We’ve done a lot of scary things in our lives, like selling everything we own and moving to South America. Some people call us risk takers, but in reality, we were scared to death! We just pushed through the fear and did it anyway! Here are the 9 tips we learned along the way to overcome your fears while doing things that scare you to death!
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#1 Find Your Big Why
This is the most important step in the process. If you don’t have a big enough why, you won’t have the motivation to overcome your fears. To push through the fear and keep moving forward.
Your big why can’t come from your friends or family expectations, or something society pressures you to do. It has to come from your core; your soul. What really matters to you? Why do you want to do what’s making you afraid? Is your big why powerful enough to make you take the risk?
For us, it was the realization that life is fragile and precious. Following my two spinal surgeries, we took stock of our lives and realized tomorrow is not a guarantee. We decided that we didn’t want to work traditional jobs for the rest of our lives while spending most of our earnings on meaningless possessions that we didn’t need.
Instead, we went the unconventional route, sold everything we owned and moved to Cuenca Ecuador. Most people are retired when they move here, but we didn’t want to wait for retirement because retirement may never come.
Our big why was the desire to make the most out of every day for the rest of our lives, and that wasn’t sitting in a cube for 8 to 10 hours a day. We still work, but we live like we’re retired 20 years ahead of schedule.
#2 Identify Your True Fear
What are you really afraid of? Loss of control? Uncertainty? Fear of failure? Fear of being told “no”? Fear of the unknown? Fear of what others will say or how they will judge you?
Nearly all of the fears that paralyze us into inaction are irrational. They’re fueled by our imagination and have no basis in reality. They prevent us from living the exciting, unconventional life of our dreams.
Walking across a busy street with your eyes closed is worthy of your fear. Walking down a dark alley in a questionable part of town is worthy of your fear. Going in for surgery is worthy of your fear. Things that physically threaten your life are worthy of your fear and that’s why we have fear. Fear keeps us alert and alive.
But sometimes our irrational fear response keeps us from living up to our potential and once you identify your true fear, you can assess whether it’s valid or not. If your life is in danger, the fear is valid. If your pride or control issues are holding you back, it’s time to overcome your fears.
#3 Stop. Cancel. Clear.
My business coach from a long time ago, Sandy, taught me this one and I’ve been using it ever since. She learned it from someone else so I’m not sure who deserves the original credit.
The full saying she taught me is “Stop. Cancel. Clear. Get the f*** outta here.” But I prefer to abbreviate it for mixed company and it still gets the job done.
We all have negative thoughts from time to time, sometimes more than others. When you catch yourself having a negative thought, simply say to yourself, either outloud or in your thoughts, “Stop. Cancel. Clear.” Then replace that thought with a positive one.
This is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has been proven to work quite effectively. Rather than dwelling on the past and your problems as Freudian psychology does, CBT focuses on the present and seeks to rewire the negative pathways in your thought processes.
Understanding the root cause of your negative thoughts can help make sense of them, but once you understand where they came from, you need to shift focus and start changing them to help overcome your fears.
When we first arrived in Ecuador, I was really struggling with my “new normal.” My back is in constant pain from the surgical hardware, degenerative disc disease, arthritis and nerve damage. I can no longer do many of the things I enjoyed doing before my spine decided to fall apart (e.g. 13 mile hikes up a mountain). And I was in constant fear of falling or injuring myself. I was stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk.
After speaking with a friend of ours about this, she recommended I go see a psychologist here in Cuenca. Her name is Estella and she helped me rewire my negative thoughts in less than 2 months; about 6 visits. She quickly identified that my fears were irrational and if I did fall, I wasn’t likely to seriously hurt myself. She helped me use CBT to swap out my negative thoughts with positive ones.
Each time I caught myself worrying about falling or injuring myself, I changed my thoughts to, “I’m strong. I’m healthy. I’m doing my physical therapy. Titanium is not likely to break. And if I do fall, I will be ok. It’s not going to kill me.”
In the past year, I have fallen twice here in Cuenca. Once was a week ago when I sprained my ankle. The other time was inside our house on wet tile. I injured other parts of my body on both occasions, but not my back or neck. My fears were completely irrational.
Estella also helped me figure out some of my fear was caused by uncertainty. I didn’t have a doctor here in Cuenca so if anything did happen, I would have no idea who to go see. Not all doctors speak English here so that was another concern.
Estella helped me find a general practitioner who helped me find a neurosurgeon who helped me find a physical therapist. They all speak English and my fear of uncertainty is gone. If something happens and I get injured, I know exactly who to call. Their direct cell phone numbers are on my phone.
Sometimes our fear needs to be solved by changing our thoughts. Other times we need to take action in the real world to overcome our fears.
#4 Accept Your Fear
Fear is a natural human response to uncertainty or perceived danger. It does a very good job of keeping us alive, but sometimes it just works a little too well.
One of the keys to overcome your fears is to accept that you have them. It’s normal to be afraid. Everybody is afraid sometimes. The trick is to not let them prevent you from pursuing your dreams.
Instead, use your fears and anxiety to propel you forward. Use them as motivation to do your research, educate yourself and get prepared. Doing the work, the tasks, needed to achieve your goals will help reduce your uncertainty and increase your chance of success.
#5 Get Educated
The best way to reduce uncertainty is to get educated about whatever it is you want to do.
When we were first thinking about selling all our stuff and leaving the USA for another country, we started by educating ourselves. Actually, I educated ourselves. Amelia let me do the research, reading and watching of YouTube videos, then I reported my findings back to her and we discussed them.
