Using Small Goals to Get Past Big Fears


We all know that fear is a part of life.  We’ve known it since we were children. But somewhere along the way as we get older, we being to think that we should be less afraid because we have more control over our lives.  So when something comes up that leaves us feeling out of control, fear shows up and we find ourselves feeling mad or sad about it.

What we often forget is that making a decision to change something about your life also brings you back to that place of being out of control.  When you decide to make a change, you are embarking on unknown territory, so in many ways you are relinquishing control. You’ve never been this way before so you aren’t sure how things will turn out.  You don’t have a past experience to base your ability to change on, and unknowns trigger fear.

But what this also means is that fear is a normal part of ambition.  Goals are all about going to the next uncharted territory, so if you want to achieve, you have to learn how to get comfortable with being afraid.

So how exactly do you do this?

Go Small and Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

There are three basic things you can start doing today to reprogram your brain.    All three are based on Kaizen principles for change and help you move past your fears practically undetected.

  1. Ask small questions

  2. Take small actions

  3. Give small rewards

Small Questions

Let’s start with small questions.  

Our goals are typically for bigger better things, so we ask ourselves the big questions in the hope of getting answers that will lead us to big change right away.   For example...

  • How can I eat three servings of veggies a day?

  • How can I get my blood pressure back to normal levels?

  • How can I find time to exercise when I’m so busy with other commitments every day?

Most of us are so overwhelmed and over extended in our everyday lives, that any one of these questions can easily wake up your fears.  Next thing you know you’ll be running for comfort food, denying the seriousness of your current health situation, and reaching for the remote instead of your gym shoes.   

This is because no matter how much you want to change, you’ve gotten accustomed to your current way of doing life.  It’s comfortable and familiar like a child’s security blanket. So if your goals are threatening to snatch your blanket away, fear is going to wake up and start kicking and screaming until you give that blanket back.  You’ll end up just like Linus from the Charlie Brown a panic until you get your blanket back.

But if you can make the change so small and seemingly insignificant that fear doesn’t really notice it or feel threatened by it, you can slip those goals past it relatively undetected.   Here are some examples. Yes these are going to seem ridiculously small and simple, but that’s EXACTLY the point!

  • What is one small thing I can do each day to at least think about veggies more?

  • What is one small thing that I can do each day for one minute to help lower my blood pressure?

  • What is one small way that I can incorporate more movement into my existing schedule for one minute each day?

If you’re thinking to yourself...How can one minute make a difference?  How will just thinking about veggies change anything? While a minute or a thought might not make an immediate impact on your goal, asking these small questions makes a huge impact on your ability to get around your fears!  

Your mind can accept these questions without fear or judgement!  So ask, and then let it go. Ask again tomorrow and again the day after that until your mind gives you an answer.  Probably while you are brushing your teeth or driving your car!

Small Actions

OK, so you’ve been asking the questions and your mind is popping out these ridiculous small actions.  *eye roll*

First of all, don’t roll your eyes a those answers because they are GOLD!  In fact, the smaller they are, the more they make you chuckle the BETTER! You won’t fear a task that you find laughable.  

*Are you starting to see where I’m going with this?*

Here are some examples of these laughable tasks…

  • Post a colorful picture of veggies that I like at your desk, on your fridge, and on your bathroom mirror.  Look at the picture for 10 seconds and then go on about your day.

  • Enjoy one minute of stillness each day.  Do this whenever you can have a minute of uninterrupted quiet time.  Maybe after your shower or right before you go to sleep each night.

  • Grab a lightweight barbell and do 5 reps with each arm while watching TV.   Or park one row further away from the door in the parking lot so you get in a few more steps when walking into the building.  Or take a walk around the office to stretch your legs. Just do it to get in the extra steps.

Yes all of these might make you feel a little silly and yes you might feel like it will take 20 years to reach your goal at this rate.  Remember, right now, achieving the goal is not the primary objective. Your FIRST goal is to eliminate the fear.

Small Rewards

Rewards are all about positive reinforcement.  The “feel good” of success is the fuel that keeps your momentum going and helps it to build and grow stronger.  So rewarding yourself is VERY important. Just make sure you avoid rewards that are counterproductive. You may love donuts, but that’s not the right reward to give yourself when you want to start eating more veggies.

Your reward should be something that you like or is meaningful to you and that will fuel your flames to keep progressing.  Here are some examples…

  • Soak in the tub on the weekend after the kids are in bed.

  • Enjoy a cup of coffee from the comfort of your bed in the morning.

  • Compliment yourself on your newfound confidence and discipline face to face in the mirror.  Or share your accomplishment with a good friend and ask them to congratulate you instead.

These are just a few examples of things that I like to do.   Think about the little things YOU enjoy and value and incorporate them into your reward plan.   

Beating Fear Requires Understanding of Fear

Remember, rational actions don't always happen when you want change.  In fact, irrational behavior is a typical reaction to fear. So don’t beat yourself up about it.  Practicing small questions, actions, and rewards will help you to recognize your fears and show yourself compassion about your initial reaction.   Now that you have the tools to manage your fear, instead instead of letting it rule you, you‘ll feel empowered to face your fears when they pop up.

Solutions are often in the uncomfortable places we try to avoid.  Fear of hard things is why many of us fail to reach our solutions.  It’s a big part of why change is never easy. You may not be able to see yourself making the big leaps yet, but if you can see yourself making the small ones...well then you’ve tapped into unlimited power!

Focus on the small things you CAN DO.  Set your small goals and run with them.  They are the key to reprogramming your brain and the building blocks for the changes you seek in your life.

Leslie BrooksComment