A Coaching Power Tool By Olayide Odediran, Transformation Coach, NIGERIA
Identifying and Transforming Fear vs. Expansion
Fear has the ability to split us open like a knife does a pomegranate, spilling seeds of beauty and incredible possibility from the inside. Meera Lee Patel
According to Verywell Mind (2022), fear is a natural, powerful, primitive human emotion that alerts us to the danger or threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological. The powerful nature of the emotion is evident in its ability to invalidate the perceived autonomy and control clients have over their decisions and lives. This likely occurs because of the multifaceted nature of fear itself.
As captured by Meera Lee Patel (2018) in her book, “My Friend Fear“, fear
begins as one thing and ends up as another, splitting itself into one million pieces that scatter off in every direction.
This ability to morph and rear its head in multiple aspects of a situation fuels its power.
The primitive nature of fear stems from the biological aspect of the response it triggers. Fear triggers a fight or flight response in the body that is not processed by reason. Clients are not afraid because they have reasoned that it is the best response to a situation. Rather, they have found themselves feeling afraid and then must address that fear to move forward. One of my clients depicted this beautifully. She described her fear as a wall in front of her, and she admitted that she didn’t know how it got there, or what it was made of. She had not chosen to be afraid; she just realized one day that she was. She did not consciously build the wall; she just realized one day that it was there.
When we are born, we are fearless, driven by curiosity and a desire to expand our physical and emotional boundaries. As we grow older, this curiosity is replaced by a need to feel secure, which is protected by our fear. There is an opportunity here for the coach to unearth the true fear that a client is facing and what they are unconsciously protecting. It is only when the true fear is being addressed that it can be channeled into an alternative state.
It is tempting to name and remain with the most evident fear, but this is rarely the root of the matter. For example, as the poster, ‘The Reality of Fear’ states, ‘you are not afraid of the dark; you are afraid of what’s in it. Therefore, the coach must dig deeper and would find elements of security underpinning the fear. Some of these elements have been identified by Meera Patel (2018) as understanding, acceptance, community, love, and freedom. The coach would likely then also find secondary emotions like shame or guilt (Meera Patel, 2018).
When we think back to when last we were unafraid, we are likely to realize that we don’t remember a time when we were without fear, though we may remember a time when we worked through the fear to something more positive. This is the reason why I have chosen fear as my initial perspective of focus. We all live with fear – small and big ones, reasonable and unjustified ones. We must all find a way to transform it if we are to move to an empowering state and take positive steps forward.
In my coaching practice, the danger averted by fear has most often been found to be psychological. Clients tend to be afraid of the consequence of taking an action, rather than being harmed physically. The feeling of being afraid is usually evident when the client’s feelings and assumptions are explored, and ‘what ifs’ are unearthed. For example, “what if the business fails?” “what if I don’t survive this?”, “what if they find out that I don’t really know what I am doing?”. These questions would be so overwhelming that the client would feel stuck.
Fear vs. Expansion Explanation
Below are some questions that the coach can use to begin the process of identifying and transforming fear:
Unearthing the Fear (Find It)
- What are you afraid of?
- What does your fear look like?
- Where is the fear coming from?
- What makes this fear important for you?
- When you are focused on xxx, what are you avoiding?
Listen to the client’s story for words like ‘safe’, ‘protected’, or ‘comfortable’, words that might indicate an uneasiness stepping out of a current comfort zone.
Identifying It (Feel It)
- When you don’t acknowledge the fear, what are you acknowledging?
- What are you afraid will happen if…?
- What about the fear scares you the most?
- What is your fear telling you?
- What does your fear feel like?
I remember asking my client with the proverbial wall of fear how she would like to approach getting rid of the wall. In response, she said that she didn’t feel she could climb the wall or walk around it. In a way, it did not feel like something she could surmount, though she wanted to be in an ‘open field without the wall’. As we worked through the session and flipped her perspective, she mentioned that the wall had ‘disappeared’, and that ‘space had been created for more positive feelings.
This is peculiar. We are often told to get over our fears, or to ‘surmount them’, but in my experience, clients with that I have successfully moved forward have not surmounted anything at all. Rather, they have used fear to channel and manifest their desires. Meera Patel (2018) hints at this when she says “fear is not something that we feel because we lack the strength to overcome it – in fact, fear isn’t an obstacle to overcome at all. Fear is a light that’s meant to guide us”. I would argue that fear is a light that is meant to guide us to our expansion.
