Using fear to make positive changes
From a young age we are told to watch out and avoid things that may harm us and these are called ‘learned’ fears.
We are actually only born with two fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling.
We often tell ourselves we can’t do something and so don’t even try, particularly when it comes to our health. We have ‘learned’ fears that sometimes hold us back from things we want or need to do.
However, we can use our fears in a positive way, to motivate us to make changes for the better.
“Fear is a primal human emotion, a normal response to a perceived threat. However, sometimes our ‘learned’ fears can put limits on our ability to achieve. We can become overwhelmed by fear and want to avoid situations that might make us frightened or anxious,” explains Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services, AXA PPP healthcare.
“It can be hard to stop these fears from taking over but we can break the cycle and not only learn to cope with fear but to use it to our advantage, to challenge ourselves to make the changes we would like. Our perceived fear is often worse than reality”
Many of us have these fears but are unsure how to turn them around.
Here are some suggestions from Dr Winwood which may help to find the motivation you need to improve your health and your life:
Find a fear that is manageable for you
A lot of people have fears around their health. It is best to start by concentrating on the lesser fears like worrying that you will have to slow down as you get older because you’re not as active as you would like to be. Once you decide to own this fear then you can go on to tackle the more frightening ones.
Grab hold of the fear you have about how you will manage when you’re older.
Try and understand what is behind the fear
Once you have recognised why you are fearful then you can move on.
Let’s say you have a fear of slowing down as you age. It might mean that you worry about having to give up a hobby or sport that you enjoy, or that you are frightened you will no longer be able to play with your grandchildren.
This fear can be motivating; it can help you take steps to improve your fitness and health going forward.
Commit to doing something
If you share your fear and what you would like to do about it with family or friends then it makes it more real. It will help you to take ownership of your fear and therefore make more of a commitment to facing it. However, if you would rather not share, then keeping a notebook will also help.
Work out what and how you are going to tackle this not just today but every day.
Attempt to form an achievable plan that uses fear as a trigger to alter your lifestyle. Concentrate on what you wish to improve whether it be your fitness or mental wellbeing. If you would like to get fitter and don’t know how to start then make small changes today. Don’t stay sitting on the sofa during TV ads, get up and unload the dishwasher or fold your laundry. Tomorrow get off the bus one stop earlier and walk, next week don’t take the bus at all – little steps lead to bigger ones!
Where to start?
If you make a plan then you will start to feel engaged with the action you are about to take and you will have a greater sense of fulfilment when you start to achieve. How do you go about setting these objectives? Where do you start?
A plan is a great place to start and it will set you on the road to taking ownership of your fears and improving your health.
Ways to make a positive plan and succeed
Consider what you would like to achieve and how your life could change for the better. It can be a little difficult to know where to start, especially if your goal is to lose some weight for instance, as you can be given so much confusing advice! But don’t worry, start with small manageable steps that will turn onto bigger ones and eventually lead to your ultimate goal.
Work out a SMART plan
When you have worked out which of your fears you would like to turn into a positive in your life then make sure that it is:
Simple – the simpler the changes you make the easier it’ll be to stick with them, try just cutting out that mid-morning biscuit with your cup of tea or coffee.
Multiple – imagine all those biscuits you didn’t eat adding up and how good you will feel.
Attainable – if you make your goals small then your sense of achievement will push you on to do more.
Remember – you don’t have to stop eating everything you love or doing things you don’t really enjoy. Keep your goals realistic and that way you will stick to them
Today – don’t put off starting on the path to achieving your goal. Start today and tell yourself you’ll just do it for a short time, and then slowly extend that time and little by little those first steps will soon lead to bigger ones.
Don’t be negative
Try not to come up with excuses as to why you shouldn’t start towards your goal. You can always talk yourself out of something and it’s easy to find multiple reasons not to start
“It’s a good idea to write down the reasons for and against reaching your target as this can really help come to terms with any obstacles,” says Dr Winwood. When you concentrate on the negatives try and work out if they really are likely to happen and what you can actively do to counter this”
Talk about your plans – with family, friends, a workmate or through an online forum
“If you talk about what you would like to achieve and share your plans then this can make you feel more determined to do well”, says Dr Winwood. “Writing a diary or a ‘Bullet Journal’ can also help to reflect on how you feel as well as keeping you on track. Preparation and organisation can help you to succeed.”
Start today but do things at your speed
You may tell yourself that the small change you make today may not make much difference, so why not wait until tomorrow?
You have to start sometime and today is as good a day as any, so if, for example, you want to get fitter and think that you can’t run fast enough for it to count then remember you are doing much better than the person still sitting in front of their TV!
It just takes those first few steps to set you on your way.
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