“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” or at least that’s what your mother told you as a child. As it turns out, this message has become hard-wired into your brain. The root, of course, is that people fear losing what they have more than they anticipate the joys of gaining something new.
Fear of failure is a natural deterrent
To put it another way, you value what you have much more than what you can get. That’s why people forgo their dreams in favor of what they already have.
If you’re hunting to survive, that single bird you have in hand will feed you in that moment. Letting go of it in an attempt to grab those two other birds in the bush may just result in you losing your one bird, and not getting those other two, leading to hunger and starvation.
However, not going after those two other birds can paralyze you so much you don’t act at all – even if a change would almost certainly make your life better.
Consider a few scenarios that have probably played out in your head at least once:
- The job you hate looks better than quitting it to follow your dreams.
- The stagnant city you live in is safer than moving into a new one with more opportunities.
- That toxic relationship is better than being alone.
You freeze in place, because making the move just doesn’t seem worth it. In fact, unless you’re reaching for something roughly twice the value of what you have, your brain thinks the change – and its risk of loss – just isn’t worth it. Ultimately, this keeps you from exploring your potential.
3 easy steps for overcoming fear
So how can you leave what you don’t want behind in order to chase after and embrace what you actually want Follow these tips for overcoming fear:
1. Be aware of what your brain is doing – The most important part of playing a game is knowing what the rules are. The same is true here. If you can understand that your irrational brain is over-valuing everything in your life, you can start taking steps to fight back.
Next time you’re making a decision, look for those seeds of fear in your decision-making process. You may even begin to realize some of those items you fear losing don’t actually matter to you – like your soul-sucking day-job or a nasty partner you don’t really want to be around. Knowing your brain is holding you back from jumping to the next stage of life can be enough to free your feet to take that step toward letting go.
2. Seek the whole picture (count the cost) – When someone with arachnophobia sees a spider, they don’t stop to think about the best course of action. Instead, they panic and stampede out of there. Here’s the hard part: You know the fear is there (there’s a spider in your way), but you need to stay there and consider the best option, even if it means touching the spider.
Don’t stampede. Look at what you have – and not just a casual once over. Really evaluate what you have. If you don’t think you can be impartial, grab a friend you trust. Ask yourself what it is worth to you, without fear clouding your judgement. A list of pros and cons may help you weigh the worth of what you have. Second, take a look at what you want. Draw up another list of pros and cons to compare what you want with what you have. Perhaps your brain is right, but it’s more likely that you’re closing doors in your life because you’re clinging too tightly to what you already have.
3. Confront the possibility of loss and deal with it – The truth is there is some wisdom to this fear. There is always a chance that you will fail when chasing your dream. Take the time and ask yourself the hard question: What are you going to lose if it all goes sideways? Likewise, what will you gain if it all goes sideways?
But don’t stop there. Imagine that future failure in all its scary glory and ask yourself, “If the worst case scenario happens, how can I build up my life again?” Having a plan for the worst possible outcome will instill confidence that even if your fear does come true, you can deal with it. Plus, you may find as you go through the exercise that what you gain in failure – a story to tell, experience to put on your resume – is worth more than what you have right now.
Bonus: Use the fear of loss to push you forward – Reaching goals – from learning a new language to saving for retirement – can be difficult. So, don’t solely rely on your willpower. Chart your progress. Make mini goals that will help you toward your big goal. Each time you achieve a mini goal, put a star on your calendar. Those stars will begin to pile up, fueling your momentum to accomplish a little something every day.
The key to embracing your dreams
Whether it’s moving to a big city or gunning for your dream job, it’s normal to have dreams left in the depths of your closet. But if you leave them there to accumulate, the stakes become higher and higher. Subsequently, it becomes harder and harder to move forward on these dreams.
But if you allow yourself space to explore possibilities – even in the midst of the fear – you’ll be empowered. You may even find the choice to embrace your dreams much easier than you ever thought.