It’s embarrassing to admit.
But as an adult, I developed a huge phobia of driving.
I spent most of my life riding New York City subways. Put me on the 1 train, in the worst part of the Bronx, and I’ll happily find my way home. Put me in the driver’s seat of a car on an open country road, and I’d quickly start to panic.
Sweaty palms, racing heart, clenched muscles. Panic.
My phobia was unreasonable. Inconvenient. And a constant source of frustration in my marriage.
I could never share the burden of long drives out of town. I always needed a chaperone. And I wasted way too much money on cabs.
It was a problem. And quite frankly, I didn’t want to face it. I was happy working around my phobia, except for the fact that it drove my husband crazy.
And then we had kids, and I was going to be the primary caregiver as I worked part-time. Driving them to and from school, ballet classes and friends houses would be a necessity. And so I had to figure out how to conquer my unreasonable but paralyzing fear.
We all have fears that riddle our lives. Fears that block us from moving forward. From accomplishing the things we dream about. From feeling the freedom and happiness we deserve.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had to figure out how to overcome a terrifying fear. I used to be deathly afraid of speaking in class or in a meeting, topics for another day. What I realized is that the same principles apply to overcoming almost any fear.
If you have fears that are handicapping your life or your dreams, here are five simple tricks for tackling them:
1. Leave Yourself No Choice.
When my daughter was starting nursery school, I had a choice: I could either send her to the nursery school conveniently located one block away (sparing myself from ever having to get behind the wheel) or I could send her to the school we really loved, in another part of town.
Drop offs and pick ups, every single day. Baby in tow. I panicked at the mere thought of it.
At that point, I hadn’t been behind the wheel in years. To me, a car was a weapon, and I was petrified of firing one. The thought of handling this weapon with my children in the backseat paralyzed me.
But I couldn’t live with myself if I let my fears interfere with what was best for my daughter, so I told my husband:
“I’ll take care of it.”
I didn’t how I was going to do it, but I was going to give myself no choice – she was going to the school we loved. No matter what, I was getting behind that wheel.
And so from that moment on, I did whatever it took for me to get comfortable with my fears. I practiced with my husband in the car. I hired a driving instructor and unleashed my paranoia on him, taking lessons until he felt I was skilled enough to drive on my own. And I worked on calming my mind and releasing my tension as I buckled into the driver’s seat.
It’s now been over a year, and I happily drive my little girls around town every single day. Not only has my paranoia eased, but I find myself enjoying the ride, with music playing and giggles from the back seat.
When we give ourselves no other option, it’s amazing what we’re able to accomplish. If you have fears that are holding you back, find a way to give yourself no choice but to act in spite of them.
2. Take It One Block at a Time.
To get me through the early fretful days of driving with my children in the car, I constantly reminded myself of one simple truth:
“I only need to make it to the end of this block.”
This became my mantra.
I didn’t need to worry about how far our destination was, about the busy and dangerous parking lot that awaited me when I arrived, about reversing when there are little feet running nearby.
I just needed to make it to the end of each block.
One block at a time. Simple. Easy. Doable.
Whatever your fear is, you can break it down into easy doable steps. One minute at a time. One paragraph at a time. One step at a time.
The easier you make things, the faster you reach your destination. And you may even find you enjoy the ride.
3. Prove Yourself Wrong.
I made a lot of mistakes as I developed my driving legs. A lot. And I’m sure I’ll continue to make more. But something else has happened that surprised me.
As others on the road made their own mistakes – people walking into the street without looking, cars backing up when they should have waited, sudden unanticipated slamming of the brakes in front of me – I’ve found that my reflexes are far faster and far more reliable than I ever would have imagined.
I assumed I’d be careless, but I’m reactive.
I assumed I’d constantly feel like a threat to others, but I feel confidently cautious.
I assumed I’d always drown in fears about my little girls’ safety, but instead I feel empowered as their protector.
It’s amazing what happens once you move forward into your fears. We often assume the worst in ourselves, but if given the opportunity, you may find that it’s your best self that gets behind the wheel.
4. Shift Gears on Your Focus.
Sometimes, when we put all the focus on ourselves, our fears multiply in size and magnitude. They become monsters that are WAY bigger than us and we simply can’t handle them.
But when you shift your focus to someone or something else, it becomes much easier to tame those beasts.
As I look back in the rearview mirror at my two young daughters tightly buckled into their carseats, I know I have a job to do. I have to keep them safe, no matter what. They are my focus and they’re counting on me.
When my older daughter was a baby, I got in a cab with her. The driver raced down the highway at an obnoxious speed – while texting. I realized in that moment that no one would be more responsible behind the wheel when driving my kids around than me.
Every time my fears start to bubble up again, I remind myself of that. Their safety matters way more than my fears. My monsters can ride in the trunk where they won’t distract me, because I have a job to do.
Similarly, when I first started writing blog posts, I used to feel a terrifying panic every time I hit “publish.” Then I started to ask myself, “could this post help at least one person?” If the answer was yes, my fears subdued.
Shift your focus. Find a cause greater than your fears and your mighty monsters will suddenly shrink down small enough to throw in the trunk of your car where they can’t bother you.
5. Find Your Truth.
I was scared of driving because I felt like I couldn’t handle the responsibility. I assumed I’d be a bad driver and I worried endlessly about hurting someone.
Like most fears, these were lies I told myself based on faulty beliefs about my capabilities. To conquer my fears, I would need to alter my beliefs.
I happen to have quite a few friends who have the same driving phobia (not so uncommon when you grow up in New York City, I guess). One friend was able to conquer it. She said she realized that “Any fool can get a driver’s license. I know I’m more capable than most fools.”
As I thought about that foolish cab driver, who felt it was okay to text while speeding with a baby in the backseat, I realized that I’m way more capable than I give myself credit for. I was certainly far more responsible than that man.
Our fears usually surround things we long for. We wouldn’t long for these things if we weren’t capable of handling them.
For me driving represented a certain freedom and independence that I longed for but was afraid of. I feared I wasn’t capable of handling so much control.
But the truth is, I am. And so I changed my belief system, which changed everything.
Your fears are not your truth. Find your truth and you will live up to it.
Appreciate Your Fears.
Fears are valuable teachers. They show you what you’re longing for.
Follow those longings. Give yourself no choice but to tackle your monsters. And replace the lies you tell yourself about your inadequacies with the truth of your potential.
There will never come a day when all of your fears vanish. It’s impossible.
So you might as well learn how to live with them – how to shrink them down in size and shove those buggers into the trunk of your car so you can enjoy the ride.
One easy block at a time.
What fears are you struggling with? Please share this post with anyone you know who might benefit from it.