With my eldest son’s ninth birthday fast approaching, something is worrying me. As smart and talented as he is (of course I’d say that), he also has unrealistically high expectations of himself and doesn’t know how to handle things when they don’t go his way.
“He’s like all other boys his age,” they say. But as a mum of three boys, I don’t accept the “boys will be boys” statement.
What I do see behind some of his behaviors and reactions is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of not being accepted if he’s not (in his eyes) ‘perfect.’
This terrifies me.
I don’t want his fears to hold him back in life. I don’t want him to grow up being scared of what life throws at him. Ultimately, I’m terrified because I recognize myself in him. I know that living with this fear has a detrimental effect on your self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem.
Now, in my late thirties, I’m having to do a lot of intentional work to undo what all this fear has done to me over the years. No one should live with the fear of failing. Not me, not my sons.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a very good life so far – one I’m extremely grateful for. But I could have made it so much easier for myself had I been equipped with a strongly rooted belief in myself that I’d be able to handle whatever happens in life.
This is what I want for my children: that they believe in themselves, push past their fears, and never feel afraid of making mistakes (if that’s even possible). Because making mistakes is how we learn. It’s not about getting it right all the time. It’s about picking ourselves up when we don’t get it right, learning from it, and trying something different next time.
Simple. But never easy.
One of the books I’ve encountered in this self-growth journey is the classic “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”, but Susan Jeffer. First issued in 1987, the advice in this book is as timely now as it was when it was first published.
Here’s what I want to take away and implement, for myself, and for all three of my sons.
Start shaping your reality with positive thinking
Do you ever feel like you spend too much time worrying about things that never even happen? I know I do. Making decisions, especially important ones, can feel like an exhausting process when you start thinking about everything that could go wrong.
What if, instead of focusing on the negative, we focused on what could go right? What if we chose to be positive and excited every time we found ourselves at a crossroad? Wouldn’t it be completely empowering to think that we could actually shape our own reality?
Jeffer suggests that, in order to shift our perspective that way, we should start using positive words and phrases, adopting a ‘can-do’ attitude, and collecting and repeating self-affirming quotes, for example. Overcoming negativity and becoming positive thinkers requires commitment and practice, but positivity will make us feel empowered, less worried, less fearful, and ultimately more able to enjoy life.
Sounds like a good deal to me. I certainly can be mindful of the language I use around and with my children.
Believe that no choice you make in your life can ever be wrong
According to Jeffer, if you see every choice in life as a positive one, you will start to lose your fear of making decisions. Think about it. Isn’t the reason we are all so scared of making wrong decisions that we believe there is a right one and a wrong one?
What if we could instead look at life as a collection of new experiences and opportunities to learn about ourselves? Jeffer believes that this win-win approach eliminates the fear in making decisions. It also helps us to feel less afraid in general, because we learn that we can handle any situation.
Take action and expand your comfort zone
Jeffer states that confronting and acting on our fears can, in general, dramatically improve our quality of life. Going through life tortured by fear is far scarier than pushing past our worries whenever they arise. By pushing through our fears we gain greater self-confidence because we start to act outside of our comfort zone.
Each of us has a personal comfort zone, which strongly influences the actions we take and the decisions we make every day. How did we create that though? We built our comfort zone over time by doing things that may have felt intimidating at first. By pushing through our fears, we conquer them and expand our comfort zone.
Jeffer’s advice is to do something that feels uncomfortable every day. The more unfamiliar and scary things we try, the more we prove to ourselves that we can handle them. Next time, we won’t be so uncomfortable anymore. A larger comfort zone means we inevitably become more confident, sure in the knowledge that we are able to deal with new situations in the future.
How does being grateful have anything to do with fear? According to Jeffer, when we realize how lucky we are to have so much, we also start to realize that we created this life for ourselves. If it all had to go away, wouldn’t we be able to create it again?
When we start keeping a daily record of everything that’s good in our lives, we gradually let go of the fear of scarcity. We can prove to ourselves that we have plenty to be grateful, happy, and proud of. In turn, we worry less about what may go wrong or how we may or may not succeed.
Believe you can overcome anything
We can’t get rid of fear completely. Faced with unfamiliar experiences, we’ll always experience fear. It’s a natural reaction that is meant to protect us.
But to live a happier (and perhaps easier) life, we need to be able to handle and confront our fears, rather than hiding from them. It’s the only way to gain trust in our ability to cope with whatever life brings us.
That’s all I want for my children – that they feel confident in their own abilities, worry less about perfection, and just enjoy life.
Do you have any tips to share?