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  • Writer's pictureKatya Mulvaney

how fear can inspire growth

Someone famous once said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. A total cliché of course (unless you are professor Lupin referring to Harry’s fear of Dementors) but honestly, the more time I spend on this planet, the more I see the truth in those words. I do not consider myself an extremely confident and extroverted person.

On the contrary, loads of seemingly trivial things make me feel anxious. However, one thing that I always challenge myself to do is to face these fears. You see, I refuse to let my nervous or fear-based thoughts take control of my life. Of course at times my brain gets the better of me and leaves me in a crumbling mess but as much as I can, I fight it. I fight it to show myself that I can do things that scare me. This may very likely be a result of inherited stubbornness, a family trait- totally not my fault. I blame the genes.

The inspiration for writing this piece is that today I did something which really scared me. I had to work through many self limiting thoughts in order to get to a place where I was confident enough to try. My husband and I recently relocated to Thailand and I need to learn how to ride a bike/scooter. As he arrived two months before me, he is teaching me.

Before I arrived all I could talk about was how much I was looking forward to riding around on a scooter, but I didn’t realise how intimidating it actually is (or how much of a baby I actually am). Especially on streets which follow the “organised chaos” approach to driving. I have been putting off riding for a while because, well let’s be honest, who really wants to do something that they are nervous of doing? But alas, my feelings of guilt for not riding were stronger than my feelings of fear and so I made a commitment that today, no matter what, I would go for a ride.

We had decided to go a short distance from the house and then see whether or not I felt comfortable to carry on. And the best thing happened. Not only did I feel comfortable to go further, I landed up really enjoying the experience, and I went the furthest from the house that I have ever been. By challenging myself and facing my fear, I not only allowed myself to improve by gaining more confidence riding a scooter but I also provided myself with an opportunity where I could grow. Granted, this whole scooter riding business is a simplistic example but it's fresh in my mind and it inspired the idea to write about using fear to grow.

If we constantly give in to our fear, we solidify the thought patterns that we cannot reach out of our comfort zones. We tell ourselves that we are defeatable and that anything different from what we usually do is not for us; we are not “those kinds of people”. We deny ourselves new experiences by deciding that we are not good enough or worth that type of experience. We stop because of fear. And fear is indeed a debilitating thing.

I’m sure that as you are reading this you could think of several things which you would love to do, things which you have dreamed about doing but which you have not done because of fear. It may be warranted fear, or it may not be. I am by no means saying that it’s healthy to eliminate all fear. Biologically speaking, fear is a component which has contributed to preserving the human race. The fear I am referring to is the fear which we place on ourselves, the fear we inherit from others, the fear which prevents us from living our most satisfying and fullest lives.

As mentioned earlier, I can get anxious over the smallest of things and often the more social aspects of human existence cause me a fair amount of awkwardness. I just refuse to give up. The more something scares me, the more drive I have to face and overcome it. I refuse to let some neurological pathways determine my future and my feelings towards the world. Pathways which, might I add, I don’t believe reflect my true self, nor do they have my best interests at heart.

The fortunate part in all of this is that with some work, you can alter these pathways. A personality is a malleable thing. Yes I know I am stepping into dangerous territory regarding the nature/nurture debate so please take what I am saying within the context of this blog. Our personality, and our behaviour, is something which can be moulded. Not as in a total makeover but it is flexible and therefore it can be worked on, improved, groomed and altered.

One of the determining factors in our behaviour are our neurological pathways which connect two or more neurons. This is how thoughts, amongst many other things, are carried throughout our brains. Each thought you have is caused by a neuron firing a message to another neuron across a neural pathway. The more you think the same thought, the more engraved that particular pathway becomes. This strengthens that thought and increases the likeliness that your brain will think that thought going forward.

It’s similar to walking through a field of grass; if you walk a route once the field won’t look different. However, if you walk the same route everyday for a week, a distinguished pathway will form and the more you walk along this pathway the easier it gets as the path becomes the route of least resistance. This is also how we develop and learn new skills. We form new neural pathways. That’s why practise makes perfect. The more we repeat a behaviour the easier the behaviour becomes as the neural pathways strengthen.

Therefore, the more you give into your fear the more you believe that you are fearful, that you cannot move out of your comfort zone. In my own life, I have found it useful to tackle the things that scare me, to create a new pathway, one which I have chosen to create. A pathway that truly reflects me and my intentions for the person I want to be, for the kind of life I want to live. But like everything in life, you have to start small. If you want to have a super hot ripped bod’ you start by lifting light weights and work your way up.

I’ve found it to be the same for conquering fears. You have to start by tackling the small things that scare you. Like calling and ordering a takeaway, going to the grocery store alone, asking a shop assistant for help etc. No matter how small and silly or seemingly insignificant these things may seem, each time you conquer one of them you show yourself that you can. You start walking a new route. You provide yourself with the opportunity for growth as growth only ever comes from a place of discomfort.

Once you get a handle on the small things you will likely discover more things that scare you, bigger things too. But you will know you can overcome them because have built a track record of facing and overcoming your fears.

Of course this is not a perfect science. There will be times where you will want to take a leap, but you can’t. That is ok. Be easy with yourself because the day will come when you do make a breakthrough. And even if you revert back to an old fear once in a while, that’s fine too. It’s about moving forward. The pace of that forward motion may vary; sometimes it may be strides and other times it may be baby steps. But steps are all steps. There is no such thing as going in reverse.

Personal growth is a complicated business which I will not pretend to be any sort of authority on. All that I can share is from my own experiences and I have found that growth not a linear thing where you move from one step to the next. It's more like a jungle gym. Progress can be in all directions.

My experience today has shown me that even after moving to a new country, giving up basically all my possessions, leaving my family etc. at this moment in my life, I am most proud of myself for riding that scooter because it has been one of the scariest things I have done in a while. And I still have a ways to go before I don't almost crash into other people but at least I've shown myself that I can do it. We all deserve to live out our dreams and if fear is holding you back, I strongly encourage you to start doing things that scare you. You never know what lies beyond your scope of fear. Why not allow yourself the opportunity to grow, to explore more than you ever imagined you could. I believe you can.

Ps. how effing incredible are our brains!! #HandsUpForBiology


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