Strategies for Overcoming Fear | Diane Sanfilippo

Strategies for Overcoming Fear

Learning strategies for overcoming fear is something major you all have expressed a desire to read about here on the blog. It can seem daunting when you want to try something new, to be faced with the fears that will arise.

I’ve been thinking for some time now about how to best verbalize the strategies I’ve used to overcome fear in entrepreneurship, and in life.

Practical strategies for overcoming fear in three steps:

  1. Reflect
  2. Dissect
  3. Project

1. Reflect

Reflect on things you have done in the past that you didn’t think you could do or you were afraid to do.

Overcoming fear initially starts with reflecting on things you’ve done in the past. Every one of us has gotten through a hard time, has done something we didn’t think we could, and has even overcome mini fears before.

Let’s think back to when you were just learning to cook. You were probably nervous that you’d burn something, or it would not turn out tasting good, or you’d ruin it and waste the ingredients. Chances are, all of those things did happen at some point in some form, but, you kept at it and eventually, you got better. You learned how to cook (even one thing, right?!) and you can see how you got through the fear by simply practicing over and over again.

Or, maybe you still don’t know how to cook. Think back to the day you started a new job. You were nervous that you wouldn’t do well, or make friends at the office, or that you’d mess up. But, you got through it.

Perhaps you’re a mom, and the fear of giving birth was a real and scary proposition. Maybe it did or didn’t go exactly as you had planned or hoped or it was not what you expected, but you got through it.

Most of our fears can be approached in the same way. The thing is, it’s hard for us to imagine trying at something like starting a business over and over again. This doesn’t mean you need to start and stop businesses over and over. It may mean simply trying at a task over and over again.

It does, however, mean that when you look back and reflect upon your life, you’ve overcome small and big fears many times, and realizing that the thing in front of you that you’re currently fearing is no different than any of those past fears is step 1. You are entirely capable of overcoming this thing, and you’ve done it so  many times before, you just need to recognize that.

2. Dissect

Dissect your goal into small, actionable steps

A big roadblock, and cause of fear, is the overwhelming feeling of how much work reaching a goal will take to accomplish.

The truth is, big goals are scary! If you only think about goals or big changes in your life as the big-picture “end goal,” the entire thing seems insurmountable.

The way to work through this to break your goal down into small, actionable steps.

Each of these steps, or tasks, should take no more than one hour.

Yes, one hour! And, sure, you’ll probably have tasks that take only five minutes and some that will eventually take more than one hour to complete. But, writing a task on your to-do list that will take two or more hours to complete is totally unrealistic.

The longest stretch of time most people can truly work with concentrated effort is probably around an hour. Does this mean you’ll never have energy bursts that last longer? Of course not! And I recommend that you roll with your energy as often as possible when it’s flowing. I talked more about managing your energy (instead of your time) in this post.

No big thing is accomplished without first being broken down into small, actionable steps.

Want to write a book?

Step 1, and this is a task you can put on your to-do list, is to roughly outline your ideas for the book.

From there, you can fill in bullet point notes on what each chapter would discuss, write in questions you’ll answer, resources you want to consult, notes about photos or diagrams you may want to include, and any other ideas you have that you haven’t yet fully fleshed out.

You don’t think to yourself, “I want to write a book,” then put “write a book” on your to-do list, and then magically one day sit down at a coffee shop for a few hours and actually write a book!

This big project, like any other, has to be broken down into smaller, more manageable, actionable steps/tasks.

Whatever it is you’re trying to tackle, break it down. Make the tasks you need to complete items you can get done within an hour, then keep writing down each small task you come across that needs to get done as you go.

3. Project

Lastly, you want to project forward to take action.

Plan your tasks day-by-day, week by week, month by month. If you’re a fan of time-blocking, you can plan out tasks you’ll get done during certain hours of the day. While that approach doesn’t work for me, it’s a great approach for many.

Each day, try to get at least one one-hour task completed, and then also complete a few shorter-duration tasks.

I know a single one-hour task doesn’t seem like much to get done in a day.

Chances are, you’ll be able to get two or even three of those tasks done with a lot of focus. That said, depending on the type of work it is, sometimes one really concentrated hour is what you can expect in a day.

