I’m writing this post while sipping mint tea and munching on a refreshing ceviche in a cafe in a little town sitting beneath the slopes of Arenal volcano, Costa Rica. If I’d written it last week, I’d have been typing from a penthouse apartment overlooking the cityscape of Medellin, Colombia. A week earlier than that, and I’d have been seeking inspiration while staring out at the Caribbean sea visible from the mountain village of Minca, Colombia.
No, I’m not in the midst of an expensive package tour through central and south America. And I’m not on a self-organised holiday where I try to cram as much travel as I possibly can into my annual vacation leave.
This is my everyday life.
I don’t have a home address. I travel with just one (admittedly VERY heavy) bag of worldly possessions. And I’ve chosen to move with the seasons and avoid winter for – ideally – the rest of my natural life. How? By making the decision to ditch my unloved 9-5 job and join the growing legion of “digital nomads” – people who move around and live in different towns/cities/countries while working online. I’ve dreamed of doing this for years.
Now I’m living the dream.
Well, almost. I still have some wrinkles to iron out (like earning enough money to survive without dipping into my savings) but I’ve taken the big leap of faith and and have started taking the steps to build a life I love. I’ve taken action, and am making it happen.
I know there are many other women out there who also dream of a lifestyle of permanent travel, but haven’t taken any steps to make it a reality. I’ve met you in hostels in Vienna and on hiking trails in Chiang Mai. We’ve chatted over steaming bowls of pho in Hanoi and confessed our dreams over fluroescent-coloured cocktails in Playa del Carmen. Hell, I WAS you for about four years before I took the plunge and took steps to make my dream a reality.
Why haven’t you made your dream a reality yet?
I’m not just talking to aspiring digital nomads now, but anyone who has a big dream that they’ve been thinking about or mulling over for ages – months, years, perhaps even a decade or more. Why haven’t you just done that crazy something that you’ve been yearning to do? Whether it’s travelling the world, buying yourself a sports car, or retraining to become a massage therapist, you deserve to create a life that makes you happy regardless of whether other people think it’s a good idea or not.
And if it’s something you’ve been dreaming of obsessing over for months or years or decades, then it’s a fair chance that it’s something that really would make you happy.
I’ve heard SO many excuses over the years from people who have postponed achieving their dreams. But they all boil down to one big reason (drum roll please)…
Now, fear is totally natural. It’s a normal reaction to the unknown. It’s your brain’s way of trying to keep you safe. Your brain figures that the known is always safer than the unknown, so it rolls out Fear to help convince you to keep things as they are. Unfortunately, if you listen to this over-protective Fear instinct all the time, it will keep you stuck in the same rut, living the same day over and over. Groundhog Day (great movie, not so great in real life). If there’s something you desperately want to do, you’ll need to thank Fear for its good intentions, then march it out the door. Preferably with a kick up the rear for good measure.
So how exactly do you do that? Everyone is different, so you’ll all have your own best way to combat Fear. I thought I’d share with you some tactics that I’ve seen work both for me, and for friends who I’ve pestered into listening to my advice. Pick one, or try them all. Arm yourself for your battle with the fear dragon and march bravely onwards, my friend.
1. Drown it in information
A big part of fear is about the unknown, the risk of changing the status quo, all the what-if’s associated with following your dream. So one way to combat fear of the unknown is to drown that sucker in information. So go crazy!
Buy books! Read blogs! Compile colour-coded dossiers with built-in index cards!
Find out as much as you can before taking the leap, so that the scary ‘unknown’ element of your venture gets smaller and smaller.
Now there’s a caveat attached to this recommendation. While it’s true that some of us need to wrap ourselves in a big, fluffy security blanket of information before we feel ready to take any action towards a goal, the fact is that it is impossible to eliminate 100% of the unknowns. Some unknowns are truly unknowable, until you get out there and start doing what you’re afraid to do. And it’s all too easy to use the need for just a little more information as an excuse to delay following your dreams.
You can go research-crazy, but at some point you’ll just have to take the leap. And you’ll feel oh so much satisfaction once you do.
