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The one question that can make all the difference: “What am I really afraid of?”


It is often said that roughly two things motivate people: interest and fear. 

A lot of self-development programs and books deal with interest related topics: What is it that I really want in life? 

What is my passion? 

What do I really-really want to do? 

What would I do if I’d win $50 million? 

These are actually all very important questions, but just as important is to understand: What am I really afraid of?

So this has actually been the million dollar question for me in the last couple of years:

“What am I really afraid of?”

This is a simple question that you should also ask yourself often. It is especially helpful to ask this question when you’re at a crossroads and must decide how to proceed. This question will help you in situations where you need to decide if you dare to do something (start a new project, make a big change, have a child etc.)

Remember, every time that you feel fear, ask yourself:

“What am I really afraid of?”

How can this question help you and why should you start using it?

Fears are usually completely irrational. It is very easy to go the way of automatic decision making:

“I should do something (e.g. public speaking), I’m really afraid to do it, I will not do it. “

But when you stop the automatic decision making process and ask yourself “What am I really afraid of?” good things will happen:

1. You’ll actually get to know a lot more about yourself.
2. You’ll understand that most of your fear is irrational, unlikely to happen.
3 You’ll be able to overcome your fear and make a conscious decision on whether you want to do something or not.

Let’s continue with the example of public speaking. I’m afraid of public speaking. I don’t instantly reject the proposal to speak however; instead I ask myself “What am I really afraid of?” I realize that:

•    I’m afraid that once on stage, I’ll forget all the words.
•    I’m afraid that I’m going to sweat.
•    I’m afraid that I’m going to blush.
•    I am afraid that I will become a laughing stock.
•    I’m afraid that I cannot handle it.

Now I’ll take one step further and ask myself whether I actually am afraid of these things; why am I afraid of these things; what are they saying about me; do I want to take action?

•    I’m afraid that once on stage, I’ll forget all the words.
That’s never happened to me before, so this is unlikely. If I go well enough prepared, then I can avoid it. In fact, even if I would forget some words, this would not bother me, because I can be spontaneous in most situations.

•    I’m afraid that I’m going to sweat.
This has happened before but only marginally. In fact, this does not interfere with my performance.

•    I’m afraid that I’m going to blush.
This has also happened before and it can actually interfere with my performance. But why is it that I start blushing in some situations? Does this bother me? (What am I really afraid of?!) Maybe social anxiety is something I should address.

•    I am afraid that I will become a laughing stock.
I know the subject and I know the audience is actually supportive so this is very unlikely to happen.

•    I’m afraid that I cannot handle it.
This fear seemed real at first, but not anymore. Now I feel that I should go ahead and try. I am ready to confront and hopefully overcome my fear of public speaking.

I hope you get the point by now 🙂

In conclusion

I used a very primitive example to illustrate the power of this question, but trust me – this can be really helpful for you. It can help you discover deeper (root) causes of your fears and if not overcome them, then at least become consciously aware of them and have a better understanding of yourself.

So in conclusion, please answer for yourself: “What are you really afraid of?”

Written on 3/9/2014 by Martin Palm. Martin Palm is a self-development enthusiast and founder of In my job as a training specialist I enjoy the privilege of helping adults learn and creating new opportunities for learning (trainings, workshops, lectures, e-learning etc.). Throughout the years I’ve been fascinated with different concepts of self-development and have put countless hours of self-study, discussions, practice and reflection into the matter. I really encourage you to invest in yourself and self-development – it is worth it.

Photo Credit: servantofchaos

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