How to Overcome Your Fears and Find the Courage You Never Knew You Had


My daughter found this concept hilarious, the term ‘spread your wings and fly’.  She took it so literally, as 7-year-olds do, and thought it insane that we encourage people to believe they can fly.  To put it into context, she was listening to the R. Kelly song with this title, and was confused/entertained by the prospect of people trying to jump from hilltops and falling flat on their faces.  Her childish giggle and imagery, I have to admit, did give me some sniggers.  However, it did make me think about a more serious point.


Can you learn to fly? 



The image you see here is indeed of myself, yes Dr Clare Stone, bungee jumping from a cable car in the Swiss Alps.  My husband and children at the lakeside below watching and cheering me on.  This is my desktop image and for good reason.  Not only does it make me smile when I see this beautiful scenery, but it acts as a reminder of just what I am capable of.  It reminds me that I am brave, that I am adventurous, and that when I set my mind to something I can really go for it.  We all need to be reminded of this from time to time.  BUT I am NOT FEARLESS!  I chose to jump despite the fear.  I didn’t let fear stop me from an experience I know I wanted to have.

Many people look at this photo and make this very assumption.  Well actually,  ‘Clare you are nuts’, is often the first response I get from my loving friends and family.  Perhaps there is some Freudian Thanatos style death instinct at play here.  Each to their own I say!  But more importantly, I often have people comment that I must be fearless to do these things.  Now is where I do my hearty laugh and almost choke on my sandwich.

I clarify to these misguided souls that each time my heart was pounding, blood pulsing through my body, I felt nauseous, dizzy, had to run to the loo multiple times, and at least 20 times asked myself ‘what the hell am I doing!  Is it too late to escape!  What are the chances if I hide in this corner they will forget I am here!, What if I fall to my death right in front of my children?  Oh my goodness does this make me a bad mother?  Am I being irresponsible?’

I will let you in on a little secret that very few people will be honest enough to admit.  True bravery is not the complete absence of fear.

If you have no fear, then you have nothing to overcome.  Courage means accepting that the fear is there, acknowledging there is a reason for it, yet still making the conscious decision to take action.  Facing your fears can be difficult, however, this positive action will lead you closer to the life that you truly want.  THAT, my friends, is true courage!

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”. – Nelson Mandela

Can I also be very clear that I am not talking about blindly ignoring your fear!  This could be at best unhealthy and impulsive, at worst potentially dangerous.  Your fear is there for a reason.  What I am suggesting is a different relationship with your fear, and not automatically holding back from something you want because you are afraid.


How to Develop a Different Relationship with your Fear

  • Understand the purpose of fear – then you will not hate it so much

What is fear?  Fear is the emotion that our bodies experience as a warning that there is some kind of threat.  This could include a physical threat, emotional, financial, relational, and the list could go on. Here is a revolutionary thought……..fear is not bad!  It is trying to protect us, BUT sometimes it goes into overdrive, and rather than protecting us, it prevents us from living the life that we aspire to.

Fear is a useful human response – it alerts us to danger and encourages caution.  We need fear. It motivates us but gone unchecked it can also be crippling.


  • Be thankful for the fear

Sounds ridiculous I know.  But join me on this train of thought for a moment.  Imagine the next time you feel fearful of something you want to do.  Instead of wishing the fear away and despising its very existence, be grateful for that fear and the thoughts that come along with it.

A bit like an overbearing mother who tells their child – no you shouldn’t do that risky thing because..…..then follows a long list of all the things that could go wrong.  The child gets annoyed and thinks ‘they just want to suck the fun out of everything’!  But dig a bit deeper, why is the mum responding like that?  Most likely because of their love for you and their desire to keep you safe.  It doesn’t mean you should agree with their perspective, but you can appreciate that it comes from a place of love and care.

Our own fear is exactly the same.  It is a mechanism that we really should appreciate because it tries its very best to keep us alive and safe.  This is a basic human need.  However, the downside is that it is not concerned with some of the higher levels needs for actualising your potential.


  • Note your caution and judge if it is realistic or not

Make a conscious decision to pay attention to your fear.  Overcoming fear is not always about just ignoring it and putting it in a box.   Try to make a rational decision about whether you are being realistic or not.  Your fear is simply a messenger, but it is up to you to judge whether the information it is giving you is helpful or not.  For example, if your fear is around a business decision, perhaps there are valid points here, and that the resolution is to take some things into account, or make some adaptations to your plans.


  • Keep risk in perspective

We all have differing levels of risk aversion.  Some people are willing to take more risks than others.  But one of the very things that often prevent us from living our dreams, or aspiring for greatness is our fear of risk.  The biggest mistake we can make is confusing probability with possibility.  Just because something is possible DOES NOT make it probable.  When facing fears this becomes an essential distinction to be able to make.  Possibility means it can happen, probability refers to how likely it is that something can happen.  Pretty much everything in life is possible, but there are various degrees of possibility.  Probability can feel heightened if it is a highly emotive or feared consequence you perceive.  The key is to sit down in a calm state and think logically about it.  As yourself the following questions about it:

  • If I was a bookkeeper how would I work out the probability of this situation?
  • Ask a supportive friend, who knows what you are trying to achieve, what they think
  • What are the chances that the worst-case scenario would actually happen?
  • Are there things you can do to prevent the worst-case scenario while still moving forwards?
  • What is the most probable outcome of this?
  • What are the best things that could happen if I just try?
  • If the worst did happen, although it would be unpleasant, could I find ways to cope or move on?
  • Is this really going to matter to me in a year, 5 years, 20 years time?
  • What is the cost of listening to the fear and not continuing with my desired path?


  • Reframe the fear

Sometimes just the physical experience of fear can be overwhelming, and we choose to believe that it is our body’s way of steering us away from something. Sometimes it is not actually fear at all that we are experiencing, but anticipation or excitement.  They create very similar reactions in the body which can be confusing.  Instead of telling yourself ‘Oh I am so anxious/scared/nervous about this presentation’, try telling yourself ‘I can feel the anticipation’ or ‘I am excited’.  Big difference.  Reframe your fear as anticipation and consider it a healthy dose of caution.


  • Go for it!

There is a book I love in which the title really says it best; ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers.  I recommend this book if this article has sparked an interest in you.  Action is by far the best remedy for overcoming your fear. You don’t necessarily need to jump straight in the deep end.  Take a stepped approach if you need to and break your challenge down into smaller more manageable chunks.  Do practice runs if that helps?  Ask a friend for support for your first attempt if this makes it easier.  Taking small steps towards the life you want and the kind of person you want to be is better than staying paralysed or choosing a completely different path, which may feel safer, but does not take you where you want to go.


In summary.  Feeling afraid is not the issue, it is how you choose to respond when faced with this.  If you continue because you know this leads you towards the life you truly desire, then this is indeed brave.  Even if this is over seemingly minor – going for that promotion you really want, ask that person out that you are attracted to, travelling on your own somewhere.  There is real courage in going for what you truly want in life, despite how much it may also scare you.


“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough” – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf