“The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.” Susan Jeffers
A simple statement that seems ridiculously obvious. Of course we should. If we want to alleviate a fear we should just take that proverbial bull by its unknown horns and get on with it. Yet for most of us, a statement so straightforward doesn’t just pop into our reasoning when confronted with a decision or a choice that we’d far rather stuff behind the back of an old sofa than actually face head on. Sometimes it needs to be there – in black and white in front of us – to make sense.
Those of you who follow Studio10 on social media will know that I’m a great believer in positive affirmations. Just a simple four-line motivational statement that pulls us up briefly and gives us pause for thought. They seem to crop up in my feeds daily now. A friend will post something uplifting they want to share, or a company will throw out a profound saying alongside promoting their product, and whether it’s relevant to me or not, in that moment it makes me think. And more often than not those few lines will stay with me, tucked away in my subconscious, potentially to emerge days or even months later when I find myself in a situation that demands those exact words to get me through.
When it comes to understanding ourselves and those around us – emotional education if you like – we’ve come a long way since our grandparent’s and even parent’s generation. Where self-help might once have meant leaning on the fence sharing a cup of tea with a neighbour and getting a few weighty issues off our chest, today it just doesn’t seem enough. The development of social media means that we see and read so much more now, and the first person narrative is extremely powerful. Someone else who has endured a struggle and come through it with a tale to tell and a solution that may or may not work for us. Not only do we realise that we’re not alone, it makes us look at ourselves, question more and seek personal change. Small wonder the self-help industry is huge now.
Large book chains have individual sections in their shops devoted purely to self-help books. Shelf after shelf of them. Everything from how to look good, how to have better sex, how to cope with the toddler years (which actually may have you wishing you hadn’t read How to have Better Sex in the first place) to interpreting decisions and choices, overcoming anxiety, bereavement, dealing with phobias or simply just how we place ourselves in the world around us. It’s a sizable market, and as we continue to strive for self-understanding and improvement, a very profitable one. It’s all about personal development and the knowledge we can extract from these books, if we choose to, can be exhilarating.
A book that I return to again and again is Feel the Fear and do it anyway by Susan Jeffers. I read this when it was first published back in 1987 and it honestly changed my thinking. Asking us to “shake off our apprehensions” in order to “build up self-worth” and to “realise true potential”, she doesn’t suggest that we can remove fear from our lives but more that if we face the three levels of fear that Jeffers outlines in the book, we can use them to our advantage. Moving out of our comfort zones allows us to begin to understand ourselves and move forward. It’s still one of the biggest selling self-help books of all time, translated into over 36 languages and available in over 100 countries. It’s such a powerful book – I’ve given a copy to every single one of my friends over the years.
Another great source of motivation for me are TED Talks, which have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Short and compelling and available to download free from the internet, innovative speakers from all over the world offer thought-provoking ideas and personal tales on just about every topic from business, medicine, science and technology to fashion, feminism, psychology and – of course – self-help. The list is endless. Women like Brene Brown, who talks about human connections in her potent TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability; and Esther Perel, who gives a candid insight into relationships, intimacy and infidelity in many of her talks, are well-worth listening to. Even if we don’t always agree, they are inspiring and influential and can provide a truly light bulb interpretation that up until that moment had evaded our thinking.
Of course self-help books and motivational talks aren’t going to give us all of the answers. If we go back to the days of our grandparents and parents, perhaps talking it all through with good friends is sometimes just enough. I’ve lost count of evenings spent thrashing out problems, tossing around decisions that need to be made, or simply needing some reassurance over a bottle of wine with some of my best friends. They know me and they can be honest. But they also know that the next day, in all likelihood, I’ll have found some other inspirational book or another amazingly insightful talk that will have them rolling their eyes because, despite all of their wonderful words, I’m never going to stop looking for more answers that will help me to feel the fear and still do whatever it is I need to do anyway.