“The most important learning is to expect and accept mistakes and deal with the disappointment that they bring.”
- Mr. Fred Rogers
I recently watched “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, the Fred Rogers documentary, and this quote really stood out to me. I often meet with clients who are afraid to take risks due to fear. They are stagnated in their careers, relationships, physical health goals, and mental health goals because of fear.
When you start creating fantasy scenarios in your head about what might happen and every scenario is gloom and doom, you need to pump the breaks. In order to keep us “safe” our brains are always thinking of ways we can get hurt. Our brains also look for how current experiences may be similar to experiences that have hurt us in the past and warn us to be on alert. Additionally, to keep us safe, our brains input negative experiences faster into our long-term memory than positive ones.
The bad news: our brains are not the best at distinguishing between physical and emotional safety. So when a situation triggers fear, but we are not in physical danger, the same fight-flight-freeze alarm system gets activated in our bodies. For example, if you wanted to take a career risk but you were doubting your ability to succeed, and constantly ruminating over “what-if” scenarios, then your brain and body would be primed to think you were in danger. In order to no longer have that fear, you may avoid taking the risk and in that way you can avoid the feeling of fear. This type of fear management is where stagnation thrives.
The good news: you can provide info to your brain via thoughts so it can better assess between physical and emotional safety. If you bring awareness to the fact that your emotional safety is being triggered, you can talk back to the fear-based thoughts. Start to label, without criticism, your feelings of shame, guilt, and fear, then bring awareness to thought patterns that are triggering these feelings. Once you have awareness, begin fostering more effective language in your thought patterns. This creates more of an equal playing field between ineffective and effective thoughts. The following are common examples.
Ineffective Self-Talk/Common Fears:
If I’m not “successful” I won’t be able to cope with the “failure.”
What will others think of me?
What if I make the wrong decision?
I’m not worthy.
I’m a failure.
I’m too stupid.
I’m too lazy.
I’m too fat.
If I fail, I can learn from my mistakes and move forward.
Everyone fails sometimes, that’s how you learn and grow.
We all make mistakes.
I am enough.
I like me.
I love me.
What can I control in this moment?
What can I let go of that is not controllable in this moment?
So, what can you do about fear: Listen to Mr. Fred Rogers.