This doesn’t mean you won’t work for more than an hour! But, you may find that deeply thoughtful or creative work can’t take up more than an hour (okay, maybe two) in a day. From there, you can accomplish smaller tasks, repetitive tasks, or things that you simply need to “check-off.”

The “check-off” items can be things like scheduling appointments, making phone calls, responding to emails, or even cleaning up your workspace and organizing.

A big project that you’ve tackled one hour at a time, day-by-day, then week-by-week will have a lot of very solid work completed on it by the time a month is through. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in this much time.

The truth is, we all think we need to work for 8 hours a day, but the reality is that it’s usually far too many hours, and we aren’t usually productive for that much time.

Adjusting your expectations and managing your time – and energy! – much better will lead to a better projection of what you can accomplish.

Before long, you’ll find that the action steps you take to reach your goals or dreams will diffuse the fears you have.

Whether you want to go back to school, start a side hustle, write a book, or quit your job, the steps to take are all the same.

Start by reflecting on how you’ve overcome fear in the past, then dissect the goal or undertaking into smaller parts, and then project or plan it out to truly get them each done.

It sounds easy, because it really is. You have to take action, otherwise fear will always remain in-tact.

In a future post, I’m going to discuss how to ignore the negative perspectives and lack of support of family and “friends” when you have some big ideas for yourself.

You can probably imagine what I’ll say, but, next time…

Tell me, what are your favorite practical strategies for overcoming fear? Comment below and let me know what works for you.



Build a Badass Business Podcast #3: Fear, Part 2 – Where is Your Fear Rooted

8 thoughts on “Strategies for Overcoming Fear

  • Elizabeth Ramos says:

    One of the practical strategies I use to overcome fear is believing in myself! I believe the universe is benevolent, what I put out is what I get back. I serve a higher purpose, with God I know there is nothing I can overcome.

  • The thing that has helped me the most work through fear is to say out loud the absolute worst possible outcome from whatever it is I am afraid of. Because usually the fearful feeling is much worse than the reality of what could happen. I may feel so incredibly terrified, like if I do this I will die… but in reality if I do this, my parents may not support me in it. The real tangible outcome isn’t as scary as the emotion attached to it.

  • What has been most beneficial for me to work through fear, is to talk through it, say it out loud. I have to say the absolute worst possible outcome/reaction that would follow the fear of doing something. And when I do that, I always realize that the emotion I have attached to the fear is so much worse than the potential outcome. For example, I am terrified of leaving a family business in order to start my own company. The possible outcome? My parents don’t support me. My “feeling” outcome, that I just might die. And then I look at that and remember, I’m not going to die, obviously, but holy crap that’s how strong my fear is. And then working through the possibility (because again its not for certain) that my parents won’t support me, whats the worst that can come from that. And I just keep going until I’ve reached a point where I’ve landed at the root and that in turn is the actual fear that I have (which in this case is not being loved by my parents).

  • I felt fear and anxiety building up in me today as my mental to-do list expanded… I was feeling super uncertain as to how a new dream can be accomplished alongside existing life and work in general. So, before I could do the three things you mentioned, I had to take a break and walk away. I needed to slow down and do something where thinking about what was causing me fear/anxiety was near impossible. I went and took a barre class which is incredibly hard to think during, got coffee, ate lunch, and then came back to start figuring out a plan. So, I guess if I were personalizing your list, I would place a step before the first one: Take a Break, Reflect, Dissect, Project. And under “Take a Break” I would posit that how long or what that break entails is dependent on who you are and how much the fear is affecting your well-being at the time. Maybe it is just breathing deeply for a few minutes or maybe its a few days. But perhaps just not thinking about it for a short time first can help the other steps flow easier.

  • I love thinking about processes and breaking things down into steps! This is so well put and I like that it is applicable for so many things beyond entrepreneurship. Thank you!

  • This blog is so helpful as I embark on reinventing myself in my fitness business. I tend to be the person that wants to tackle ALL the projects in one day! Only to find, I only end up getting 1 out of the 6 things I wanted to do! Love your 3 step process, will be using this to keep me on track and focused.

  • I really appreciate your advice to just work on something for an hour. No matter how much I break down my project in my to do list, fear has been stopping me – telling me I’m too busy with other things to start this new project. Well today, I told myself, just tackle it for an hour and I accomplished more than expected. I’ll come back to this post again as a resource going forward. Thank you!

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