The writing was on the wall for us. Our finances following my nearly $1 million surgeries had financially strapped us so we had to make a change. The house (and mortgage) had to go, but where would we live?
We made our list of pros and cons for leaving and staying, and for the top expat destinations if we were to leave. Then we pondered it for months. It took us about 3 months to make the decision to leave, and another 18 months before we arrived in Ecuador with our few remaining possessions. It was a slow process.
The thought of selling everything we had spent years accumulating, and leaving the country we grew up in, was scary as hell. The only reason we were able to make it a reality was because of the diligence we put into educating ourselves.
#6 Talk To People Who Have Done It
The best way to make a dream seem more real and possible is to talk to people who have already done it. They were once in the exact same spot where you are today, so they know what you’re going through and they know what steps you need to take to get to where they are.
This tip works for anything you want to do: new job, new career, new hobby, writing a book, running a marathon, finding a healthy relationship, starting a company, going vegan, moving abroad, etc. And most people are eager to help you follow in their footsteps because it validates their own decisions.
You need to educate yourself first, though. When you approach someone who has already done it, go to them with insightful questions. Don’t waste their time with questions that can be easily answered with a simple Google search.
We’re excited to help other people live an unconventional life like ours, which is one reason we started our YouTube Channel and our new Facebook Group. There are also a lot of expats in other Facebook groups like Ecuador Expats and Cuenca Expats who are happy to answer questions and give advice. ExpatExchange is another good website to interact with current expats.
You can find groups and forums like these for nearly any dream or expat destination you are considering. Just be sure to validate the information you receive because sometimes people’s opinions are different than reality.
#7 Find Support
You don’t have to go it alone. Finding support from people who are embarking on the same journey as you can help motivate you, reinforce your decision and reduce your uncertainty.
Sharing the experience with someone else is also a good way to hold each other accountable. This has been proven to work for the toughest of decisions, like breaking an addiction to food, shopping, drugs or alcohol.
If having an accountability partner works for such difficult life changes, imagine how powerful it can be for easier ones like embarking on an exciting life adventure.
The forums I listed above are also good places to meet people who are at the same stage as you. Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, Meetup and similar social media sites are all good places to make connections with people who might provide much needed support and accountability to help you overcome your fears.
#8 Small Chunk It
After I sold my dotcom back in 2008, I wrote a book titled, “The Web Startup Roadmap: Navigate Your Way to a Successful Online Business.” Some of it is a little outdated now, but it contains a lot of fundamental business advice that will always be relevant.
One of the sections is about small chunking it, or breaking larger tasks into smaller ones. In other words, making lists and checking things off. This was one of the most popular topics when I used to promote my book at public speaking engagements.
Most things worth doing in life are complicated. If they were easy, you would have already done them and you wouldn’t need to put much thought into them.
However, if you want to do something bold like start a business or YouTube Channel, or move abroad, there are lots of decisions to make and tasks to be done. If you try to jump to the end without taking all the necessary steps, you aren’t likely to succeed.
But sometimes, all those steps can seem very overwhelming. Sometimes it’s even hard to know where to start! That’s where small chunking it comes in.
Start with a list of the main steps. For moving abroad, your list might be something like: sell all my stuff, choose a destination, visa requirements, pet travel, cost of living, online income source, etc.
That’s a great start, but each step has a bunch of tasks and need to be broken into smaller chunks. When we decided to sell all our stuff, our list looked something like this:
- Research the value of our house
- Get all the mortgage paperwork in order
- Clean and organize the house
- Get repairs made to the house
- Get a professional landscaper
- Contact estate sales companies for quotes
- Contact a real estate agent
- List the car for sale
- Schedule the estate sale
- Arrange a hotel for the weekend of the estate sale
- Hold the estate sale
- Take remaining junk to Goodwill
- Sell the house
You may want to break each one of these small chunks into even smaller chunks. For example, getting repairs made to your house might deserve it’s own list: touch up paint, fix cracked window, replace missing shingle, etc.
Big dreams have lots of steps. Making a list and small chunking it not only makes the steps more manageable, but it also ensures you’re less likely to forget something important. And most importantly, lists will help you overcome your fears.
#9 Fake It Until You Make It
A lot of self-help experts call this “acting as-if” you’ve already done it. Fake it until you make it is the same thing.
Your mind has a quirky feature that you can use to your advantage: it can’t tell the difference between reality and imagination. You can literally elicit the same physiological response as a real experience, just by imagining it.
That’s were faking it until you make it comes in. If you focus on the steps and the individual tasks, and act like you know what you’re doing, your subconscious mind will start to believe you actually DO know what you’re doing. Even if you’re still afraid, you’ll overcome your fears and keep moving forward.
Over time, it will start to feel more natural and second nature. To quote T. Harv Eker, “Every master was once a disaster.” If you fake it through the disaster phase, you’ll eventually become a master.
You might be very surprised to know that many successful people feel like they’re faking it right now. A recent survey of private company CEOs found that 90% of them lose sleep at night worrying about failure. They feel unqualified to do the job they’re currently doing.
In other words, they’re faking it until they make it. They just keep doing the tasks and no one else knows about their internal struggles.
Overcome Your Fears Conclusion
Anything meaningful in life, anything worth doing, requires risk. And risk triggers our natural fear response. Pretending your fears aren’t real or don’t exist won’t help. The key to overcome your fears is to take the necessary steps to rein them in and take back control.
Different approaches work for different people so spend some time figuring out what your real fears are, why it’s important that you overcome them, and what strategies work best for you. Then get started.
To quote an old Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” If you want to live a meaningful, intentional, unconventional life, make a list, small chunk it and move forward. Your dream awaits.
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