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5 Tips to Help You Take Action to Overcome Your Fear

Facing a Fear

“Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.” ~W. Clement Stone

I made it all the way to my thirtieth birthday without learning how to drive. After I turned twenty-one, people often asked me why I hadn’t learned yet. My go-to story was that I lived in a place with abundant public transportation options and never had any intention of buying a car.

The truth is that I wanted to learn, but I was terrified and the fear grew with each year.

What if I got in an accident? What if people laughed at me for learning so late or honked angrily at me? What if I chose a bad driving school with unforgiving teachers?

I used these fearful questions and the fear responses that came along with them as obstacles to stop me from taking any action toward learning. I felt as though their presence meant that I couldn’t take an action. I wanted them to go away before I took any steps.

The one thing I was avoiding was the key to me overcoming my fear. It sounds so obvious, but how many of us have wanted to do something, felt afraid, and then spent more time thinking and talking about it than actually taking action?

I put “learn how to drive” on my New Year’s resolution list for the last time and decided to find a way to make it happen, despite my fear.

When you think of taking action, you might have some big, scary idea of what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about deciding one day that you want to jump out of a plane and then an hour later booking your flight. Or in my case, deciding that I wanted to learn how to drive and then getting right in the driver’s seat.

None of this is necessary.

I’ve learned five helpful things about taking action that helped me move from thinking about learning how to drive to getting behind the driver’s wheel and actually driving confidently.

If you already know how to drive, which I’m assuming most of you do, these things can easily apply to anything else you’ve wanted to do but haven’t yet tried out of fear.

1. Start at the beginning.

One reason that we hesitate when we have something we are afraid to do is because we are thinking only of the end result and likely feel incapable of getting to that point from where we are now.

Forget about the end result, or at least take your laser focus off of it long enough to determine what the first step might be. In my case, visiting my state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles website to find the process for getting a learner’s permit was the first step.

The more you focus on all of the actions you have to take to get to the end result, the less likely you are to actually take any steps. So just focus on the first step and start there.

2. Remember that small steps count too.

Each action step doesn’t have to be big.

Your brain, ego, or that limiting, fearful part within will try to convince you that your steps are too small. They couldn’t possibly count, it says, so better to just not try. It’s lying to you.

Every accomplishment, like baking a cake, publishing a book, or learning to drive is made up of small steps made over and over and over again.

Learning about the learner’s permit process led to picking up a driver’s manual, which led to spending time every day studying the manual, which led to scheduling the permit test. All these small steps built up to me ultimately learning how to drive.

3. Realize it’s not how you feel; it’s what you do.

You don’t have to not feel afraid while you take your action steps. One of my obstacles was thinking that the presence of physical fear symptoms meant I couldn’t take action. You can be terrified, with a quick pulse or shaky hands or shallow breaths, and still take action.

It’s the steps that count, not how you feel when you take them.

When I had my first driver’s lesson, my hands shook so badly that I wasn’t sure I would be able to hold the steering wheel. But I got through the lesson, one step further in my journey to learn, and decided that I would celebrate the fact that I showed up, in spite of fear, rather than judging myself as a failure for how nervous I felt physically.

4. Get high on taking action.

There is this magically wonderful high that occurs after you’ve taken action that you were afraid to take. I’m not sure how many of you have experienced it, but talking to other people who have done things that terrified them, I found that I’m not alone in noticing this.

Use that high to your advantage. Make it an incentive that leads you, especially in moments when you are doubtful, that you can handle the fear of taking another step.

After my first lesson, I wrote down how I felt (“excited, proud, happy”) and I referred to it again before my next couple of lessons when I forgot how good I felt and needed a reminder to help tone down my fear.

5. Know that action builds confidence.

Deciding to take action to overcome my fear of learning to drive has not only meant a new skill, it has also brought me confidence in my ability to learn new things, handle mistakes, work toward and achieve a goal, meet new people, and much more.

Action has many unintended opportunities for growth beyond the specific area we decide to work on.

It’s in the action that we test our hypothesis about life and about ourselves. It’s in the action that we grow confident about ourselves and our abilities. It’s in the action that we find out what mistakes are experientially and how much stronger we are by learning from them as we go.

So today I can say I know how to drive. I even look forward to it. I couldn’t have said that though had I just continued to wait to take action until I no longer felt afraid.

What action can you take to overcome your fear today?

Photo by Cornelia Kopp

Profile photo of Varonica Frye

About Varonica Frye

Varonica is a writer and coach who believes that we don’t have to let fear stop us from being our true selves and doing whatever our heart is calling us to do. Visit her at hugyourfear.com to get the free guide, 10 Ways to Be Stronger than Your Fear.

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  • Marsi

    Hah, I got my license when I was 30, too. I took a driver’s ed workshop when I was 29. The class was full of 15 year olds. I myself was a new mother of a three-month-old baby, and my husband dropped me off with our son. You should’ve seen the looks I got from those kids! And I was the only one learning to drive on a manual transmission, so I stalled the car a lot. It was all pretty funny. Now I love driving; it’s one of the great simple pleasures in my life. The novelty of it, 17 years later, still exists.

  • Yes Marsi! You understand. I love driving now too and glad to know that you still do. At the end of each of my driving lessons, I would get driven home by the next student who was almost always a teenager. So funny!

  • I definitely was not 16 but got my license later in life. Not out of fear but more out of circumstances and not having a need to drive. Now that I have been driving for about 10+ years, I’m wondering how I could not drive and get rid of the car!!

    But glad to see how you overcame this fear and some inspiration for other fear in our lives. I’ve personally found your first two points key to achieving any action in life and overcoming most fears. Taking small steps and just starting! The first step in always the hardest.

    I had this writing piece in my mind which I wanted to write but fearful of the reaction even before I had written it! So, I took the smallest step and outlined the piece on paper, then took small stabs at it over a couple months. Only when I had completed it did I then have to confront the fear of sharing it. But it became a lot easier at that point becauseit was already written! What did I have to lose at that point ! Would have never gotten there if I didn’t start.

  • Maartje Goodeve

    This article made me laugh and nod in agreement. I was 40 when I started learning to drive, 43 when I got my license. I always told myself I chose not to drive. Transit, yadda, yadda… no need, yadda, yadda…

    One day I realized that it was BS. I COULDN’T drive. I chose not to LEARN to drive. When I knew how to drive, then I could choose to not drive. So why didn’t I choose to learn to drive? My mother is a nervous driver, my father is an aggressive driver. Could I be either of those? How does the friggin’ car work in the first place, and I’m probably gonna push the gas pedal when I want to brake. I was just insecure. I chose to start learning to drive, one hour at a time. Whether I would ever get my license was not interesting at the time – I would just take it an hour at a time. For the first six hours, I only drove around and around in a parking lot. Then I drove out the exit of said parking lot, scared myself and drove right back into the entrance of the parking lot. Oh yeah, I took it slow. I had my share of wobbly legs and sweaty palms. That first time on the road. The first tailgater. The first missed turn. The first time someone honked at me. The first time driving in the dark. The first time driving in rain. The first time driving with ice. And each time I chose to have another hour of practice.

    It was two and a half years later that I was ready to apply for the road test, and I passed with flying colours.

    The biggest thing I learned, is that I actually really enjoy driving. I’m looking for reasons to have a road trip. And I’m a good driver. Whoda thunk! Now I choose to drive. And I can choose to take the bus if I want to not bother with innercity parking, or have a drink with a friend. But it was one step at a time. And I am glad I did.

  • I’m learning to drive right now – and I’m 40. I’m not afraid of the actual driving but I get very afraid of the test – being examined. I’ve done four tests and go to pieces with nerves. I guess I can apply this article to my approach to the tests. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • mjay2

    I failed my road test four times before I got it right. Didn’t re-take the test after the last failure in a long time until I realized I had to face my fear and tried again. Here’s a nice quote:

    “F-E-A-R has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything and Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise.’ The choice is yours.” -Zig Ziglar

  • Thanks for the comment, Vishnu! It’s funny, right after I
    got my license people asked me if I would be buying a car and my answer has
    been and still is “No.” I love driving, but dealing with a car in the city where I
    live in is no fun. I love the example you shared of writing your piece.
    It’s amazing how much easier it gets to take the step from Y to Z instead of
    trying to jump to Z from A (if that makes sense).

