For some, chasing dreams and pursuing goals appears to be easy. Maybe the logistical steps aren’t necessarily easy – building websites, growing skillsets, and networking are always a pain – but in terms of having the confidence and believing in themselves, that seems to come effortlessly. Lucky them. They must have had those parents who told them they could achieve anything if they set their mind to it. For the rest of us, we can sort of be one of the biggest obstacles standing in our own way of our dreams. For many, the hardest part about achieving goals is overcoming the fear that comes with taking the first step.
The fear can be about so many things. The moment you decide to pursue a goal, you are admitting that you want something badly, and so you are making yourself vulnerable to disappointment. That’s why so many people never ever chase their dreams. You probably know someone like that. But, they don’t seem happy, do they? The comfort and safety that came from giving up has put the light out in their eyes, hasn’t it? Let that be motivation to go after your dreams, even if it’s terrifying. We spoke with Marline Francois-Madden, LCSW. and Individual, Couples & Family Therapist Latasha Matthews (author of “The Dumping Ground”) about why you shouldn’t let fear hold you back from your goals.
What are you so afraid of?
“Fear of failure or being judged by others can stop people from pursuing their dreams,” says Francois-Madden. She also brings up something go-getters might be familiar with: being so overwhelmed by all there is to do that you freeze up and can’t take one step. “Feeling anxious with the need to do more can also stop one from pursuing their dreams and having a sense of feeling ‘stuck.’”
It’s all in your head
Matthews also brings up fear of rejection but reminds us that most of our fears aren’t grounded in reality. “We all, of course, experience fear, however, most of the fears we experience are quite irrational. These non-life-threatening fears show up to protect our ego from harm. The fear of rejection, failure, criticism, and success all originate from within our own imaginations and are designed to keep you from setting and achieving goals.”
Confront it, and get an ally
Francois-Madden encourages us to critically think about how real the perceived threat is and to find allies that can help us along if we do hit roadblocks. “I often tell people to list their fears and ask themselves ‘Is this factual or is it just a fear?’ If the fear is surrounded by pursuing their dreams, they can seek accountability from someone who can help them on their journey.”
Turn failure from a fear into a friend
Fear of failure is, naturally, a big one when it comes to goal pursuit. Unfortunately, nobody can guarantee that you won’t fail. In fact, the surer bet is that you will fail, over and over again. So Matthews suggests reframing the way you think of fear, rather than waiting for it to go away. “Do it scared” she says. “Failure is a great teacher, and it affords you the opportunity to learn from mistakes. There are aspects of failure that can be very humbling and teach you to ask for help, which helps build character.”
The pursuit alone has value
Francois-Madden also believes that good comes from pursuing goals, even when you don’t get the results you want right away. There is a benefit, regardless of the outcome. “We can learn so much about ourselves through the process of pursuit. It can help one to build and increase their executive functioning skills, such as time management, organization, task initiation, etc.”
F.E.A.R.S broken down
Matthews actually created an acronym for how one can face their fears: Focus on it, Evaluate it, Accept it, Record it, Stop it. She breaks it down, starting with F. “Focus on it. Notice where the fear is showing up in your body and how it is affecting your daily functioning. Your body will tell you a story about the fear if you are willing to listen.”
Evaluate it and accept it
For the evaluation portion, Matthews says, “Dig deep to get to hear to the fear. Where did it come from? Is there an experience that has triggered the fear? Define the fear for yourself.” As for the acknowledging part, she says, “Acknowledge that you are afraid of rejection, failure, or success. Acknowledgment provides space to admit that you are having an emotional response and seek help to cope with the fears.”
Record it and stop it
Proving one more reason to use journaling as a tool in therapy, Matthews talks about recording fears. “Keep a journal to track when your fears show up. This will help you identify mood shifts, behavior changes, or life circumstances that fear is designed to protect.” As for putting a stop to it, she says “Confront and reassign your fears. Fear is your friend, it is designed to protect you; therefore, you have control over how it shows up in your life. Notice it, acknowledge it, evaluate it, and honor that you can still succeed with it.”
Assess your strengths and weaknesses
A lot of fear surrounding goal pursuit can stem from the idea that you don’t yet have the skillset to go after your dreams. Rather than hiding from that, Francois-Madden suggests confronting it and doing something about it. You always have the power to just get better at something – remember that. Anyone who is skilled wasn’t born that way. They worked at it. Francois-Madden suggests those who are feeling inadequate, “Do a series of strengths-based assessment tests to see what they are good at.” From there, you can work to become stronger in areas you may be weak. That’s one way of gaining some control over your fears.
One more thing that can hold one back from pursuing goals is the fear that there will always be someone more qualified – someone who is better at it than you are. With billions of people on the planet, that’s probably true, and not a productive train of thought. Francois-Madden says of those stuck in the comparing spiral, “If they are comparing themselves to those on social media, they will need to assess the feelings that come up and find ways to limit their interaction with those social media accounts.”