5 Steps To Overcoming Fear: The Good, The Bad, And The Totally Honest

Fear is a normal emotion, but it doesn't have to hold you back. In fact, it can fuel your goals. Take the reins and use fear as motivation.

Fun fact: Did you know that you're no different than anyone at the pro level? It's true. I'm not talking about your body, ability, or natural talents. I'm talking about how you're wired, really wired—beyond the internal workings of the heart, lungs, and brain that we all have. (Well, most of us have all three.) On a psychological level, we all share that same deep, primal trait that lingers in the shadows of our minds and hearts. That trait is fear.

In prehistory, fear kept us on edge during the hunt, and then went into overdrive when we encountered a beast face to face. Kill or be killed. Today, when we enter a boardroom to make a presentation, those same impulses shoot the same chemicals through our body. Only now the fanged-creatures wear suits and jab fat fingers at iPads.

No matter your age, genetics, upbringing, or education, fear likely drives much of what you do. It might even dictate a big chunk of your lifestyle. Fear is powerful—it can make or break you. And, while it may sound scary, embracing your fear is a healthy, essential step to overcoming it. I know firsthand.

Is Fear Your Natural Catalyst Or Automatic Brake System?

I know firsthand. I 2007, I was 25 years old, 5-foot-6, and pushing 190 pounds. I tried to justify my weight gain by saying I was being too hard on myself. I took my newfound love of jogging as an excuse for maintaining a horrendous diet. All the while I knew that fear was the underlying problem, but I was scared to death to try something new.

I ran a 5K on Thanksgiving that year. Later, when I saw a photo from that day, I didn't recognize myself. I looked miserable, uncomfortable, and had a plastic grin glued to my face. I was faking it. The person in the photograph was not the Abby I knew I was—it was the Abby I always feared becoming: complacent, living a facade, and in complete denial.

At that moment, I had the gut check I needed to face reality. My fear sparked me to change. There was no turning back. If you find yourself in the same position, here are five steps you can take to a master fear:

Identify And Accept It

Fear isn't going to shy away—you have to make a conscious decision to stare it down. It's a battle of you against yourself. Arm yourself by figuring out the cause of your anxiety.

Whether it's a completely new lifestyle, a new exercise, or just plain old fear of the unknown, write it down and accept it. Instead of seeing fear as a dark negative, use it as fuel. Suddenly, you'll realize what you thought was a mountain lion is nothing more than an ordinary house cat.

Shun Your Shame

Most psychologists will tell you that fear and shame go hand-in-hand. Your personal relationship with these two emotions can dictate your entire life.

How does this tie into fitness? The fear of failure is directly tied into feelings of shame, and the more you worry about failing, the more anxiety and shame come into your life. Sound familiar? The number one reason most people stop making a lifestyle change is because they're afraid of failing. They come to expect failure in order to lessen the blow. They screw up one day by not going to the gym or cheating on their diet and instantly wave the white flag so that next time they can automatically go back to what's familiar.

We like to highlight our strengths and downplay our weaknesses. Training a less-developed muscle group or trying a workout that's foreign can spark feelings of shame, so you tend to avoid it.

How many times have you thought about attempting a new exercise only to stop short because you were afraid of looking foolish, being judged, doing it wrong, or embarrassing yourself? I certainly have! I can't stand anything involving jumping. All that means is that I should be doing box jumps every damn day!

Fear and shame play gigantic roles in how people train, diet, and live their lives. The only way to stop these two emotions from being destructive to your goals is to understand how they're related, recognize the patterns they've created in your life, and actively choose to stop letting them control you.

Confiscate Your Crutches and Fence Your Scapegoats

Do you know a person who constantly complains, dismisses your logical solutions to their problems, and has a go-to laundry list of justifications for their poor behavior?

Try to distance yourself from that person and, more importantly, don't be that guy or girl. They set the perfect example of fear being a hindrance instead of a helping force.

Don't enable yourself with people who are in the same quicksand you might be in. Worse, don't allow anyone else to pull you in! Align yourself with people who see fear as a challenge and use it to ignite powerful personal changes.

Fear is the flint and your belief is the blade. Strike, create a spark, and allow the flames burning in you to illuminate a path for others instead of burning the house down with you inside. You have the opportunity to set an example; use it well.

Prepare To Defeat Fear … Alone

Just like addiction, your fear is something you need to take responsibility for and control of. No one else can do it for you. Much like you can't be someone else's sobriety plan, someone else cannot be your fear-conquering savior. People can be in the stands chanting your name, but you must make the decision to fight for yourself.

At The Same Time, You're Not Alone

While you might have to slay your dragons alone, remember that you're not alone in how you feel. Fear is a completely standard human emotion. Stop being afraid of experiencing it. One of the biggest lessons you can learn as a person, especially when trying to attain fitness goals, is that fear should serve as a driving force and not an anchor.

Fear is the flint and your belief is the blade. Strike, create a spark, and allow the flames burning in you to illuminate a path for others instead of burning the house down with you inside.

It's a struggle and a learning process, but the ability to look back at where you started and say "I did it anyway" is powerful. Fear can cause you to change, or it can lock you in a cage. You're bound to freeze up from time to time but, in those moments, dig deep and find the strength to snap out of it.

The only difference between you and someone you idolize is their ability to turn the weight of fear into a catalyst for change. You can do the same. You have the key inside to free yourself from the fearful chains you're burdened with. You are worth it.