By: Dr. Jeffrey Gladden

Whether you think you can or think you can’t — you’re right. How many times have you heard that famous Henry Ford quote? Have you pondered the profound truth in that statement?

In life, the odds are pretty much stacked against us. To succeed at something, regardless of what it is, we must overcome our fear-based obstacles. And whether we’re able to do that depends on one thing: our mindset.

How do we cultivate a mindset that allows us to overcome whatever life throws our way?

Understand Fear Has a Place, But Don’t Let It Have Control

The biggest fear humans have is fear of the unknown. It’s a valid and healthy fear. On the cusp of an unfamiliar situation, we fear what might happen next because there’s always the potential for some form of harm. And fear, at its most basic level, is a survival instinct. It exists for self-preservation, which means that fear is useful in some situations — it keeps us safe.

In other situations, however, fear can be highly destructive. In many instances, staying “safe” means eschewing our deepest desires in favor of actions that don’t align with what we truly want.

Because the human brain cannot discern between a perceived threat and a real one, if we feel fear toward something, that fear manifests physiologically. And for most of us, actions follow suit.

But fear doesn’t have to control our actions. We can feel your fear and honor it but recognize where it’s helpful and where it’s holding us back.

How do we do that?

Slow Down and Practice Self-Awareness

There are two forces in the world: fear and love. Which force do we want to feed? To recognize where fear is helpful and where it’s interfering with love, we must slow down our thought process and practice self-awareness. That requires observing and feeling our emotions as they surface but figuring out where they’re coming from and why.

When we think about a fear-inducing situation, we must recognize where the fear is and what’s causing it. Then, we must discern what our true desire is — where the love is — and whether the fear we feel is interfering with what we really want. Ask the hard questions to build awareness of habits and subconscious processes. Only when we’re aware of our ingrained patterns do we have a conscious choice to change them.

This takes practice. It isn’t easy. But as we practice being aware of our feelings — and more importantly, understanding the why behind them — we can choose to respond rather than react to our fear.

Eventually, we learn how to let fear and negative emotions come to the surface, observe them, break them down, and let them pass like traffic. We learn to recognize the feeling but distance ourselves from it, so we can make the choices that align with our true desires.

Trust What You Feel and Take Action

When we slow down enough to observe our feelings, it’s time to start trusting our intuition. When we’re in reactive mode, we act based on what we think we should be doing — what our ego tells us is acceptable. But when we’re in an intuitive mode, we operate from a place of trust — in ourselves and our feelings.

If fear or negative self-talk comes up, those things aren’t inherently bad. But we must determine whether those feelings or narratives are helpful or harmful. Do we need to listen, or can we observe and let it pass? Then, we make our decision from a place of love and act on it.

When we trust what we feel on a deep level and act out of love, we prime our minds for flow. When we’re in a flow state and performing at our highest level, our brain’s prefrontal cortex — the area that regulates the expression of fear — shuts down. In that state, we operate from a place of deep trust because in those moments, in our brains, fear doesn’t exist.

Figure Out What Works for You and Do That

When we understand our feelings on a deep level, only then can we make the choices that align with what we truly want. Most of us are taught to conform to other people’s expectations from a very early age — those lessons essentially outlined our paths from childhood. But to feel truly happy and satisfied in life, we can’t follow someone else’s way; we must forge our own.

We can have fun while pursuing big goals. We can pursue lofty dreams instead of living in someone else’s paradigm. Whatever we’re doing that doesn’t feel authentic, we can stop doing it right now. There’s no rule that we must continue on the path we’re on. We can always pivot.

Recognize where fear is valid and where it’s causing stagnation. Figure out what works for your unique vision for your life and, most importantly, have the courage to do it.