Caroline* had been studying for her certification exam for months.

Each night, despite the lure of a binge worthy Netflix series, she studied flashcards, took practice tests, and consulted with her tutor. Every scoring indicator showed she was improving.

Yet, two weeks before she sat for the test she was more than prepared for to take, she cancelled the testing appointment.

She quit.

She quit before she could fail.

And by quitting, ensured that she never had to face her fears as to whether she was good enough to pass.

She never even tried.

Fear of failure had her locked like a deer in headlights. Despite her passionate preparation, and desire to see it through, she couldn’t bear the risk of her dream not coming to fruition.

Seems crazy, right? When we sit on the sidelines of someone else’s life it is easy for us to see she is caught up in non-rational thinking.

When we are the ones in the hot seat, however, the clarity becomes cloudy and fear takes the wheel.

So how do we beat fear at it’s game?

  1. Analyze All Potential Outcomes.  Freezing from fear is really being afraid of the unknown. The “unknown” can seem like a dark abyss of limitless, horrible things. One way to remove the fear is to map out the potential outcomes by using a decision tree.  A decision tree is a visual version of “what’s the worst thing that could happen” but allows you to see the dead end created by quitting. Once you quit, you have no chance to advance forward toward the goal.
  2. Create a Habit of Daily Affirmations. Do you think daily affirmations are just for woo-woo readers of The Secret? Think again. Research has shown that thinking positively about our best qualities and strengths can have a profound effect on performance. The old “fake it till you make it” means pumping yourself up psychologically with powerful words of affirmation. If you don’t know where to start try these: I can do hard things. I have studied and planned for this. I have survived every bad thing that has ever happened to me.  I have people who can help me if I get into trouble. I can do a really good job.
  3. Create a Contingency Plan. Life seldom moves from A to B in linear fashion. The ups and downs of daily interruptions or barriers that appear and are out of our control require us to pivot and move into a different direction. Having a contingency plan ( or two) allows us to have forethought for possible pivots. Oftentimes, these pivots act as catalysts for a new direction in life that we never would have considered had Plan A worked out…and we might even be happier with the alternative. In their book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant explore how to build resilience and move forward after life’s inevitable setbacks.
  4. Tell Someone you Trust. Say it out loud. Seriously. Find someone you trust and lay it all on the line. Tell them your deepest and darkest scenarios of failure. Tell them that you want to quit. And then let them tell you how crazy that would be. Sharing, owning (and most of all verbalizing) what you are most afraid of can deflate the fear. The Fear That Shall Not Be Named grows in silence. Let it out.

We all have had pivotal moments like Caroline.

Every single one of us has wanted to walk away when the daunting future looks hard. Fear, however, serves a purpose. It helps us to prepare and alter our approach in order to have the best chance for success. Fight or flight is an inherent reaction to fear and can help us to step back or propel us through the challenge.

Freezing, however, cements us in place. We can neither step forward or step back.

It’s time to light your fire and melt the ice.