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How to Overcome the Bony Grip of Fear Around Your Ankles

I dreamt last night about snakes. In my dream, two dark brown snakes had wrapped themselves around my ankles, one on each side. I screamed, I hyperventilated, I was immobilized by fear. I could feel the subtle movements of the snakes' skin as they wrapped tighter around each ankle. I could also hear their hissing. Y'all, this was terrifying. In my dream, I don't know why I didn't actually faint. I have a fear of worms, but I've always been okay looking at snakes (not touching them, but looking is fine). I woke up in a cold sweat, unfathomably relieved that I didn't have two snakes wrapped around my legs.

I love dream interpretation. With this one, I would ask, "What is gripping me in fear in my real life? What issues or concerns are choking me with fear? What do I feel powerless to control?" There's also the possibility that the bed sheets were wrapped around my ankles, but the first interpretation is much more interesting to consider.

I was reading a book about fear and taking leaps yesterday. One of the fear questions I've heard before is this: If you weren't afraid, what would you do? In other words, if fear were absent/taken out of the equation, what would you do or not do? Maybe it's a person you're afraid of disappointing, maybe it's a friend or family member you'd tell how you really felt. Maybe it's your career or your marriage or going back to school. There are a million things we don't do because we're afraid. There's a quote often falsely attributed to Mark Twain, but was actually said by the mother of writer H. Jackson Brown, Jr: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from this safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover"

I make lists about everything, even one with things that scare me. I created a big list of things I might do if I weren't afraid. Lists are nice and safe. Pen and paper. No one except you (and your nosy babysitter) will know you wrote these things down. During this exercise, try to avoid writing down worries. Worries would include that I am parenting in a way that might not benefit my kids (too lenient), that my daughter is too spirited/strong-willed and that this will have negative consequences as she gets older. Leave the worries and instead make a fear list. This list I'm asking you to write will include things personal for you that you would literally be doing if you weren't afraid.

A few years ago I wrote that I would quit my job if I weren't afraid. It's funny how that little nudge on paper was enough to start the ball rolling. I also wrote that I would go to a third world country alone and work in a clinic. I wrote down that I'd write a book if I weren't afraid, start a blog, start a women's group at church, sign up for yoga teacher training. While you're writing these things you don't think that you'll actually do them, but it's like planting a seed. If you can write down what you're afraid of, it takes some of the power away from the fear. The step after writing this list is to go back and ask yourself, "How would my life be different if I actually mustered up the courage and did ______________, how would that look?"

On my current fear list, I wrote down public speaking. This is a huge fear. I have slowly begun dipping my toe in the water. I got up in front of my church last year and spent a few minutes telling them why they should consider volunteering for Interfaith Hospitality. If you have a strong "Why", it will often overcome the fear. In this case, I felt strongly about this organization, so I practiced my 3-minute speech over and over. I got my kids to video me doing it a few times, I took my beta blocker. I still haven't overcome my fear, but I work on it periodically. Last week I even looked up meeting times for Toastmasters. This is, apparently, the group to join if you want to get really good at public speaking. I thought it was harmless to just google the local toastmaster's groups. Well, that led to a pop-up window that asked for my name and email. I thought, "why not?" and entered the info. An hour later a very nice lady emailed to invite me to a meeting (today!). I hesitated for a second, then thought, "why not?" I went and it was great. The great part wasn't the meeting itself, it the exhilarating feeling I got while working on something I'm afraid of. In the end, they asked me to introduce myself. I felt my throat close in fear, but I somehow managed to choke out the words as the fight or flight chemicals surged into my bloodstream.

What steps will you take this week to overcome a fear?

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