How To Make Progress When You Are Terrified.

By:Deb Knobelman, PhD
Photo by Olivier Lemieux on Unsplash

4 strategies to move you toward your goals when you are frozen.

You might not believe it right now, but we’re all terrified.

All of us who set goals for ourselves. Who want to try something new. Something that feels big.

Change careers. Run a marathon. Write a book.

Sometimes even the smaller stuff is terrifying. Like writing a brief for a new client.

But we dream of the moment we achieve our goals. When we find our way forward. The pride. The satisfaction.

Then come the other thoughts. The fearful thoughts.

I don’t know how to do this.

I’m not capable so there’s no point in trying.

And then, the fear that other people will find out about our goals. And judge both our goals and our ability to achieve them.

People will think I’m an idiot.

So we do nothing. Or, we get started. And stop. And then start again.

We want are desperate to overcome this hurdle. The fear. We want to get closer to our goals.

But we hold ourselves back.

When we reach this point (and we all reach this point), we need a push. A mental reset. A different perspective. One that can get us past the spot where we have frozen. So we can continue to make progress.

It doesn’t have to be fast. It doesn’t have to be big. But something to get us back to steady progress. Here are some things we can all do.

Reframe past “failures”

One of the scariest things, the behavior that stops us in our tracks, is revisiting all the “failures” of the past. When we think about them, those experiences fill us with feelings of despair. We did something bad. People think we are bad. Because of what happened.

So why on earth would we try something again that we might fail?

As an example, a few years ago, I had one major consulting client that I courted for months. It was a huge opportunity. We went back and forth, meeting after presentation after meeting. Finally, they hired me. And the project was rocky from the very first day. And then after one month, they fired me. It was devastating. I thought they finally figured me out. I was not a good consultant. Period. That everything I did up to that point was a sham. That this one client knew the truth about me. And all my other successes to that point were invalid.

It took me a long time to get past it.

But now, several years and many successful projects later, I can take a broader look at the situation. Here are a few other factors that went into that “failure”: 1) I had booked too many clients during that period of time. And 2) the way they ran their business (by the seat of their pants) was not a good fit for my style (deliberate decision making).

In an ideal situation, I would have figured those lessons out before I got fired. Or even before I agreed to work with them. But the fact is, I did the best that I could with the information that I had at the time.

I have never again 1) overbooked myself and 2) agreed to work with a client whose style did not match my own. So I learned two important things from that “failure.” Lessons that have made my consulting practice more successful and less hair-raising ever since.

Most likely, you can reframe any failures you have experienced in the past in the same way.

Accept that it’s OK to be uncomfortable

For me, anything new brings me lots of discomfort. Time sitting at my desk with my heart pounding. Trying to come up with ways that I can avoid doing what I know needs to be done. Because I am very uncomfortable with putting myself out there. Of trying and not getting it right the very first time.

But what I need to remember is that discomfort is actually normal. Its a feeling. Nothing more. And while the base of my brain is telling me that a tiger is approaching and I should run for my life. The fact is, its just a feeling about trying something new.

So, I allow myself to feel uncomfortable. And accept that the feeling doesn’t mean I should stop.

Pick one tiny thing that will take you closer to your goal. And focus on that.

One of the scariest parts about trying something new is that if feels so huge. A whole book. A whole marathon. A whole new job. Its hard to imagine how you will ever get from here all the way to there.

But you don’t have to tackle the whole thing today. In fact, you won’t tackle the whole thing today. It takes almost everyone weeks, months, or even years to get where they want to go.

All you have to do is keep trying.

So, if you get caught in a loop of fear, take a step back.

Pick one thing. One, small thing. Send out one resume today. Run one mile. Write one page.

Find one thing that is small enough that it makes you a little nervous. But doesn’t paralyze you with fear.

And do that.

Be proud of how far you’ve come

It might not feel that way. But people admire you for your courage. You should admire yourself. I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to me since I started my writing journey. People I’ve known for years. Who wanted to connect. Not to mock me. But to ask me how I did it. How I got started. Because they have a dream too. But they’ve been to scared to try it.

Everyone has a dream. But not everyone is brave enough to act on it.

As Adam Grant says,

Ultimately, what we regret is not failure, but the failure to act.

Keep going.

With the right framework plus the right mindset, anything is possible.