wants you to stay inside of your comfort zone. Whenever you are contemplating moving forward in a big way, those alarm bells wake your Saboteur up. And the bigger the dream, the louder the alarm sounds, and the more mighty your Saboteurs begins to feel. That’s because Saboteur comes ready with all the reasons for why this plan (whatever you’re thinking) is a stupid, dangerous, hopeless or otherwise ill-advised course of action. The Saboteur is particularly adept at taking a small piece of the truth and exaggerating it into the blanket reason for stopping, or worse, never starting in the first place.
Thankfully, there is another mode of operating! You can bypass your Saboteur by connecting to your values and life purpose (see those So She Did exercises: “What Do You Stand For?” & “Answering the Age-Old Question: What is My Purpose?”). You can catapult over the moat that houses your Saboteur by making decisions based on your core values. There may not be a way to destroy your Saboteur altogether. But you can quiet its voice and influence over your life. When it inevitably makes its appearance anytime you’re thinking of making a trip outside of your comfort zone, acknowledge it. But don’t let it get behind the steering wheel.
We’re wired to want acceptance, “to be cool.” But don’t let that distract you from your own inner truth. We all deserve personal fulfillment, to live the life we truly want, living and working for our own dreams — not the life we are told to live or that makes someone else’s dream come true. Understanding the current boundaries of your comfort zone, and recognizing the voice(s) of your personal Saboteur will help you break free of the old narratives that keep you living small in the status quo instead of living the big life you’re dreaming about. Give yourself permission to want what you want! To live your purpose, overcome your Saboteur.