Image by Kriss Szkurlatowski

© Gaye Wilson 2010

I’ve heard of people being paralysed with fear before, and I’ve seen it – they go rigid, stare into space, and can’t move. It takes ages to come out of it.

But paralysed BY fear? I’m not talking about the person who’s afraid of heights who freezes when he sees a long drop, although it’s related. I’m talking here about being so afraid of something that hasn’t happened yet that you can’t do anything. This type of paralysis isn’t so much a physical paralysis as a mental one. (Trust me, there’s a subtle difference!)

I’m in that situation now. I’m paralysed by fear about my studies.

My penultimate Russian exam is in a week’s time, but I can’t make myself study. I’m afraid I will fail.

There are all sorts of reasons why this is a reasonable fear. The major one (and ultimately the only one that really counts as far as the exam is concerned) is that I haven’t studied enough. Why? Because I have experienced the absolute worst six months in my entire life, and study has been at the bottom of my list of things to do and worry about.

The problem now is how to get out of my funk and do enough study to pass the exam.

Yesterday, when I mentioned that I was having trouble motivating myself to study, someone said to me: “Just do it!”

Hmm, it’s actually not that easy to “just do it” when you’re afraid. If I could “just do it”, I’d be a billionaire by now. But the definition of courage is to take action when you are afraid. If there’s no fear involved, it’s not courage.

Here are some thoughts on how to get out of paralysis that is caused by fear:

1. Acknowledge the fear.

Realise that the fear is what is stopping you from moving forward, not the actual task. Once you’ve acknowledged that it’s actually fear that is the obstacle, you might be able to move away from it.

2. Acknowledge where you are.

Okay, you’ve realised that you’re paralysed by fear. Now look at where you are in relation to the achievement of your goal. Where did you stop in the process? Once you know where you are, you can start to figure out what you have to do from now on.

3. Take one small step NOW to rectify the problem.

What one thing can you do today to move you forward? Do that one thing. Then do another one.

4. Enlist help.

In my case, I can enlist help from the lecturer (done that, she’s very supportive), from fellow students, from friends, from family. The type of help obviously depends on the type of problem. For me, the obvious help would be to get someone to test me on vocabulary. And/or to get a Russian friend.

5. Talk to a coach or counsellor.

Coaches are amazing people. They can motivate, stimulate and rejuvenate. They have tricks up their sleeves that will move the most stubborn blocks. Counsellors do something similar, but might be more suited to working out why you have the block in the first place.

6. Realise that this too will pass.

Most things in life are temporary. Once you realise that the situation you’re in has a sunset clause (i.e. it won’t last beyond a certain date), you can work through it. The thing now is to get through this period with the best possible outcome.

7. Focus.

Work out the best possible outcome under the circumstances, and focus on how you will achieve it.

The trick is obviously not to let fear paralyse you in the first place, but if you do find yourself in that position, screw up your courage, get help and take baby steps towards your goal.

Now I’m going to go away and learn ten Russian words. And hope that helps to banish the fear just a little bit.