Life Coaching: I Was Afraid of That

If what they taught us in Psychology 101 is true, we are born with only two natural fears: heights and loud noises.

ben goldfarb 88 (photo credit: )
ben goldfarb 88
(photo credit: )
All allusions to clients, case histories, or coaching scenarios in these columns have been altered so they no longer resemble any person, living, dead, or just hanging out at the mall. If what they taught us in Psychology 101 is true, we are born with only two natural fears: heights and loud noises. If that is the case, then what is the origin of all of our other fears? You know, the fear of being stalked by telemarketers, the angst of our child getting married to a game show host, or the terror of being surrounded by people who begin every sentence with a gerund. We internalized these fears via one-stop learning. One-stop learning means that we educated ourselves to be scared of something at one time in our lives and the subsequent fear remains with us unless we do something about it. These fears are consistent and are awakened with no effort on our part. For instance, you rarely meet an acrophobic who is only scared of flying on Tuesdays. You don't find an agoraphobic halfway down the Grand Canyon who remembers suddenly that she is scared of being in the great outdoors. Now that we know that our fears are learned, the next step is to re-educate ourselves to no longer be frightened, or better yet, take pleasure in the activities that used to scare us to death. However, some discretion is advised at this juncture. Clients often ask me to help them eliminate their fears entirely. Other clients ask me to define a gerund. But that's not important now. What is important is that under no circumstances should we eliminate all fear from our psyches. Some frightened reactions are perfectly rational and should be nurtured and not eliminated. For instance, I think it is a great idea to be scared of Kassam rockets heading in our general direction, rabid dogs with long fangs, and sticky movie theater floors. However, if our irrational fears are getting in the way of leading a productive life and forcing us to lock ourselves in the bathroom or escaping by watching reality TV 24/7, then the time may be ripe for us to take some action. Instead of focusing on when we learned to be scared, how it happened, or even worse, re-experiencing our fears, we can concentrate on how to create new associations for the fears and thereby eliminate or redirect them. One of the techniques I find useful in this arena is based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP is a set of communication tools created by Richard Bandler, an eccentric computer programmer, and John Grinder, a linguist who often uses gerunds in everyday speech. Here's the recipe for eliminating or re-directing fear. Please feel free to try this at home. Identify and Analyze the Fear Take out your fear and trepidation notebook and select your favorite fright on the list. Because the structure of the fear is more important than the content itself, you don't necessarily have to reveal your fear when working with someone else. However, when you are on your own, call the fear by name. The next step is to look at the structure of the fear. Let's say you are scared of learning a foreign language. Ask yourself what you see when you picture yourself studying a second tongue. What do you hear when you are in the classroom? What do you feel when the teacher is rambling on in French, Italian, or Pig Latin and there are no subtitles in English? Identify and Analyze an Activity that You Enjoy Choose something that you really enjoy doing, or perhaps even have a healthy compulsion to do, such as reading or exercising. When you picture yourself doing this enjoyable activity, ask yourself if the depiction in your inner-eye is a movie or a still photograph. Is the image in color or black and white? Is the representation close to you or distant? Is there music in the background? How do you feel when you watch yourself doing this activity? Create New Associations Slowly change the structure of what you are scared of with the activity that you enjoy doing. If bright light was a factor in the endeavor that you relish, see yourself flooded with light in the language lab. Hear your favorite music that may be present when involved in the enjoyable pursuit and transfer it to the scene that frightens you. Imagine what it would feel like to actually enjoy learning a language as much as you derive pleasure from reading or exercising or whatever pleasant activity that you are envisioning. By changing the structure of what you feel frightened of with something that you like doing, you may find yourself enjoying the activity that used to fill you with dread. Will these new positive associations automatically make you a whiz at learning a foreign tongue? Not necessarily. But this exercise will help you create a better frame of mind to learn a foreign language, or eliminate any other irrational fears that you may have internalized at one point in your life. And if you are lucky, you might be able to extricate yourself from the theater before the next feature begins. In addition to his personal coaching practice, Ben Goldfarb has led corporate trainings at Philips Medical Systems, Israel Aircraft Industry, and Marvell Semiconductor. He is the founder and director of Paradigm Shift Communications. For more information, send an e-mail to, visit the PSC website at, or call 972-(0)2-641-6673 to arrange a complimentary phone consultation. Previous columns: Life Coaching: Back to the future Life Coaching: Whose life is it anyway? Send your comments >>
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