Who Am I?

Exploring your identity.

5 Steps for Facing Fears

Are you scared of ghosts, goblins, witches – or yourself?

Last month I wrote about the importance of pushing out of our comfort zone and facing fear in order to develop our identity.

But how? Well, it’s actually not as difficult as we might imagine. Facing our fears, and moving beyond them, can be mastered in five steps. Let’s consider each with an example.

After earning an undergraduate degree in Anthropology, Rosie accepted a job as a research assistant at a university fossil lab, helping to prepare specimens. She loves the work, but she doesn’t feel that she is using her full potential, especially because she isn’t allow to conduct research or teach students.

Rosie's goal is to earn a Ph.D. in Forensic Anthropology, but she is scared. Rosie knows the job openings are limited and that graduate school is difficult and expensive. She fears being unemployed and in debt.

Rosie also doesn’t want to regret having spent her career unhappy though, and lead a life dictated by fear. What to do? Well, Rosie has already taken Step 1. Huh?

Step 1 in facing our fears involves identifying our fears – and our goals. Rosie is clear on her fears, and her goals. Why is this necessary? Well, knowing what we want, as well as what we don’t want, allows us to stay focused to pursue our goals.

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Step 2 in facing our fears involves taking baby steps to build confidence. Rosie could gain teaching experience at the university to see if she wants to become an academic. If she enjoys teaching a course, she should then try teaching a different course.

Step 3 in facing our fears involves creating a self-fulfilling prophecy to ensure our success. If Rosie decides she wants to apply to graduate school after having taught some courses, she should research and apply to those Ph.D. programs that best match her interests.

For example, although she has decided on Anthropology, she shouldn’t apply to Ph.D. programs just because they are nearby or provide funding. Rosie should instead apply to those that will increase the likelihood of her success as an Anthropologist, such as schools that offer training in Forensic Anthropology, her area of interest.

Why? Because Rosie’s passion for Forensic Anthropology will sustain her during the difficult moments of stress, boredom, and frustration that are inherent in earning a doctoral degree – and will help her to engage in proactive behaviors (e.g., publishing research), which will increase her chances of landing a full-time job in the field.

Step 4 in facing our fears involves remembering to consider the source of any discouragement from others. For example, if Rosie’s loved ones belittle her plans or abilities, she may want to consider their motives for doing so, such as resentment at not facing their own fears and/or being threatened by other people’s success.

Step 5 in facing our fears involves maintaining momentum by repeating Steps 1-5 over time. So when Rosie is next consumed by fears, such as not finishing the Ph.D. program or not obtaining a full-time faculty position as a Forensic Anthropologist, she should acknowledge such, take another baby step in the direction of her goal (e.g., finish the article she wants to try to get published in the next few months), in order to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of success.

So, moving beyond our fears can actually help us reach our goals.

Kristine Anthis, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at Southern Connecticut State University.

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