Turning Fear Into Power


Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear.

Mary Manin Morrissey

I remember checking out that book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!, back in the '80s. And while I applaud anyone whose intention is to help others break through barriers to a more fulfilling life, I question whether that's really the best way to deal with fear. Here's my thinking:

It's true that most of our barriers are self-imposed and many of our fears are "False Evidence Appearing Real." But to me, staying in fear as you try to do what you're afraid of is like riding the waves on a skate board. It might kinda work -- but you're definitely surfing at a disadvantage!

I've heard certain performers who talk about the constant fear of going on stage. Barbra Streisand apparently takes anti-anxiety meds to get on stage. Adele talks about throwing up before performances. Singer Carly Simon once fainted on stage from fright and Laurence Olivier's manager often had to literally push him onto the stage. Of course, most of them say that the fear lessens once they're actually performing.

But I wonder how much greater these great performers would be (or would have been) if they had performed while feeling empowered and in The Zone rather than in fear?

The physiology and emotion of fear supports our survival, not our excellence. Think of a ski jumper whose only aim is to "not get hurt," an artist who wants everyone to like her work, or an executive focused on "not getting fired." They may keep pushing themselves to perform, but how great can they really be?

Rather than gritting our teeth and riding it out, I think it's much more productive and powerful to release that fear so that it doesn't run the show. But how?

First of all, appropriate fear needs to be respected. Fear's purpose is to help us survive. It's good to feel a little fear when you step into a dark alley or out on the edge of a cliff. In those moments, fear demands that you pay attention and be alert!

But inappropriate or unwarranted fear is another story. It's still a signal. But it's most likely a signal that we have an unconscious misunderstanding that our survival is in jeopardy when it really isn't.

For example, a student of mine had a client who was terrified of birds. It turns out that, as a toddler, a swarm of birds swooped down and stole his sandwich while his mother wasn't looking. By the time his mom turned around, he was on the ground crying -- and he was punished for that. Though he forgot the incident consciously as an adult, his unconscious mind retained the lesson that "birds equal danger." So every time he came near a bird, fear sounded the alarm in his body and emotions.

When we have persistent or unwarranted fear about something, it does no good to try and talk ourselves out of it. Fear isn't a rational, conscious process. You sit in the movie theater, knowing full well that there's no such thing as a zombie human flesh-eater (at least not in Hawaii!). Yet when the zombie actor jumps out of nowhere and attacks the little kid, your whole fear system lights up: heart races, jolt of adrenalin, shallow breathing, maybe even sweaty palms. The client I mentioned could have told himself "little birds can't hurt me" a million times yet still feel panic near a parakeet!

If we want to be rid of unwarranted fear, the place where the release needs to happen is in the unconscious mind.

In the Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) I teach and practice, we have a specific technique called the Mental Emotional Release (MER) process. It allows you to revisit the event that is at the root cause of your fear. From that vantage point, your unconscious mind is encouraged to release the fear and gain a different lesson from the incident, one that is more empowering. Releasing the fear at this root cause is like unplugging that one particular Christmas light bulb, the one that immediately extinguishes all the others in the string.

At that point, our fear can be transformed into power.

I've learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom -- how great is that?

Soledad O'Brien

May you be fearless!

Mahalo --

Dr. Matt.

Got questions? Please respond here or contact me through my Facebook fan page or my blog.

Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students to be totally empowered using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, Mental Emotional Release® (MER®)therapy, and Empowerment Fit, a program that incorporates targeted mind/body/spirit practices to create optimal physical fitness and health. Download his free NLP class. For more about Dr. Matt, visit his blog at

For more articles by Dr. Matt, click here.


HuffPost's GPS for the Soul app is based on two truths about human beings. First: We all have a centered place of wisdom, harmony and balance within us. Second: We're all going to veer away from that place, again and again and again. What we need is a great course-correcting mechanism -- a GPS for the Soul -- to help us find our way back to that centered place, from which everything is possible.

Because no one knows better than you what helps you de-stress and tap into that place of peace inside yourself, it's important for you to create your very own GPS guide -- a personalized collection of whatever helps you course-correct. Email us at and we'll set you up with your very own HuffPost blogger account to share your guide on the site. If you're already a blogger, we encourage you to upload your personal guide today. We can't wait to see what you have to share.