Fear is one of the most powerful forces in life. It affects the decisions we make and the actions we take. And while the primary role of fear is to keep us safe, it often becomes the obstacle that stands between us and our dreams and goals.

There are rational fears, the ones that are based in reality such as encountering a bear while on a hike in the woods, and there are the irrational fears that keep us stuck. These are the stories we tell ourselves about outcomes we believe will happen, with no factual basis. They usually begin in childhood and remain with us until something is changed. These can be labeled destructive fears.

It’s not always easy to recognize our fears and how they keep us stuck. Here are a few clues that experts say may help us determine if our life is guided by fear rather than joyful freedom:

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You see only the downside. Someone governed by fear tends to identify with the worse case scenario, focusing on the failure and pain.

You avoid anything new or unknown. Fear keeps you stuck, afraid to take a chance or step out of your comfort zone – even if your current situation is painful.

You stay small. Fear encourages you to avoid any potential failure or rejection.  You don’t push boundaries or experience growth and development.

You are indecisive. The fear of making the wrong decision keeps you from making any decision at all. Second guessing is second nature and avoidance becomes your way of life.

If you see yourself in any of these scenarios, how can you move past the fear?

First, become aware of what scares you and how you respond. Keep a journal and when you recognize a fear, jot it down. Then write down how you react when fears arise. Keep track of anything that seems significant. Learning about your fears can help you transform them.

Once you are aware of your thoughts and responses, you can employ a few strategies for change.

Use your imagination for good. Instead of letting your thoughts take you down a dark hole, imagine yourself in the situation with a positive outcome.

Take a time out. Don’t react immediately and give yourself some time and space for analysis. Clear your mind by focusing on your breath, taking a walk, or participating in any activity that calms you down. Then, when your mind is clearer, analyze the situation with a new perspective.

Talk to a friend or advisor. Gaining insight from someone on the outside can help you see a situation in a different light.

Remember, FEAR is nothing more than False Evidence Appearing Real. You can allow fear to stop you from taking action, or you can face, challenge, and overcome it. The choice is yours!