Coaching Yourself: How To Deal With Fear

By Molly Gordon

Molly Gordon

Molly Gordon

As a coach, I know that fear is responsible for much, if not most, frustration and failure. When my clients learn to work with and overcome their fears and anxiety, they step into a world of virtually unlimited possibility and satisfaction. I believe this article will help you understand more about fear and choose how you respond to it, creating a space for greater meaning and prosperity in your life.

When dealing with fear, it is helpful to realize that not all fears are created equal. Timothy Gallwey and Robert Kriegel devote an entire chapter to two kinds of fear in their book “Inner Skiing,” which they call Fear 1 and Fear 2. Fear 1 magnifies danger and vulnerability while minimizing your sense of competence. In other words, Fear 1 is Fantasy Expectations Appearing Real.

Fear 2 mobilizes your whole being for effective action. It includes a series of marvelous physiological changes that prepare the body for peak performance. Fear 2 focuses attention, provides adrenaline for extraordinary effort, and sharpens perception. Fear 2 promotes effective action; Fear 1 paralyzes us and prevents action.


Make a list of all of your fears, writing as fast as you can to block the internal censor. Include EVERY fear, however small or irrational. Then read them aloud, suspending judgment. Allow yourself to feel the fear without grabbing onto the hot air balloon. Notice that being afraid does not have to mean losing ground. If it feels comfortable, share your list with a friend. Before sharing your list, explain that you simply want a witness, that you are playing with how it is to acknowledge your fears without being pulled off center by them. Be clear that you are not asking for help and that you do not need advice. You do not need to be fixed. Ask your friend to simply listen, and to acknowledge you for being conscious of your fears.

Now, you have the opportunity to sort your fears by type. Work through your list, labeling each fear as:

  • Fear 1
  • Fear 2
  • Not sure, or includes aspects of both types of fear.

Writing down your fears is a powerful step in dealing with fears and anxiety and eventually managing them. Until you write them down, they are like so many vehicles in gridlock. Once you have them on paper, you can park some and move others, clearing a space for forward movement. In this way, writing down your fears creates a space for awareness and choice. (Tip: Refrain from judging yourself or your fears. Just list and label them.)


Once you have a list, notice where Fear 1 and Fear 2 show up. The following distinctions will help:

  • Fear 1 promotes panic and confusion. Fear 2 promotes clarity and purpose.
  • Fear 1 is often about saving face. Fear 2 is about stepping out of your comfort zone.
  • Fear 1 triggers avoidance of the facts. Fear 2 heightens awareness and perception.
  • Fear 1 wants you just to stop. Fear 2 wants you to move forward powerfully and safely.
  • Fear 1 magnifies danger and vulnerability. Fear 2 calls on our capacity to respond to danger.
  • Fear 1 originates in our ego mind. Fear 2 is a whole-system response.

Both types of fear are present in many situations. What is important is to use your powers of assessment and discrimination to turn down the volume on Fear 1 while calling on Fear 2 for the energy and focus to move forward. With practice, you can actually transform Fear 1 into Fear 2 by focusing and accurately assessing the real risk and your real competence.

For example, Fear 1 makes a terrified skier (and I speak from experience!), see a shear drop where the slope is actually quite moderate. When the skier stops and measures the actual slope by holding her pole parallel to it, she increases her awareness of actual conditions, reducing the influence of Fear 1. By continuing to examine the slope, seeing in her mind’s eye how she would ski the slope if she chose to, she further reduces panic. When at last she takes off down the hill, trusting in her competence and in her assessment of the challenge, she completes her shift from Fear 1 (panic) into Fear 2 (concentrated exhilaration).

Learning to deal with fears in this manner takes practice. The pay off is potentially unlimited as you remove barriers to learning, performance and joy.

About the author:

Molly Gordon, MCC, is a leading figure in business coaching and personal growth coaching, writer, workshop leader, and frequent presenter at live and virtual events worldwide. Her free online guide “How to Overcome Fears and Anxiety” outlines four principles that have freed dozens of her clients and hundreds of readers of her newsletter from crippling fear. If you work through this guide and keep a 21-day journal of your experience with fear, you will set in motion a long-term shift that will empower and support you for the rest of your life.