2. Surround yourself with people who have already done what you’re trying to do
This is the number one way to fight the fear of moving towards your dreams. Surround yourself with people who have already achieved it, who are living the life you aspire to. You know that life that seems so far-fetched to you at the moment? Meet with these people, and you’ll see that what seems scary and/or crazy to you right now is just commonplace to them. And seeing that will give you the confidence to go ahead and do it yourself. You now know with complete certainty that it really is possible.
My favourite example of the power of peer proof is that of Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile. In the 1940s, the record time for running a mile was 4:01. After 9 years without the record being cracked, many people, apparently including some doctors and scientists, believed it was physically impossible for the human body to run any faster than this. We just weren’t built that way. It was impossible.
Roger Bannister felt differently. He trained his butt off. He believed he could do it. And on 6 May 1954, on a rainy and windy day, he ran a mile in 3:59.4. Was Bannister an exceptional superman with abnormal muscle development? No. In fact, his new world record was smashed just six weeks later. A year after that, three people ran sub-4-minute miles in the same race. And now the 4 minute mile is apparently beaten fairly regularly (though I can’t say it features anywhere on my to-do list). The only thing that changed was that people realised that it wasn’t impossible, saw or heard that someone really had done it, and started to believe it was possible for them too.
You can use peer proof to your own advantage, by seeking out someone who’s already done what you’re aspiring to do. Whatever it is that you’re aching to go after, odds are it’s been done by someone else before. Seriously.
Live a minimalist lifestyle while raising 6 children? Done.
Quit a $95,000 job to scoop icecream in the Caribbean? Also done.
Run your first marathon at age 89? It’s been done before.
Remodel your home based on the Star Trek USS Enterprise? Yep, even this one has been done before too.
Find people who have done what you’re hoping to do, get to know them (whether it’s by reading their books or blogs, joining or creating a Facebook group, inviting them for a cup of coffee, or starting an email exchange), and you’ll soon come to realise that if they can do it, you can too.
3. Visualise your goal as being already achieved
I know this may sound woo-woo to some of you, but there’s an increasing body of scientific evidence to show that consistently visualising an outcome can have positive effects on its achievement. Olympians do this all the time.
Set aside just five minutes, once or twice a day, to close your eyes and imagine what life will feel like once you’ve achieved your goal. If you haven’t yet done the Perfect Day Exercise, this is a great way to really step into the feelings of what you want, and what you expect to achieve. You can also stick some post-it notes containing affirmations onto your mirror, your wall, anywhere that you’ll see them every day. The more you get your subconscious believing that the goal has already been achieved, the more it will help create the conditions to bring it into your life.
4. Make the fear of NOT doing it greater that the fear of doing it
I’m all for self-manipulation, so let’s fight fear with fear! If you find yourself too scared to follow your dreams, then another tactic is to force yourself to imagine how scary it would be if you died having never given it a go. Can you imagine what it would be like to be on your deathbed, realising that you’d procrastinated so long that it was too late? No really, imagine that. I like to call this The Deathbed Test. Imagine yourself many, many, MANY years from now: You’re lying in a hospital bed. The lights are bright and the room is cold. You feel tired, and know that your time here is almost up — you’re on your deathbed. You close your eyes, and look back over your life.
What experiences do you most cherish? What do you wish you’d paid more attention to? What are your regrets?
Your time on earth has run out, you have no more chances to do the things you always wanted to do. Would this dream you’re currently procrastinating on taking action towards be something that you regret never trying? Are you happy to die having never given it a go? Will you really look back fondly on that time when you spent five years telling yourself you were doing the right thing or being responsible by not “selfishly” following your heart, by not upsetting anyone else’s expectations?
Those are questions that The Deathbed Test asks future-you to answer, and considering them now can really clarify whether this is something you should fight the fear and pursue. (By the way, if it turns out that it isn’t, then that’s useful information too. There’s no shame in deciding that something isn’t for you after all. As long as you won’t regret it later, then it will be the right decision for you).
So those are just a few tactics that I recommend for overcoming fear, and getting started on that crazy something you’ve been dreaming of doing for months or years. Are you ready to take your dreams out of your head and start making them a reality? You can try a few of these tactics at once, or just start with the one that calls to you the most.
Have you found these tips useful? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.