Face Your Fears and Fall in Love with the Process
Focusing on the journey gets you closer to your goals
By Dr. Arianne Missimer, PT, RD, LDN
Are you afraid to change jobs, open your own practice, ask for a raise, or brand yourself on social media? Are you waiting for some sign or perfect conditions? Perhaps you are procrastinating under the guise of perfectionism?
Stop focusing on all that—including the desired outcome—and fall in love with the process instead. The journey is where you learn, evolve, and succeed.
If you become curious about how you are going to complete your goal, rather than the outcome, you may find yourself facing down fears, overcoming challenges, and achieving success like never before.
To do this, we must first acknowledge that we are humans with emotions. We naturally gravitate toward pleasure and away from pain. So when Friday night rolls around after a long week, we order pizza instead of the salad we know will help us achieve our health goals.
Our subconscious houses our past experiences, including our memories, beliefs, unresolved emotions, and habits. Our conscious mind, meanwhile, is responsible for our thoughts, goals, and self-awareness. To set a goal, face our fears, and set ourselves up for success, we have to first align these two parts of who we are.
BATTLING THE SUBCONSCIOUS
Even though we know what we should do, our subconscious is much faster and more powerful. Approximately 40% of our daily lives are conducted habitually, developed by performing the same activities repeatedly.1 Considering we have about 6,200 thoughts a day,2 you can hopefully appreciate how easy it is to default to whatever is more comfortable in the moment. That’s why you don’t ask for that promotion you deserve. You choose the instant gratification of not rocking the boat over the potential long-term benefits of better pay. Getting out of your comfort zone triggers fear. So you stay exactly where you are, never pushing through to make your dreams a reality.
In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill discusses the six categories we fear: poverty, criticism, ill health, loss of love, old age, and death.3 Every one of us feels each one at some point or another during our lives, probably repeatedly.
- Fear of poverty: This causes self-doubt, procrastination, and being overcautious.
- Fear of criticism: Lack of initiative or ambition can easily fall into this category. What will people think if you fail? What will you think if you fail?
- Fear of ill health: Have you experimented with fad diets? Do you make excuses not to exercise? Or have you gone through stages of drinking too much, not exercising, or eating too much?
- Fear of loss of love: This can manifest as jealousy or outsized attempts to prove that others will still love you even if you make poor decisions.
- Fear of old age: If you’ve made comments like, “This is what happens when you turn 50” or fixated on what you used be able to do, you most likely have experienced this fear.
- Fear of death: This can be displayed as a lack of purpose or drive to accomplish anything. According to Dr. Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory,4 fear falls into the fight-or-flight state of our nervous system. It starts with worry and sometimes leads to anxiety and even panic, keeping us stuck. When we are under stress or have a perceived threat or stressor to our limbic system, we activate the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis), the stress pathway in our body.
This triggers a physiological response to release stress hormones, including cortisol. That is a helpful response if we’re running from a tiger. Not nearly so much, however, if we let fear of people’s opinions mess with our clarity and creativity, leaving us stuck in the same old rut.
Here are six ways to overcome that reaction:
1. Wake up your Reticular Activating System (RAS).
If you want to unlock the power of extreme focus and be able to use your mental energy to do whatever you want, wake up the reticular activating system in your brain.
The RAS is a bundle of neurons located inside the reticular formation in the brain stem, the most primitive part of our brain. The reticular formation is responsible for cardiovascular function, pain perception, sleep cycles, consciousness, and habituation.5
The RAS specifically is responsible for our wakefulness, ability to focus, fight-or-flight response, and how we ultimately perceive the world. It can control our conscious intakes, essentially acting as a gatekeeper of information. When at a restaurant with a friend, we can tune out extra noise around us and focus on the conversation. That is a perfect example of the RAS at work, preventing us from being overwhelmed by constant sensory information. It allows us to focus on specific things that can help us meet our goals.
We can use this to turn our brains onto exact, determined messages. If you want your own private practice, for instance, start by thinking about it existing. It’s that simple. If you keep thinking you can’t do it and why, you’ll also fail to activate your RAS and therefore fail to achieve what you want.
So start thinking about what you want in life, and use that to drive your conscious behavior and, therefore, your subconscious behavior.
