How You Can Redefine Fear

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Mindsets that shape your reality

I know, not a spider, but who wants to see that? Creepy! Besides, this is about mindsets.

Here’s what happened

My mother screamed. I ran into the kitchen to see her backing away from the kitchen counter.

“What happened?”

“There’s a spider!”

I approached the counter cautiously.

“Where’d it go?”

“Behind the microwave.” The panic in my mother’s voice sent a tingle up the back of my neck. I was about 12-years-old.

The microwave was positioned at an angle in the corner.

“What are we gonna do?” I asked, knowing neither my father nor brother were home.

It was up to us. We couldn’t simply let the spider stay behind the microwave. We’d never be able to go near that part of the counter again let alone use the microwave.

My mother rushed to the small bathroom off the kitchen and returned with a can of hairspray. She handed it to me.

“Get up on the counter so you can reach it better.”

There was no point in debating. I set the can down and boosted myself to the edge of the counter. The microwave was one of those really big ones from the 80s. It was heavy. I shoved it aside. Leaning back, I could see that the spider had made its way to the darkest depths of the corner. The spider was huge.

“Do you see it?” my mother asked.


“Spray it!”

I grabbed the can and started shooting. After a few seconds, I stopped.

“Is it dead?”

“I don t know”

“Spray it, again!”

A few minutes later, we both were back to whatever we were doing pre-spider. We’d left the mess for my father to clean up.

This is what fear can do to a person. We all know that when something scares us we react in three primal ways: freeze, flee, fight. Our brains are so fast at assessing a situation for danger that we cycle through these options within seconds.

Unfortunately, though, fear also can be the albatross around our necks.

I’m not talking about phobias (like the spider incident). I’m talking about those things that hold us back from accomplishing what we say we want in life.

Are you afraid of failure? Success? Imposter syndrome? Do you think you’re just not good enough, so why even try?

Step 1: Name your fear.

“Public speaking freaks me out.”

What do the researchers say?

These fears can all be summed up in one word: mindset.

Dr. Alia Crum, in her TEDx talk explains that mindsets are the lenses with which we perceive our world. Mindsets set up expectations and associations we have as we navigate our environment. How we think about something affects our physical, emotional, and behavioral outcomes. She and her colleagues conducted a great study that illustrates this point beautifully. It involved a group of housekeepers. You can find out more when you watch her talk.

Dr. Kelly McGonigal also alludes to the idea of mindsets in her book, The Willpower Instinct. A shift in mindset can lead to behavior change and positive outcomes.

Still not convinced?

Here’s an example of how I’ve used this information to propel me into action. Now that I’m older, the last thing I want to do is spend hours in a gym. In fact, I’m not even motivated to drive to a gym. Lifting weights is boring and repetitive.

Was I afraid to exercise? No. I was afraid of losing time. I was equating exercise to wasting time. In my mind, spending time going to a gym reduced my productivity which would lead to fewer positive outcomes financially. Crazy, right? I was prioritizing career productivity over health even though I know better! Even though I know the research.

My new language is, “exercise equals increased willpower.” I coudn’t believe how well that change in language worked. I read her book more than a year ago and I still equate exercise to increased willpower.

Reframing is the name of the game

Unlike the potential threat of a spider, most things we allow to hold us back aren’t actually dangerous or life-threatening. They simply require us to reframe the situation by changing the language we use to describe it. I know this seems simplistic, but I also know it works.

Step 2: Change how you describe your fear.

“I’m not nervous, I’m excited.”

A new definition of fear

The next time you’re afraid to tackle a new project, redefine fear.

Fear is:


I shared this acronym with our 12-year-old son and got his stamp of approval. I hope you find it useful in shifting your mindset around whatever is holding you back.

About KoriDMiller

Author. Facilitator. Coach. Together we make lasting, life-affirming changes.

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