You must do the thing you think you cannot do. Eleanor Roosevelt
In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. You have the capacity for anything. Pablo Casals
Success is when we are finally true to ourselves. Dr K Bradford Brown
The way in which fear guides us to light is by showing us what really matters to us – what we are afraid of, is what we truly care about. For example, if we have a fear of being rejected, it means that we really care about belonging. By allowing ourselves to see what it is that fear might be showing us, we allow ourselves to be open to a world of possibilities. We allow ourselves to expand.
A client of mine came to her session wanting to understand what was stopping her from ‘selling herself as a coach the same way she had successfully sold products as a saleswoman over many years. She placed emphasis on the need to develop a to-do list and update her LinkedIn page, but even in our session, it was evident she couldn’t commit to the tasks she identified. The words ‘it doesn’t feel good’ kept emerging, and then she mentioned feeling like an imposter like she ‘doesn’t belong in this world’. This was the true block – a fear that if she exposed herself and was seen in the light of her new role as an independent coach versus where she used to be in the corporate world, she would not be accepted or seen as being enough. She was afraid that her achievement was not deserved and that she was unworthy of recognition. In her words, she felt ‘disappointed that she wasn’t there yet.
At this point, the opportunity for the coach to support the client to flip their perspective from fear to expansion lies in helping them create the room that they can expand into. In my other client’s words, helping them ‘create space’ for more positive feelings. In practice, this is:
- Helping the client see what true wishes their fear is guiding them to
- Helping the client visualize and determine what it is they need, and who they need to be, to realize that wish
What my client’s fear highlighted is her most intimate wish to be an effective coach. She was then able to form a visualization of herself as that effective coach and she advised her present self to think about her strong suite of coaching qualities, her achievements so far, and her passion for coaching. By following this light, she had a shift, and she was able to transform her fear into an expanded perspective. She said:
‘Do you know what? I said I wanted to come up with three items (to market myself with) and I started with LinkedIn. But I don’t really need that. I just need to remind myself of this passion, and how great it feels talking about it as I feel now, and just singing about it with love. The only thing standing between me and me becoming bigger (expanding) as I want, is me not doing necessary things. And I don’t need to write them down because I know exactly what those things are. That’s a good feeling! I can do it (be a good coach) and the only person that is making a big deal out of this is me. Other people will be like ‘oh she’s doing this!’, ‘oh great for her’, that’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to give myself two weeks and then I am going to be out there on one of my (marketing) channels’.
This is the power of the expansion perspective in action – an empowered client who can unearth their deepest desires, see their own limitless potential to accomplish this and take positive steps to make it happen. Expansion asks us to strip away the limitations of fear, and expand our view, ourselves, and our world into what we could be, trusting that every lived experience is valuable. Whereas fear drives us in one limited direction, expansion invites us to lean into our free will and to choose from several possibilities. Most significantly, it asks us to choose without the shadow of demands and false beliefs that arise from fear. This is its hallmark– choosing based on ‘insight and purpose (I will, or I am willing …because of what I value)’, rather than fear. …There is no ‘or else’ (Sabbage, 2018). My client demonstrated this hallmark when she shifted her language from ‘I have to put myself out there, and even talking about copying someone else’s LinkedIn profile to do so (!) to say ‘I choose to put myself out there. I don’t have to, but I choose to because I love what I do and who I am as a coach, and it makes me feel alive. Her language also shifted to an empowered perspective.
The coach can facilitate expansion by asking some of the following questions:
Expanding (Flip It)
- What do you really want?
- Who do you really want to be?
- What would you do if you were not afraid?
- What will make you most alive (your goal)?
- So what if you’re afraid?
- What happens when you think of yourself as (self without the fear)
- In response to fear statements – Do you really believe that?
- How long will it be before you feel comfortable being (what they are afraid of)?
- What is your fear doing to you?
- What is your fear doing to (your goal)?
As a result of the expansion perspective, the client stands in their truth changing not just their feelings, but also their actions and beliefs. The expansion perspective allows them to utilize their fear to lead them to their magic (Patel, 2018).
Lifehack. Six Harsh Truths about the Reality of Fear you may not Realize.
Patel, M. (2018) My Friend Fear: Finding Magic in the Unknown. Penguin Random House, UK.
Sabbage, S. (2018) Lifeshocks: And How to Love Them. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, UK
Verywell Mind. Phobias: What is Fear?