2. Get mindful.
Mindfulness is paying purposeful attention without judgement. The polyvagal theory says that, in order to be mindful, grounded, and compassionate, we have to be in a state of social engagement, which means we have to feel safe and connected.6
Although it may not seem like it, we do have control over our nervous system. Be conscious of your intentions. Throughout the day, check-in with yourself; and, when needed, pause, take a breath, and revisit your intention. Take notice of how the quality of your work shifts as you become more conscious of your goals and ability to achieve them. Also be aware of any conversations you have with yourself. If you continue to say, “I’m never going to move up,” then you won’t take the necessary steps to advance your career. So you want to make sure to use internal and external language that encourages your capabilities, such as, “I am going to work smart and hard to advance my career and do what I want and love.”
Mindfulness involves curiosity. The fear response starts in a region of the brain called the amygdala, which is located deep inside the brain where emotions emanate. Accordingly, we only feel anxiety when signals from the emotional brain overpower the cognitive brain. We can’t be curious and anxious simultaneously!
When we use empathy and curiosity, the prefrontal cortex is activated, as is the nucleus accumbens, our pleasure center of the brain. So when you find yourself fearful, explore your emotions with a gentle curiosity instead.
3. Promote clarity about your purpose, mission, and values.
Sit down, grab a piece of pen and paper, and write down your purpose, mission, and values. Have clarity about what you want to achieve and why. Otherwise, your subconscious mind will struggle to align with your conscious mind. It’s especially important to do this while balancing your personal and professional lives appropriately. When these are aligned, you are destined for great things!
4. Consistency counts.
It is so crucial for you to be consistent with your habits, day in and day out. Try blocking out time in your schedule to allow room to do whatever needs to be done. Whether that’s meditating, writing an article, or planning for a career change, be consistent with whatever you do so that it becomes a habit, just like brushing your teeth.
5. Develop complementary habits.
Develop healthful habits so when your conscious mind gets tired from all those thoughts racing through your head, your subconscious mind can take over, helping you do the right thing.7 Author Rosie Campbell blogs about her complementary habits, writing, “Time-blocking my calendar ensures I build in time for walking and writing. Blocking out the evening for writing means I’m less tempted to have a drink, and not drinking means I write more productively. It also means I sleep better so getting up for a high-intensity workout doesn’t feel as painful. Walking gives me time to reflect and listen to podcasts, which, in turn, gives me ideas that I can then write about… And so on.”8
Take small action steps to develop complementary habits. These small steps are extremely important to make sure that you are making incremental changes instead of giant goals that can and will overwhelm you.
Celebrate your successes! Serotonin and dopamine responses can improve your feelings of happiness, motivating you to move on to keep doing what you’re doing and push toward your next goal.9
It doesn’t matter where you are right now in your life. Remember that if you focus on the process rather than the destination by using these six powerful concepts, you can face your fears and make your vision a reality.
1Society for Personality and Social Psychology. How we form habits, change existing ones. ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140808111931.htm. Published August 8, 2014.
2Queens University. Discovery of “Thought Worms” Opens Window to the Mind. NeuroscienceNews. https://neurosciencenews.com/thought-worms-16639/. Published July 14, 2020.
3Hill N. Think and Grow Rich. Brussels, Belgium: Primento Publishing; 2011.
4Porges S. The polyvagal theory: New insights into adaptive reactions of the autonomic nervous system. Cleve Clin J Med. 2009 Apr;76(Suppl 2):S86–S90. doi: 10.3949/ccjm.76.s2.17.
5Arguinchona JH, Tadi P. Neuroanatomy, Reticular Activating System. In: StatPearls [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549835/.
6Missimer A. How to Map Your Own Nervous Sytem: The Polyvagal Theory. The Movement Paradigm. https://themovementparadigm.com/how-to-map-your-own-nervous-sytem-the-polyvagal-theory/. Published March 22, 2020.
7Duhigg C. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks; 2014.
8Campbell R. Complementary Habits. RosieCampbell.me. https://www.rosiecampbell.me/complementary-habits/. Published January 3, 2021.
9Guy-Evans O. Serotonin vs. Dopamine: What Are the Differences? Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/serotonin-vs-dopamine.html. Published September 14, 2021.
Dr. Arianne Missimer, PT, RD, LDN LDN is the owner/CEO The Movement Paradigm in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at email@example.com or IG, Facebook, and TikTok @themovementparadigm.