Fear: Fight or Flight?

Fear: Fight or Flight?

Fear is one of our biggest inhibitors. We can let fear stop us from doing something we love, from trying new things, or from making a needed change.

When we are afraid, there are two choices. We can let fear control us; or, we can be brave, rise above our fear, and grow.


Fear is one of the strongest emotions we feel. It is a very real defense mechanism that was developed to protect us from perceived threats to our survival. A response that developed out of necessity has continued on and cannot distinguish between real and perceived threats. Fear of uncertainty, failure, and the unknown can be just as strong as the fear of a dangerous situation.

Fear can summon two basic instincts: fight or flight. But it can also paralyze us. It can prevent us from doing anything.


The fear of failure is common, and it is very real. I think it’s safe to say that everyone has experienced this feeling at least once in their lives. Anyone trying to step outside their comfort zone in even little ways can quickly experience the effects of fear.

There are also two kinds of failure: action and inaction. We may fail when we try something, but we will always fail if we never try.

When people reflect on their biggest regrets it is often the actions never taken and not the actions that lead to failure.

“Ultimately, what we regret is not failure, but the failure to act.” – Adam Grant

Reframe Failure

Fear can actually be a very good thing. Not only does it bring possible threats to our attention it can be used as a catalyst for change.

Instead of running away or letting it paralyze us, we can use it as motivation to reach a point in our lives where that thing [that causes so much fear and anxiety] no longer has any power over us.

Reframing can be difficult, and requires a growth mindset. Reframing allows us to understand we are not fixed in our current situation, we have the ability to change. In fact, fear and failure provide us with opportunities for growth.

Small Wins

Overcoming fear is a huge undertaking. And it’s not something that can be done all at once. Small wins leads to big wins. The hardest step is the first one. Once you’ve made that initial effort, momentum can work in your favor and the following steps are much easier.

Personal Story

When I was deciding to go back to school I didn’t decide and go back right away. It was a process that took a few years.

I finished my undergraduate work in 2005, and I was afraid that I had been out of school so long that I wouldn’t have the knowledge I needed to be successful. I worried about balancing time with everything I needed to do. I worried about the money. I worried that even if I graduated that I wouldn’t be able to find a job and I would have spent all that money on something that didn’t matter anyway… Fears circulated around and around.

So, I started small. First I looked into different options. Looking at the different degrees didn’t mean I actually had to enroll or commit to a program… I looked at different possibilities and changed my mind several times. But it was a first step.

Then I looked at different schools. Did I want to go to a school in residency or did I want to take online classes? What was the cost differences? What were financial aid options? Again, looking did not require commitment. No big deal right?

A year or so later I decided that I really did want to go to school and I started applying. This was a hard step for me. I had to pay money just to apply. I had to take a test. What if I failed? What if I wasted the application money and didn’t get accepted? What if I wasn’t good enough?

The only way to know was to try. So I applied. The first school didn’t work out. The schedule was not accommodating for the needs of my family. Fear rose again. Now what? Maybe I was wrong to think I could do this…

I tried again. This time when I applied I was accepted. Oh no! I was accepted, now I had to actually do the work and take the classes. What was I thinking?

I took the first class. It was challenging to do everything I needed for school, for work, and for my family but I did it! That’s the win I needed. Being successful in that first class helped me believe in myself. Then I took the next class, and the next. One step at a time. I didn’t quit even though I wanted to, many times. It was hard. It was really hard. I had to make sacrifices. I had to work. But I kept going until I finished. And when I finished that last class I felt amazing! Tired, but amazing. I did it!

Once I finished I looked back and saw how far I had come, how much I had learned despite all the stumbling blocks and little failures that threatened to stop me from reaching my goal. With each win I got stronger and stronger. I still felt the fear, I still had the negative thoughts but it was easier and easier to acknowledge them and still choose the action I wanted to take. Fear was no longer in control. I was.

In the comments below, tell me: what is the biggest thing that holds you back?

Think of a time you overcame a fear. What was it? How did you rise? Was it easier to face that fear the next time?


  1. Grant, A. (2016). The Mission. Retrieved from https://medium.com/the-mission/to-overcome-the-fear-of-failure-fear-this-instead-d880ce3e5ccf#.tg37si3h3

Krista Palo

I'm Krista, the owner and creator of Evolve. I have a masters degree in Business Administration and I am passionate about development, motivation, and change. I love stories in all of their forms, and believe in continuous learning and the power of positivity.

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2 thoughts on “Fear: Fight or Flight?

  1. I’m almost embarrassed to comment 🙂 because I know this should not be a fear, but I think the biggest fear I have is of what people think of me. I know it doesn’t matter, and I know it shouldn’t matter, and I know it definitely shouldn’t keep me from doing anything, but it is definitely my big fear-related obstacle. I’m always telling my kids that what other people think needs to be taken with a grain of salt because sometimes opinions are based on misinformation or parts of information. I need to listen to that advice myself. 🙂 I love that you mentioned Growth Mindset. It makes a huge difference in change. Great thoughts.

    • You are not alone there. Even if we know in our mind that we shouldn’t care what others think about us, it can still take a lot of work to actually believe it. I know this is something that I am constantly working on.