I have a client who’s a shy but talented girl. She loves music, and decided to join the band in her high school. She learned how to play the xylophone, and really enjoys herself when she plays at band practice. But when I saw her, she had a concert coming up and she was so nervous that she was thinking of dropping out of the band.
I asked her what she was so afraid of and she said, “I’m afraid I’ll make mistake while I’m playing.” That’s a fear we all have, isn’t it? We’re afraid we’ll make a mistake–especially when others are watching. Fear of making a mistake can keep us from even starting something new. Our fear ends up defeating us before we even begin.
But my client loves to play music, and I didn’t want her fear to push her into giving it up. So I asked her a simple question: “If you do make a mistake, what’s the worst thing that could happen?”
She thought about this for a moment, and said her fellow band members or someone in the audience might notice and say something to her about it. “And if they did, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” I pressed her.
“I’d be embarrassed,” she said.
“And if you were embarrassed, what’s the worst thing that could happen?”
This time, she shrugged. “I’d be embarrassed.” It didn’t sound so scary when she said it this time. “Nobody would yell at you or hit you, people in the audience wouldn’t throw things at you, you wouldn’t be kicked out of band?”
“No,” she admitted. Okay, we all sometimes think we’d die of embarrassment, but that’s just something people say; nobody actually dies of embarrassment. We just feel it and then move on. My client realized it certainly wasn’t worth giving up something she loves just to avoid feeling embarrassed for a moment.
How many times do we let fear hold us back from trying something new? When we’re afraid, we create giant monsters in our mind–terrible consequences if we fail. But when we stop to really examine these monsters, we see that they’re just annoying little mosquitoes we can swat with ease. “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” By asking yourself this simple question, you can break the hold fear has over you and free yourself from the inaction it causes.
“I want to try sushi, but I’m afraid I won’t like it.” If you don’t like it, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You’d have to order something else and pay for both dishes, so you’d be out a few dollars.
“I want to apply for that job, but I’m afraid I’m not qualified.” If you apply and the hiring company decides you aren’t qualified, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You won’t get the job. But you don’t have the job now, so you’d be no worse off than you were before.
“I want to ask that woman for a date, but I’m afraid she’d say no.” If you ask her and she says no, what’s the worst thing that could happen? She might tell her friends you asked her out and she turned you down. You might be embarrassed by that. And if you were embarrassed, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You’d be embarrassed and her friends would know you asked her out. What’s the worst thing that could happen as a result? Not much.
The best way to break through your fear is to examine it coolly and ask yourself if it’s based in reality. When you do that, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach specializing in addictions, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, single parenting, divorce, and helping her clients find their life purpose. She is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery” and Life Coach/Psychotherapist on Celebrity Rehab on VH1.