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How to Reframe Your Fears

Of all the things that can hold you back from “creating happy” in your life, fear is the biggest one. Your fears, and how you handle them, can make all the difference in how you see and interact with the world. Your fears work against you: because of them, you might put off getting started, quit too soon, or not give yourself adequate credit for your progress. But if you can learn how to reframe your fears, you can change all that.

What does it mean to reframe your fears?

Reframing your fears means looking at them in a different way. 

Remember: eliminating fear isn’t the goal. As a primal and necessary human emotion, fear isn’t something we can cut out of our lives entirely. In fact, there are some fears that will probably stick with you for your whole life.

The trick, then, is to learn how to live a full, thriving life even with the fears. You have to learn how to be afraid but to push forward anyway. You can feel fear without letting it hold you back. Showing courage doesn’t mean you don’t feel fear: it means you are afraid, but you don’t let that stop you.

We’ve talked a lot about different ways to help you do this, including taking risks, courageously acknowledging your fears, and even trying meditation. Reframing your fears is yet another thing you can try as you strive to live a life that isn’t dictated by fear, but by love and creativity.  

Reframing your fears takes practice. You have to be deliberate about it. I’d definitely recommend reading our post about fear and rejecting fear before finishing this post, for more insight about the role fear might be playing in your life, and why it’s so important to learn to reject your fears.

As for this post, we’re taking a closer look at some of the things you can do to reframe your fears so that you can move forward instead of being held back. 

Identify the desire that coincides with the fear.

Many fears are actually paralleled by desire or love. To say that a different way: you’re afraid of something because you don’t want to lose the thing that you really love or want.

For example, a fear of losing a loved one could be reframed as a deep love for that person. A fear of a harsh critique on something you create reveals a deep desire for success. A fear of public speaking is likely tied to a longing for public acceptance. Even things that could be counted as “phobias,” or more surface-level fears (like heights, spiders, etc.) could be tied to a desire for a long and happy life. 

It’s easier to express our fears than our desires. Expressing desire feels personal and vulnerable. You’d rather say you’re afraid of public speaking than admit how badly you want your audience to like you.

But if you can reframe your fear as a desire, you’re approaching the situation from a more positive mindset. You’re shifting the focus from something you don’t want to happen to something you really do want to happen. You’re moving toward something, not running away from something. The difference might seem subtle, but when it comes to pulling yourself out of fear and encouraging you to press forward, that subtle difference is actually monumental. 

Recognize fears as thoughts. 

There are typically two parts of a fear cycle: a physiological response (your heart racing, your palms getting sweaty, an inability to concentrate on anything else, etc.), and a mental response (your brain automatically starts thinking things or inventing scenarios that support or encourage your fear). These thoughts contribute to a physical response, and the physical response leads to more thoughts, and so on.

Interrupting this fear cycle is important to working through a moment of fear. You have to consciously step in at some point during the cycle to stop the fear from growing or gaining too much power. 

There are some things you can do to interrupt the physical side of fear (deep breaths, become aware of your surroundings, recognize where you’re feeling tension in your body, etc.), but I think it’s just as powerful, if not more so, to recognize your fearful thoughts for what they are and try to stop them in their tracks.

The truth is, fear really only exists in your mind. It’s the perception of danger—danger that might actually pose a threat to you, but that might not

That means that you have at least some level of control over the amount of fear you feel. If you can reframe your fears as thoughts, you give yourself more control over them. You can slow down the fear and approach it more logically. Is it real? Is fear serving you right now? What other thoughts could serve you better?

Reframing your fears as thoughts can help you see them for the mental construct that they are, rather than as absolute truths. 

Keep fears in perspective. 

Chances are, you don’t want to live a fearful life. You probably have hopes, dreams, and goals that don’t start with the words “I want to be afraid of….”

When we feel fear, it’s easy to feel like that is the most important thing in the world. We’d give anything, do anything, to avoid that scared feeling. But the reality is, that’s hardly ever true. Your fears are not the most important thing in your life. They’re not what defines you and they’re not (really) what matters to you. 

Reframe your fears by assigning them priority in your life. Is the most important thing in your life that you avoid this thing you’re afraid of? Or is it that you go after the thing you really want?

Give fears their proper place, so you can give them their proper attention. You don’t want them to be your primary focus, so don’t allow them to be. Where does the fear fit? Keep it there. Make sure that the things that are really important to you are the things receiving your time and attention. 

Pinpoint what the fear means.

Is your fear trying to tell you something? Our fears can communicate a lot of different things to us, beyond the fact that we’re scared of something. Your fear might be telling you:

  • You’re about to do something brave
  • You’re facing a problem you really need to face
  • There’s an exciting challenge in front of you
  • Opportunity is knocking
  • You have a chance to step up
  • What you want is within reach

Can you reframe your fear as a signal that something big or exciting is about to happen? If you’re afraid of giving a speech in front of a large audience, for example, can you reframe it as an opportunity to communicate an important message to people who really need to hear it?

There’s actually very little physiological difference between how fear feels and how excitement feels. That means that it might be easy for you to convince yourself to be excited about the thing you’re facing, rather than to be afraid of it. 

“The only difference between fear and excitement is what we label it. The two are pretty much the same physiological/emotional reaction. With fear, we put a negative spin on it: “Oh no!” With excitement, we give it some positive English: “Oh boy!”

Peter McWilliams

Look for how your fear can help you.

Is it possible for you to start seeing what you’re afraid of as a stepping stone, rather than a stumbling block?

For example, many of us (creatives especially), tend to see failure as the worst thing that could possibly happen to us. That fear of failure might keep us from trying (therefore, ironically, leading to inevitable failure). But what if we could start to see failure as a necessary step toward success? 

How might facing your fear start to help you get to where you want to go? Maybe the thing you fear wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to you, after all. If you can reframe your fear this way, you might be able to feel less afraid, and more willing to take a chance.

Learning how to reframe your fears is a little counterintuitive, but it’s a skill that can serve you well for the rest of your life. Try any or all of these techniques to help you see your fears a little differently, and you’ll be better equipped to handle your fears in a way that doesn’t hold you back, but actually helps you on your journey toward creating a happier, more creative life.