Are you trying to persuade yourself to do something, but you’ve got out of the habit? Maybe you don’t visit the big city any more. Maybe you don’t go to parties, or you don’t book holidays, or you don’t drive. Whatever it is, you have got out of the habit of doing it, and it’s hard to get back into it.
We are creatures of habit. We feel safest repeating what we already do. Therefore, if we don’t keep doing something, we can get into a bit of a stew about it. It becomes an issue.
It almost feels like a comfort issue. We imagine our friends and relatives thinking that maybe we’re lazy for not doing what we used to do.
But actually there’s something a bit more complex going on, and this article is a chance to look in more detail at a few of the blocks to getting over mild phobias.
BLOCK 1 – THE LACK OF AN EXTERNAL FORCE MAKING YOU
It’s embarrassing to have to admit it, but we are quite dependent on external demands for our sense of discipline. When you were young, probably you were told to go to school, it was expected of you, and life was very quickly made difficult for you if you didn’t do it. Plus, all your friends were subject to the same regime.
When you are older, there are fewer external forces making you do things you don’t immediately want to do. More than that, you have become an expert at avoiding what you don’t want to do. You have all sorts of adult explanations as to why it’s not convenient right now. Even worse, society has come up with labels you can use to describe your difficulty. There are so many labelled phobias now, that no doubt you can find on a list somewhere your very own phobia, there to help you justify why it’s so hard to get things done.
SOLUTION 1 – CREATE SOME OBLIGATIONS
If you accept this, then to combat the problem you will have to create some external forces making you act. If you like, your task is to emotionally blackmail yourself into acting. Instead of cocooning yourself in your own comfort, you will have to begin to make a new diary, one in which, like a school timetable, activities are inserted which challenge you. Make sure other people are involved, so that you are incentivised to make appointments. You are, if you like, making temporary positive use of your fear of letting other people down!
Do if you have a fear of travel, then create an appointment that requires you to travel, and make it an appointment that is so socially meaningful that you would be very rude not to go.
So book courses, or arrange meetings, which you can’t easily back out of.
BLOCK 2 – THE ‘JOURNEY TO THE CAR’
Every activity has a hard bit at the beginning when you’re getting dressed for it and getting ready. Many people find that once they’ve overcome this, everything else is easier.
So if you are having a hard time going for runs, don’t require yourself to run. Simply start by requiring yourself to get dressed for a run. Then, say to yourself, if you don’t feel like it, you can change back into your home clothes. But what tends to happen is that, once changed, you go running anyway.
Similarly, if you have developed a mild fear of driving, then maybe only require yourself to go and sit in your car. Once you are there, sitting in the car, it’s much easier to turn the engine on and drive. Your old familiar habits will begin to return.
SOLUTION 2 – DO THE FIRST THING
Whatever your fear, just give yourself the first small thing to do towards overcoming it. If afraid of parties, just resolve to agree to the next party you are invited to, and think about it no more. If afraid of going outside, then just resolve to go outside your front door, even if you just come back in again. Chances are, once you are out, you may stay out for longer than you think.
BLOCK 3 – THE POSSIBILITY YOU ARE MASKING A DEEPER FEAR
It is possible that your fear is simply a lighter expression of a deeper fear you haven’t really acknowledged yet. For example, imagine Jane, who, over the years, has developed a hatred of seeing her own image in the mirror, and a very negative self-image. Jane has recently become afraid of driving, even just driving to the shops.
On the face of it, it’s just ‘a fear of driving’. On the other hand, there’s quite a lot going on. When you get into a car, you are making yourself bigger in a way, adopting a presence on the road. Furthermore, a car is full of mirrors and reflections, exactly the kind of thing that forces Jane to catch sight of herself. In addition, looking for a parking space has echoes of that social game of ‘finding a place for yourself in the world’. It is really easier to stay at home, where the mirrors are all in known places, and she is welcome in all the rooms. The apparently trivial fear of driving masks several deeper issues relating to being able to face the world, and to deal confidently with her own self-image. She may be very attractive: it doesn’t matter. What matters is how she sees herself at the moment.
SOLUTION 3 – SELF-COMPASSION
There are many possible solutions here, such as counselling and deep inner reflection. But to skip to the chase, you can’t easily feel easy doing something unless and until you forgive yourself for feeling awkward. If your inner voice is critical, then you will want to hide. But if you can learn to have a self-compassionate inner voice, one that is encouraging, then you have a better chance of overcoming a fear.
Practice being a good listener to yourself, not harsh, but kind. Tell yourself you’re doing well. Tell yourself that if it’s not going well, you can return home at any time. Give yourself rewards for what you have achieved.
Many of us suddenly find ourselves temporarily afraid of what we used to do with ease.
In order to get going again, we can try the following three exercises:
Put a few things in your diary that require you to do what you’re mildly afraid of
Do the first step. You will often find that once you have dressed for the occasion, then the occasion is easier!
Be encouraging to yourself, give yourself understanding, and reward yourself when you do well
It sounds strangely simple; but it’s amazing how we often forget to be like this, and beat ourselves up unnecessarily.