This is an article I originally wrote for Tiny Buddha. It was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post here.
When it comes to facing fear and moving past it in order to see my dreams realized, I was always advised to power through it. Do the thing that scares you, no matter how much it makes your heart pound. Take that step that makes your stomach knot up in tight balls. Do it, and power through, or else miss out on life.
For a long time, I felt these were my only two options. I could either have moments of crippling fear as I chased what I wanted, or I could feel like life was passing me by as I let my passions die.
One of my passions is writing screenplays, and so I continually did what I thought I should do in order to become a successful screenwriter. I called people who gave me anxiety. I put my work out to places I felt I wasn’t ready for. With each step I took, I hoped and prayed I would get more comfortable.
I couldn’t live with the constant fear I was feeling, and yet no amount of powering through was making it go away. It was in fact growing, because it felt like I had no control over it. The fear was getting larger than my dreams, and I became exhausted and eventually burned out.
I had no choice then but to take time to pause and reflect. When I did, I could see the counter-productive patterns I was engaging in.
I was forcing myself to do things that brought me angst rather than joy. The advice to power through had turned me into a bully toward myself.
Because I wasn’t doing the kind of behavior I normally associate with being self-destructive, such as constantly criticizing myself, I didn’t see my actions as being hurtful. In fact, I saw them as honoring my journey because I was chasing my biggest goals.
However, when the dust settled and I stepped back, it was very clear that by powering forward, I had left behind a crucial thing: self-love. I wasn’t listening to myself.
Because our inner world is always mirrored back to us, I always had the frustrating feeling that people weren’t listening to me.
Instead of hearing my great ideas, they would hear the shake in my voice. They would hear me rambling on because I was too nervous to be clear and concise, and they would tune out, ending the call as I would slump down in my chair, knowing I’d blown it.
Compounding this is the fact that I also wasn’t treating myself as an important person. I wasn’t honoring that the fear and anxiety was taking a toll.
This too was mirrored back in the fact that people forgot me as soon as we connected. I never got any follow-up calls after my initial pitches, which only fed into my fears more. The momentum I had going was certainly powering me onward, but in the opposite direction of what I wanted.
Once I could see the patterns, the solution was obvious. The old adage “what you resist persists” repeated in my mind.
I had to first of all accept that I was living from a place of fear. I allowed myself to acknowledge that I didn’t like being afraid all the time. This swept through me in a wave of relief, and I felt free to choose what I wanted rather than what I felt I was supposed to do.
I began cultivating and prioritizing self-love. The more I slowed down, took time to ask myself if I was okay, and returned to my meditation practice, the easier things got. What began to reflect back to me were my new feelings—that I’m important and what I do is important.
As I went through this process, I was able to stop fearing fear itself. This too helped me to reverse my momentum even further, because I was open to receiving new information. I learned how fear begins in my brain and body. Once I understood how it worked, it wasn’t this huge, abstract, and uncontrollable thing.
Fear begins in a place in the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala processes a situation and decides if it’s safe or if you need to get scared and run away. If it decides something’s not safe hormones are released in order to get your body moving and prepare you for fight or flight.
Attached to the amygdala is the hippocampus, which is where your memories are stored. These two things work together. The amygdala looks at old memories as a way of assessing a current situation. This process is meant to be helpful, but when we’re not aware of it, it can run amok and become hurtful.
As an example from my own life, one bad phone call with a potential agent had been stored in my memories. From that point onward, when I went to call someone with a pitch, my amygdala would access that memory and immediately label all related phone calls as bad, which steamrolled as I would get more anxious, have more bad phone calls, and dread any interaction.
This was my brain trying to protect me by ensuring I wouldn’t engage in something that might cause me harm or emotional pain.
Understanding this about my body and how I process things gave me a huge amount of self-power back.
It was reassuring first of all to know I wasn’t trying to subconsciously sabotage myself, but to instead keep myself safe. It was also reassuring to know where this started, because once I was aware of the root of it, I could begin untangling myself from it.
The more I began to see fear as something I could manage, the more I felt I could work with the fear rather than trying to power through it. It was then that I began to feel that thing I’d yearned for but felt was impossible to reach—excitement. I remembered why I’d started writing in the first place.
I felt excitement to share my stories and see them made into films. I felt excitement about contacting people who were passionate about film also. I remembered how good it was to feel excited about talking to people rather than fearful.
From this new, more self-love based place, I started contacting people again. I listened to my inner voice, and if something made me feel fear, I would stop. I would tune in, breathe, and ask myself if I was attaching old, unrelated memories, or if it really was my intuition trying to tell me something was amiss.
I’m happy to say people are requesting my scripts again, and I’m now enjoying pursuing my passions more than ever. I wake up excited rather than with dread. I take steps and go for things, as I did before, but without feeling like I’m stretching a rubber band that’s about to snap.
If you’re also paralyzing yourself with fear, see what happens when you put self-love first. When you believe that you’re worth listening to, and show up confident, without an energy of desperation, people will be far more interested in what you have to say.
And when you feel your fear creeping back in, instead of ignoring it and pushing through it, step back, breathe, and remember that your own mind and body have created it to help you.
When you realize it’s not some big, monstrous force that shows up without your consent—that you’ve created it to keep yourself safe—you can learn to let it go.