Feeling is Believing. Believing is Doing.
by JANIE LOUBSER
Reading Time: 5 mins
A simple way to overcome fear so that you can believe and take action.
We know that taking action is essential to success in any area of our lives. If we don’t act, nothing happens. Yet, when it comes to taking action it's very often much ‘easier said than done’ – literally! A lack of belief is a major reason why we don’t act when we know we should. Be careful though because here it gets a bit complicated: you need to distinguish between not believing in the action itself, and not believing in your ability to take the action. If you don’t believe in the action, it means that you are not really motivated to do it.
If this scenario is true then you may have mixed feelings; you may feel indifferent, or if you are honest with yourself you may realise that you don’t really want to do it. Then you need to give yourself permission to give it up and let it go. *Sigh* That feels like a relief, hey? Letting go of an idea that you never really believed in can be very liberating. Even something you once desired can become negative because of failed attempts and disappointments. It's hard to give something up you once wanted, but letting go of an idea that has become negative will free you up to imagine new ideas. It can also be that the idea or action is not challenging enough and that you want more. Whatever the reason for your lack of motivation you give yourself a second chance by letting go of an idea that has become a source of frustration.
If you believe in your idea but doubt in your ability to do it, the scenario may look like this: you can’t stop thinking about it; it’s the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning and it’s the last thing you think about when you go to bed. It even keeps you up at night. But mixed into these thoughts about your idea, however, are also thoughts that cause you to doubt your ability. You have positive thoughts about your idea and negative thoughts about your ability. And what do you get? Nothing. Two opposing thoughts will leave you paralysed and stuck. It’s an inertia that feels awful and impossible to escape. But I know it’s possible to overcome even your most deep-seated fears.
I base this confidence partly on the work of Albert Bandura (a world-renowned psychologist and Stanford professor), and partly on my own work over the past ten years that has shown me that if you connect emotionally — in a positive way — with the action you want to take, then it is easier to take the action. This kind of emotional connection creates a belief that it is possible. From there you can practice it one small step at a time. Simply telling someone to ‘have faith’ or to 'just believe you can do it’ can be offensive and even cause the other person to close themselves up even more. The best advice you can give yourself and others is that you can build up your belief to do the big things by starting small.
In his early experiments, Bandura helped people overcome a life-long phobia of snakes by guiding them through a series of increasingly demanding interactions. First, they would watch a snake through a two-way mirror. Then they would progress to observing it through an open door, then to watching someone else touch the snake, then touching it themselves through a heavy leather glove. And finally, touching it with their own bare hands. I believe in Bandura’s principle of ‘guided mastery’ and apply it in my own life and with my clients. I have seen that each small success contributes to feeling positive about — and believing in — your own ability. What’s more: if you continue to practice this principle you build new thought patterns that can have a lasting, beneficial effect on your brain.
But as someone who has had a severe phobia of snakes since the age of ten, (back in the day when Tygerberg zoo still existed I face-to-face run-in with a boa constrictor), I know that I will refuse to even watch a snake through a two-way mirror. To me, that will feel like touching the snake. Many of us may need a few mental stepping-stones so we can mentally rehearse and work our way up to taking the actual physical step.
A very effective and easy step is visualization. With visualization, you use your active imagination to open the possibility of taking actual steps. It’s important to note that this is not day-dreaming which can often be a form of procrastinating, and it’s also not trying to do too much. When you come up with an idea of something you want to do, you may want to immediately ask yourself ‘but, what about this…?’ and ‘what about that…?’. The moment you do this, you close off your imagination because you are now trying to control the details. Ironically, this kind of control can leave you paralysed instead of helping you to take action. To go back to the snake analogy, this may be like trying to touch the snake before you are mentally and emotionally ready to do so. You first need to be conditioned to be ready. So, beware of doing too little on the one hand and trying to do too much on the other hand. With some practice, you’ll figure it out and find the sweet-spot.
Before you start worrying that you won’t get anything done, let me share an example of how you use your feelings to help you take action. Let’s say your goal is to have a profitable business. You have written this goal down; you’re able to verbalise it, and you’re even able to see what this business is. But you have underlying feelings of doubt (I don’t really think I can do it), disbelief (who am I kidding; I am being silly), fear (I will fail; it won’t work), poverty (I’ve never had money). As a result, you are having feelings that are now in direct opposition to what it is you say you want.
These subconscious feelings are what make some feel like a fraud or a liar when they try to visualize their dreams. To others, these feelings could lead to a sense of indifference, leaving their visualizations dead and empty. And while this may be a defence mechanism to protect yourself from the pain of being disappointed, such a lifeless vision cannot motivate you to take action and in essence, guarantees failure and disappointment. This is a weird way our brain tries to deal with the uncertainty and vulnerability that comes with risk, as it tries to protect itself from the perception of danger—real or imagined. This all may seem quite grim, but there is a silver lining: The good news is that most of our fears are born from our imagination, but so are our hopes, dreams and visions. It turns out that our own imagination is also the best tool to mobilise ourselves as we try to intervene, disrupt established thought patterns and overthrow the reign fear has had on your minds for so long. Claim back your imagination for good and beat fear at its own game.
ACTION EXERCISE: What if you allowed yourself to imagine and feel the way you would feel if you could experience just one benefit from running your own profitable business (or whatever your goal is). This could be the easiest way to access and evoke the positive emotions of excitement, pride, accomplishment, even freedom that are essential to launching you into action. You’ll feel light and energised. Motivated to act and make things happen. Your own emotions in the present, now match the positive emotions you associate with the achievement of your goal in the future. If you practice this daily — be an emotional match with your goal — you are closing the gap and building momentum toward achieving it. It’s about building a foundation of faith and willingness to take the first step, no matter how small. And then the next step, and the next… Soon the resistance will fade, and you won’t be able to help but feel motivated to stay with it. Before you know it, you’ll be taking regular, massive action without even breaking a sweat.