I find that the word “No,” is used a lot when people don’t want to try new things.  From a two-year-old, “No!” can be a source of frustration.  “No,” can also be the best word to use when people are trying to add to your responsibilities.  But “No” is a loaded word and behind it lurks the one thing that stops you from trying new things: Fear.

Neophobia is the fear of anything new. And there are a lot of different reasons why people fear trying something new such as making mistakes or looking foolish and even the fear of getting hurt.

Fear of Making Mistakes

I don’t know why, but somehow, when we become adults, we think everything we do we have to do perfectly. That includes doing something we’ve just learned for the first time.  How many times have you tried a new sport and gotten mad at yourself that you didn’t do it perfectly the first time you tried?  That happens to me all the time.

The first time I tried Duck Pin bowling I got so mad because I thought it would be easy.  Come on, I already bowled with a 13-pound ball.  Those little balls in Duck Pin must be so much easier to throw.  Yes they are (including throwing all the way down the lane and also across a couple of lanes.)  It takes a bit of time to retrain yourself to adjust to the differences—not something that a competitive person always wants to hear.  After that first embarrassing game, I didn’t go Duck Pin bowling again for 20 years.

That’s what the fear of making mistakes can do.  It can stop you from having fun.

Fear of Looking Foolish

Tied closely to the fear of making mistakes, is the fear of looking foolish in front of other people.  I once passed on the chance to get into a fat Sumo wrestling suit because I was afraid of looking foolish and having people laugh at me.  It didn’t matter that we were laughing at everyone who was doing it.  In my head, they would be laughing at me in a cruel way, not because the whole scene looked silly.

What a loss on my part.  My fear caused me to miss out on a fun event.

Fear of Getting Hurt

This is the big one.  This is the fear that can stop a lot of things.  Would you like to fly in a plane? No, because it might crash.  Want to hike a mountain? No, because I might fall off.  Want to…? No!

I used to have a big fear of heights.  It stopped me from doing a lot of things.  Years ago a friend and I took our sons to NYC.  They wanted to go up into the Empire State Building.  They did.  I didn’t.  They had fun.  I just waited.  I missed out on my son’s experience in the Empire State Building.

Yes, fear can be a good thing that helps you out of a bad situation, but fear can also be a problem.  It can stop you from experiencing good things, not just bad things.

Steps to Help You Tackle Your Fears

I almost said overcome instead of tackle.  Overcome makes me feel like there is no more fear.  I’ve come a long way in tackling my fears, but there is still fear.  It’s just a process of managing it.

Just Breath  

Seems like such a simple thing.  Hey, we all breathe all the time.  But there is something soothing about focusing on your breath.  First, not breathing or holding your breath can trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response. Second, it gets you out of your head where your fears reside.

One simple way to do this is to inhale for the count of 4, then hold for the count of 4, and then exhale for the count of 4 and repeat.  If holding for the count of 4 is too much, you can reduce that to the count of 3 or even 2.  (It shouldn’t cause panic to hold your breath for 4 counts.) As you are breathing in and out, bring your attention to your nose and the feel of the breath as it goes through your nostrils.  The process of focusing on your breath takes your mind away from your fear.

Focusing on your breath can help in a lot of situations, including when you’re afraid people will make fun of you or you’ll make mistakes.  Sometimes that fear just stops you from taking that next step or gets you into an endless cycle of checking your work.  Breathe.  Try to let it go.  Breathe some more.  This has certainly helped me with writing this blog. When I start getting into my head and fearing people’s reaction or that the post is full of grammatical mistakes, I have to hit pause. Then I breathe and then I keep going.

Be Rational 

This is a technique that helped me do something that I once passed on.  Years ago, I took my son to Niagara Falls and he wanted to go on the Spanish Aero car that goes out over a huge whirlpool in the Niagara River.  I couldn’t do it.  Ten years later, I was there with my husband.  He wanted to go on the Spanish Aero car, but not without me.  

I was panicked by the thought and refused at first. But then I asked one simple question.  How long was the ride?  I figured if it was 30 minutes or more I wouldn’t be able to do it.  The answer was 15 minutes.  I thought that I could handle 15 minutes of fear and took a chance. I saw an amazing view of the river. 

The same thing happened with the Maid of the Mist boat ride up to the falls.  You get such a close-up view, but I was worried the boat would get too close.  It stopped me from enjoying the experience when I was there with my son.  But the next time I was at Niagara Falls, I got on that boat.  Fear and all.  I figured that so many people had been getting on and off those boats for years and they were ok, so I would be too.

Be Afraid and Keep Going

Years ago, my ex-husband and I took an epic cross-country trip with our son and another family. While camping in Moab, we went to Arches National Park. A highlight was seeing Delicate Arch and if you’ve been to it, you know the last 200 yards of the hike is a ledge with a drop on one side and a rock wall on the other.

With my fear of heights in full gear, I almost didn’t walk those last 200 yards but I decided I could keep going if I was close to the wall and kept one hand on it. It was working great until I saw a woman coming down the trail who not only had two hands on the wall but was hugging it with her whole body. Someone was going to have to let go and it obviously wasn’t going to be her.

Thinking quickly, when she got to me, I raised my arm up while still touching the wall and side-stepped slightly away from the wall, she then went under my arm, still hugging the wall and holding on with both hands. Because I was able to do that and get all the way up to see Delicate Arch (mind you, I didn’t walk down into the bowl of the Arch,) I was able to walk back down a little easier and less fearfully than when I went up. Yes! I was still touching the wall but only with my fingertips this time!

These are just a couple of steps to address mild, controllable fears.  I’m not a doctor, though, and if you feel overwhelmed by your fear, it’s best to reach out for some professional help.  Being able to talk to someone about your fears can really help.

If you’d like to know more about fear and how to tackle it, read The Four Horsemen of Fear. Three researchers explored the key fears during the pandemic and broke them down into bodily, interpersonal, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of fear and gave solutions on how to address each.