I recently was asked to present a sermon before three services at my church and am currently preparing for my public speaking sessions where the topics can be challenging and the crowds relatively large. I am often asked by people how I can seem so comfortable doing public speaking. I will tell you that I am never comfortable at first. In fact, each time I have to go through the same process. It is the explanation behind my theory on the cycle of fear. That cycle is a process that goes through several stages as it moves us from fear to energy. Over the next several posts I will attempt to explain the stages of that cycle and hopefully give some insight on how to deal with them.
My cycle of fear moves through these stages; Fear – Anxiety – Nervousness – Excitement – Energy. As we move through the stages and provided we do move through the stages, we ultimately end up with the energy derived from the act we started out fearing.
So stage one is fear. Franklin Roosevelt, preparing a nation to face a world war, aptly stated, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Fear is the belief that something bad, and perhaps irreversible will result if we under take a particular action. It can stop us from acting. If, in fact the action may have been truly ill advised, fear actually saves us. However, when our fear is irrational, it stops us from realizing potentially rewarding experiences.
I will never forget the day I decided I would actually jump out of a perfectly good airplane from 5000 feet or for that matter the day I decided it was perfectly okay to leap off a 3000 foot cliff attached to a paraglider. The fear I faced as I approached both of those adventures was real. It would have been enough to stop me from realizing two of the most exciting experiences of my life. By the same token, stepping in front of a crowd of 400 plus participants can be no less daunting and yet just as rewarding. For many, that seemingly non life threatening activity, can freeze them in their tracks.
So how do we get past that first stage? My approach has been a combination of several steps. The first step is to analyze the activity. What is the worst that could happen? Could I actually be injured? What safety nets are built into the activity? Often, a brief analysis will reveal that you are going to live. Important point here, if that isn’t revealed, then heed the fear and look for a better activity. In my parachute jump, there was a pretty reliable parachute as well as an instructor that was there with me all the way. With the paragliding, I was actually hooked to a seasoned glider pilot. The fact that he spoke no english created some angst but none the less, multiple people had flown off the cliff before me and all had returned intact.
Step two for me, when time allows, is to procrastinate. This sounds just plain wrong but let me explain. When faced with true fear there are two possibilities, fight or flight. procrastination is a form of fight. You have subconsciously not chosen flight. In that decision, you took one more step toward acceptance. The key with this step is to make sure you are moving in the direction of stage two, anxiety. In anxiety, you are moving away from fear toward the belief that you can actually attempt this. But anxiety is the topic of my next blog.
The third step is to stop over thinking. This is actually harder to do than it sounds. It requires a desire to see this thing through and that means I need to stop focusing on the fear and to start looking at the possibilities. This is what Roosevelt meant when he said we only have fear itself to fear. When we start considering the positive outcomes, we leave fear behind and we begin to move forward through the cycle.
When ever I have to face fear over a challenge I am about to take, I hear my daughter’s words echoing in my head, “Stop thinking about it and get ready for how exciting it will feel when you are done”. If I had never jumped off that cliff that day, I wouldn’t have experienced how incredibly exciting it turned out to be. She was so right!
Facing our fears is not easy but the reward that often awaits us for taking on the challenge is worth it. Think it over, pause to let acceptance move us forward and stop over thinking the negative and focus on the possibilities.
Coming soon….turning fear down to anxiety.