It’s Not Easy Being First — Here’s How to Take the Leap

Learn these simple methods for how to face your fears of being the first to do something.

Being the first at something — anything — is exciting. It’s also terrifying.

Whether you’re the first in your family to embark on a new adventure, the first in line for a new roller coaster at the amusement park, or experiencing something that’s a “first time” for you, it takes a lot to take that first step. 

It’s tempting to stay within your comfort zone — stick to the paths you know so well, stay the course, keep up with what’s comfortable and easy. Anxiety and fear can get in the way of opening us up to new horizons.

I know I’ve had my fair share of anxiety getting in the way of things, and while being the youngest in my family hasn’t left much room for me to be the “first,” I know the anxiety of taking the first step well. 

Luckily, there are a few simple — still challenging, still difficult, but simple — ways to work with your mind and body to take that leap. 

Lean into the anxious feelings

It’s tempting to ignore, avoid, or reassure your anxiety. Either you pretend it isn’t there and try to push every scared thought out of your mind, or you spend all your time arguing with yourself about why your fears won’t happen.

Both of these strategies are fruitless. The more you try to pretend you aren’t anxious, the more nagging that voice or feeling will become. Fear and emotions are not bad on their own. They’re our mind’s way of protecting us from dangerous situations and keeping us safe. So if we try to ignore them, those fears and those sensations will only get stronger. 

And while reassuring yourself that nothing will go wrong can feel helpful in the short-term, it causes us to become reliant on the tiring mental argument that both ignores any threats we might run into (saying “it’s not going to happen” doesn’t feel so good when there is a chance of something uncomfortable happening) and causes us to get stuck in a feedback loop. Every time we experience an anxious thought, we reassure ourselves and fulfill this exhausting, tedious cycle — a cycle we become more reliant on every time we use the strategy. 

Instead, it’s helpful to spend some time with the anxious thought, pondering it and working through what’s really behind the fear. When I’m doing this with myself, I use cognitive behavioral therapy strategies and ask myself three questions: what’s the worst thing that could happen (my mind usually already comes up with that on its own), how likely is that to happen, and could I tolerate it if it did happen? These questions settle down the anxious flurry in my head by acknowledging the possibility of something scary happening, but also putting it in context and helping me remember my own strength. 

Do it — and do it scared

After we’ve answered these questions — and reminded ourselves that no matter how frightening the outcome, we can tolerate that distress — the next thing to do is to take that first step, and do it scared. 

We have illusions in our mind about being the first to break a barrier and doing it proudly, smiling all the way with this triumphant air about us because we always knew we could do it. But the reality of the situation is, being the first to go down uncharted territory is scary! There’s no reason to pretend it’s not. We aren’t less inspiring or groundbreaking if we do something scared. We can’t expect our fears to magically disappear just because we make the decision to do something new.

But doing something scared doesn’t make us weak; it makes us even braver. And every time we do something new, despite our fear, it reminds us of just how much we can tolerate — and just how strong we are. 

It’s easy to see someone else’s experience of breaking a barrier and notice only their bravery and joy. But my hope for every person doing something new is that they embrace their fear, listen to their mind with gratitude, and truly experience what being the first looks like — anxiety and all.

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