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Rise to Courage: Stop Fearful Thinking

“Here we go round the mulberry bush

The mulberry bush, the mulberry bush

Here we go round the mulberry bush

So early in the morning”

Do you remember that nursery rhyme? It’s been a while since I heard it myself. It reminded me of how often in life we go round and round and round when it comes to certain issues, people, and circumstances in our lives. Much like the Israelites turning in what would have been a 10-day journey to the promised land into a 40 year wander in the wilderness, we do the same things too, don’t we?

  • We obsess over a conversation that happened a day, week, or even years ago getting stuck in what went wrong instead of focusing on what went well.
  • We dwell on our hurts and unforgiveness when someone does us wrong and complain about it over and over again which gets in the way of letting it go.
  • We stay in unhealthy relationships and tolerate mental, verbal, emotional, financial, and even physical abuse because we fear uncertainty. 

We can get stuck in a cycle of negative thinking that keeps us circling the same mulberry bush and missing out on living a purposeful life!

So what is one of the biggest contributors to getting stuck?

Fearful Thinking

Fear of the unknown can sometimes be hard to describe because many folks do not recognize their aversion to uncertainty. It shows up for many folks masked as anxiety and depression. Fear is often rooted in negative thinking that the worse outcome is going to occur in any given situation. In its simplest form: We don’t know what is on the other side and that can be scary. Unfortunately, the decisions we make based on our fears rarely move us forward or propel us in the direction of our hopes and dreams.

“I learned that courage was 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

So what can you do to move forward? Here are 5 strategies I am confident will help. 

1. Understand your fear
You are not alone. Fear is not unique to you. All of us have fear in common. We all feel it and have to learn how to overcome the hurdles that come with this kind of thinking. Fear is part of our human DNA, however, excessive fear thoughts are encapsulated in limiting beliefs based on what we think may happen if a certain situation occurred. Often this kind of thinking doesn’t consider things realistically. Do not beat yourself up for being afraid. Instead, embrace the feeling and learn to understand your fears.

2. Find the Cause of Your Fear
What are you truly afraid of? Think about and write your fears no matter how trivial they may appear. To overcome your fears, you have to first discover what it is you are afraid of exactly. Fear of the unknown is made up of many thoughts and limiting beliefs. If you failed at something or made a mistake, that may lead you to think you are failing in all areas of life. This kind of unhelpful thinking can increase distress emotions and cause you to respond irrationally. 

When you are faced with the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, spend some time thinking about what causes fear of the unknown. Once you have identified the underlying root of fear thoughts, then brainstorm ways to overcome it so that it won’t stop you. Think about: If I give in to this fear, what will be the outcome?  What are some things that will help me face my fears? What things can I do or what people can I reach out to that will provide support and help me move past my fears?? 

3. Consider other factors that contribute to your FEAR thinking
Our fears are based on our perceptions. So here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Is this thought helpful? What is a more realistic thought?
  • What would I tell a friend in this situation? (perhaps follow this advice)
  • What evidence do I have that what I’m thinking is really true? What is the evidence against it?
  •  Is there any other reason this situation could have occurred?
  •  Is there another way of looking at this situation? What are some other points-of-view?
  •  What is the worst/best/most likely outcome? If the worst did happen, how could I cope? Would I live through it?
  •  Is there anything I can do about this right now? If yes, take appropriate action.
  • If no, accept and move on.

A lot of our fear of the unknown is fearing that we will make a mistake or that we will get something wrong. So under our fear of the unknown, we may wrestle with the fear of failure as well. 

In order to successfully overcome your fears, it helps to be realistic about possible outcomes and what you can do in the event that things don’t go as expected. Remember that failure can be an opportunity to learn and grow.  If you can’t accept that the possibility of failure is an option, then your fear of the unknown will convince you to stay put in your comfort zone. However, when you view it as an opportunity to expand your knowledge, grow as a person, and shift your mindset, then your fear will no longer hold you captive.

If you give in to your fears, you’ll remain stuck and miserable.  Open yourself up and consider some positives about your mistakes and failures. What was some good that came from your experience? What did you learn? How did it contribute to your growth?

The guy who takes a chance, who walks the line between the known and unknown, who is unafraid of failure, will succeed.” Gordon Parks

4. Embrace Change
Change is a constant. Embrace it. The more we resist change, the longer we stay stuck. Accept change as a part of life and that you do not have to fear it. Merely navigate it. Ride the wave of your fear. Understand that it is a natural response to change, allow yourself to feel it so you have the courage to overcome it. Resisting change keeps you uncomfortable, but embracing change will open you up to a world of opportunities and growth.

5. Get Curious
“By replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity we open ourselves up to an infinite stream of possibility. We can let fear rule our lives or we can become childlike with curiosity, pushing our boundaries, leaping out of our comfort zones, and accepting what life puts before us.” — Alan Wyatts

Listening to your fear of the unknown will only result in a life where you live in discomfort and limitations. To live your dreams and embrace life, you have to be courageous and willing to step into the unknown. There is no other way to live your life to its fullest potential without some fear!

Carmen Riley is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Virginia and the District of Columbia. She is the owner of  Zion Restoration Counseling Services, a group practice in Fairfax Virginia that specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, relationship issues and trauma.  To learn more or if you would like to make an appointment check her group website at to schedule an appointment.

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(703) 267-5703

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