“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