  • Thanks for the comment, Maartje! I was laughing and nodding
    to your comment too! I love how you really took the one step at a time approach
    with learning how to drive. Slow and steady. I think I would have been even less nervous if I
    focused on just learning how to drive rather than worrying about passing the
    test (which I did a lot of). I love driving too now and I love the
    flexibility of having it as a choice. The one step at a time method is so
    powerful and effective. I’m glad that it worked for you too!

  • Thanks for the comment, Peggy! I was afraid of taking the
    test too! I hope something that I wrote will help you pass your next test. Perhaps
    taking the first tip to the extreme and trying to practice focusing on just the
    present moment where you are, through each stage of the test. A lot of times
    nervousness can come from anticipating what might or might not happen. Don’t
    give up though, I believe in you.

  • Thanks for the comment, mjay2! I’m glad that you didn’t give up even after failing the first few times. I love that quote!!! Thanks for sharing it.

  • Anon

    God that first step!
    That’s the worst!

  • Reading this was really inspiring for me! I’m almost 22 and even though I have my license and theoretically CAN drive, it really scares me and I avoid it if possible. I keep wanting to get over it, but it’s easier to avoid it. This is really encouraging to know that the fear can be overcome!

  • Thanks for commenting, Calae! I’m glad what I wrote was inspiring to you! It definitely can be overcome in a certain sense. You can learn how to take steps and achieve what scares you. From what I’ve read, asked people about and experienced for myself, fear never completely goes away though and that’s ok.

  • I know, Anon! But after the first step, it seems to get a little easier with the next one. Thanks for the comment!

  • Danny

    Hey Varonica. I was amazed to see this post because I am 23 and I have my license. However I am scared to drive. My mom and aunt gave me a truck and I get really nervous when driving in my city. Reason why is because when I was practicing for my driving test, I couldnt handle the hecklers that got into a fight with my driving instructor. One tried to argue with my instructor by saying ” HE CANT DRIVE” and now I am on the process of healing that experience. which is why I turned to spiritual self help work. and its the reason why im on sites like this. i love your site. lets keep in touch!

  • Hi Danny! Thanks for the comment and sorry for the very delayed response. I am glad that you are not giving up and turning towards some spiritual healing work. Just take it one step at a time.

  • Anu

    Thank u so much. Feeling much better now I can try these tips to overcome my fear.

  • I’m so glad you are feeling better, Anu! And I’m glad that you found the tips helpful!

  • Kate

    I’m about to go for my first test at age 40. Wish me luck. I’ll enjoy the experience either way.

  • Good luck, Kate! With that mindset, your test is bound to go well!

  • Jane

    Thank you for this. I too, also am going through the same thing.

    I am 20 and I don’t have my licence. In my case, almost EVERYONE has a driver’s licence-it really is the norm in my circle to have one when you’re still in high school – , even people younger than me. Although I am fairly young, there is so much pressure. People my age ask me all the time why I don’t have it yet.

    Most of it is fear. I used to sometimes skip lessons because deep down, I dreaded the fear of failure that would come when I did something wrong during my lessons.

    But not driving is really inconvenient on my part, as I Live out of town and we don’t have a good public transport system here… so I have no choice as I can’t rely on other people forever when I graduate college. So I do have a lot of incentives to get driving.

  • Jane

    And I also want to say, I applaud you for overcoming your fear!!!! I have visited your website too, and it really is nice~

  • I always had a fear of traveling but once you dare to conquer your fear, you will experience the new you, you become more confident and can take your own decisions and that’s for the rest of your life.

  • Really an inspiring tip to overcome the fear. I have gone through with your article, the data are given in a very good manner This post will be helpful to fresher and also experienced persons.
    Thanks for the article! Keep on sharing!