Honor Your Fears, But Don’t Let Them Paralyze You

I decided the time was right on Saturday. I had avoided a particular section of road since last November, after I had an upsetting encounter with three dogs, coming at me from two different directions. Avoiding this section was inconvenient and limited my options because it is just about five miles from my house and a major route to the west, where some of the best cycling is.

I was finishing a very enjoyable, solo 55-mile bike ride on Saturday and was feeling emboldened because I had already come through several miles that I hadn’t ridden this year, in part because of mild dog fears. Although this section, farther away from home and easier to avoid, had caused me distress in previous years because of a very aggressive, chasing Australian shepherd, I had not had a problem in the last couple years. But, after my closer-to-home stressful encounter last November, I had shied away from this stretch as well. Considering my options on Saturday morning, though, I found myself drawn to this route and made the decision to ride it. It was empowering to come through it without incident.

This was part of what inspired me to try the closer, scarier route. I thought about it while I rode. Besides my success that day, another cyclist had told me recently that he had been through that section several times without encountering the dogs. Also, I knew I would have a cornering tailwind as I passed them, and it would be hot, so the dogs would be less motivated to move from shady resting spots.

The time felt right.

As I approached the intersection where I would have to make a decision to proceed north, avoiding the dogs, or to turn east toward them, I told myself that either choice was okay. I would listen to my instinct.

I made the right turn toward the dogs.

I used some of my calming mantras as I approached their houses, which are across the street from each other, with the bigger problems across the road from me. I also grabbed another gear and accelerated—no need to dilly dally! I made it past them without encountering a belligerent canine.

Victory! I had done it. For the firs time in nearly 10 months, I had been brave enough to calculate my risks and face my fears.

It made me think.

As you know if you have read many of my previous posts, I find lots of analogies from the bike that apply to the bigger picture of life. This situation is no exception.

Allowing myself to ride this section of road opens options for me. It means less need for backtracking and more possibilities. Similarly, facing our fears in the rest of life creates possibilities, too.

Facing our fear, in a way that acknowledges and honors them allows us to see options that might be hidden from us otherwise. It literally opens our minds. When we don’t—or believe we can’t—face them, routes remain off limits. The doors remain closed. We can’t see down a certain path.

There are some things in my life off the bike that have me feeling fearful lately. The lesson from Saturday’s ride can serve me as I navigate these situations in the upcoming days, weeks and months. I can analyze the situation, like I did on the bike, and calculate my risks. I can also empower myself by providing opportunities for victory in lower-stakes decisions and circumstances. Doing this can embolden me to face the tougher, scarier things with more confidence and to see creative possibilities.

This doesn’t mean the fears go away. I’m not ready to ride past the dogs on their side of the road yet. I’ll need at least a few more passes on the opposite side with some degree of tailwind. Then, when the time is right, I may try it heading west.

The same is true in the rest of life. Navigating the changes that life brings us can be frightening, but it doesn’t have to paralyze us. Remembering this can help us to optimize our circumstances and live the best lives we can, while helping others do the same.

I’m no expert at this, but Saturday’s experience taught me some lessons that I can share:

  1. When something scares you, think about your options around it.
  2. How risky is facing it? Analyze the risks.
  3. What factors could mitigate the risks?
  4. Is the time right to face it?
  5. What does facing it look like?
  6. Listen to your gut. Even if you feel some fear, do your instincts tell you to take that turn toward what scares you and explore it openly?
  7. If so, go for it?
  8. Consider the possibilities that open for you once you are willing to openly acknowledge your fears.
  9. What is the next action you could take to move you forward in the direction of your dreams?
  10. Is there anything stopping you from taking it?
  11. If nothing is stopping you, and you have analyzed your risks, make that turn toward the thing that scares you.
  12. Once you have done it, what changed for you because you were willing to face your fears?
  13. Celebrate your courageous decision and decide how you will move forward next.

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” –Jack Canfield

Several years ago, this quote really spoke to me. It still does, although I am not sure that everything I want is on the other side of fear. Or that I will find everything I want if I face my fears. What I do believe is that there will be more options, and I will see more possibilities, if I do face my fears, rather than remaining stuck in paralysis by them.

I am going to work to remember this and practice facing my fears more often. I know I will have several opportunities to do that coming up in the near future.

Have you had the experience of facing your fears and finding creative possibilities and unexpected alternatives on the other side of them? Let us know in the comments.

“Choose courage over comfort by vitally engaging with new opportunities to learn and grow, rather than passively resigning yourself to your circumstances.” –Susan David

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