My oldest child is afraid of monsters and the dark. He races up from the basement so he won’t be the last one left down there and still struggles to fall asleep on his own.
He’s always been a bit fearful of things, but lately, it felt like his fear was growing. I wanted to provide him with the space to talk, so I sat down with him to discuss his worries.
After we warmed up a bit, I jumped into the heart of the matter.
Bringing Our Fears Into the Open
“When I was a kid, I was scared of the basement,” I told him, “but I’m not scared anymore. One day, you probably won’t feel scared either.”
He refuted this fact just as I suspected he would. Luckily, I was ready for his dismissal.
“Do you remember feeling scared before you started kindergarten?” I asked. He nodded ever so slightly. “And two days after school began, do you know what you told me?”
“No,” he said.
“You told me you loved school and didn’t want me to pick you up at the end of the day.” He laughed at that memory.
Believe in Yourself
“Can you tell me another time you overcame your fears?” I asked. He stared back at me with a blank expression on his face. He rattled off a list of worries but couldn’t come up with a single fear from his past.
“Well, I have a few,” I said, “how about…”
- sleeping over at your grandparents
- learning to swim
- going to summer camp
- presenting at the science fair
- singing in the school play
“I don’t remember feeling scared of some of those things,” he said.
“You were,” I told him.
“I don’t remember being afraid of sleeping at Grandma’s,” he said. “But I was afraid of that science fair presentation.”
“And how did it go?” I asked. “Weren’t you one of the best presenters?”
“Not the best,” he said, “but pretty good.”
“And how will your next presentation go?” I asked.
“Probably not as scary,” he said.
We launched into a deep conversation about the intense nature of fear and phobias. When we are fearful, negative thoughts consume our attention. But, eventually, after the event passes, we tend to forget we were afraid.
When we finished talking, he copied that list of previously scary events onto bright green construction paper. A “brave list,” he called it, before convincing his brother to make one of his own.
Focus on Prior Success
Isn’t it fascinating how our minds work when faced with worry? We completely forget about all of the other times we’ve conquered our fears. Instead of focusing on past success, we center our thoughts on a long list of disastrous “what if” scenarios.
“The worst part of worrying is that those bad things never happen,” my son said. “I picture the worst events, but they never come true.”
“I do that too,” I told him.
My oldest child is a little clone of me. He doesn’t look like me, but his brain works much the same way mine does. I often joke that he inherited 99.9% of my personality.
We can both spend a ridiculous amount of time creating false narratives of our future, even though we know that “bad things” rarely happen.
What if we replaced those negative “what-if” scenarios with success stories? What if we could picture that “brave list” every time our minds started to spiral with worries or anxiety?
Focus on the Positive
Later that night, I walked into my husband’s office and stumbled upon a bright blue piece of construction paper on his desk. It seems my conversation with the kids ignited his desire to create a “brave list” of his own.
It included items like:
- Started and ran a company
- Overcame unexpected job loss
- Got healthy and lost sixty pounds.
It made me realize we all need these lists in our lives.
Find Your Inner Confidence
“I lack confidence,” I told my life coach a few weeks ago. “I always have.”
“That’s not true,” she said quite matter of factly. “What about all of those stories you told me about feeling confident at work and school?”
She was right. I am not always timid and fearful. I believe I lack confidence, but it isn’t universally true.
At work, I often felt more confident than everyone else around me. Despite not having a degree in computer science, I was often the most vocal software engineer in the room.
And when I was a student, I never feared debate. I raised my hand and spoke up whenever I could. I can be shy in social situations and fearful of making mistakes, but I do not lack confidence overall.
Why didn’t I realize this until my life coach pointed it out to me? Perhaps it’s time to create a “brave list” or a “confidence list” of my own.
Reflect on Your Past Success
During anxious moments we often project our thoughts into the future. What if we could push back on the timeline of anxiety? What if we could stop projecting forward and reflect on our past accomplishments? Could written reminders decrease the intensity of our fears?
It’s easy to cast light on a negative future. Could a hand-written list help us focus on the positive instead?
I think it could. When my son felt anxious this week, I reminded him to look at his list. It doesn’t make all of his worries disappear, but it does make him feel just a little bit braver. Today, he went into the basement alone.
When I felt nervous about going to the doctor this week, I reminded myself of all of the times I’ve concocted worst-case scenarios that never came true. Despite a history of medical nightmares, so far, I have always pulled through.
Perhaps we all need lists to remind us of our past success. A brave list, a confidence list, a success list, call it whatever you want. The value isn’t in the name of the list you create.
It’s in the value of looking through that list when you feel worried, anxious, uncertain, doubtful, or afraid. Use your list to remind you of your past success. Hopefully, it will help you avoid concocting worst-case scenarios and help you to believe in yourself instead.