How FEAR Keeps You Stuck in the Midlife Muck


Fear is one of the most powerful motivators that plays a significant factor in how we show up in our lives every single day.

It’s not only powerful within ourselves, but it’s one of the most widely used tactics in our society to manipulate our beliefs and behaviors (think marketers & politicians!).

Our underlying fears have the power to influence our beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and actions.  It impacts what we say (or don’t say), the goals we set for ourselves, our ability to stretch ourselves and our willingness to step beyond the outer edges of our comfort zone.

It’s such a powerful tactic that it tends to be a favorite of our Inner Critics; they love to use fear as a means for keeping us safe and to ensure we survive.

But, for many of us, just surviving isn’t exactly how we want our lives to unfold.  We want more than mere survival.  We want thrills and adventures.  We want to push ourselves and see what we’re capable of achieving, and we want to bask in the glow of experiences we didn’t know were possible.

But, if we want to live that version of our lives, we can’t allow our fears to dictate our choices.

The power of fear

For many of us in our 40s, we’ve settled into a comfortable routine, in a life that may even feel a tad boring.

During this time, our craving for something more, something bigger, something better kicks into overdrive.  We can see some regrets in the rearview mirror, and we don’t want to continue down that path and generate more than necessary.

But, for most folks, fear stops them cold.

  • “I’m afraid I’ll fail, so why bother trying?”

  • “I’m afraid I’ll look stupid, so why tell them what I’m thinking?”

  • “I’m probably too old to change things now, so might as well settle in and just be grateful for what I have.”

All of these are examples of how fear keeps us on the sidelines of our life and stuck in the Midlife Muck.

Fear is a primal instinct.  

When we feel fear, our adrenaline kicks in, and we take action.  This is not a bad thing and is by design:  fear keeps us alive by avoiding dangers.

This instinct is very handy if our senses have just alerted us to a potential intruder in our house at 3:00 am!  But, it’s not particularly helpful if it keeps us from submitting our resume to our dream job because it’d be an entirely new experience.

We tend to have two reactions to fear:

  • Fight or flight:  When faced with fear, we spring into action to flee the danger.  If the house is on fire, we run out to safety; if we hear footsteps behind us late at night, we run, or prep to defend ourselves.

  • Freeze - In some cases, our fear leads us to be so terrified that we can’t move, or make a decision.  This is the “deer in the headlights” moments, and we freeze.

While these describe some of our responses to threats outside of ourselves, when we manifest fears from perceived threats (even if they don’t exist), they can have the same impact on our lives.

When we’re faced with potential public humiliation or failure, we retreat to our comfort zones and stay stuck in our lives.

How Fear Keeps you Stuck

So, how exactly does fear keep us stuck in the Midlife Muck?

Aside from the obvious - we don’t challenge ourselves to try new things and discard what no longer works in favor of new ways of being - fear also limits our ability to see all of the options AND the opportunities.

Fear causes paralysis, and in some cases, we’re so afraid that we can’t make a single move.  And, that my friends, is when you feel stuck and frustrated.

Our comfort zones become our favorite worn-in yoga pants that we refuse to throw out even though they’re riddled with holes, and they don’t really fit anymore.

To understand why fear has such a hold on us, we have to go beneath the fear and understand the motivation behind it.  

In most cases, if we dig deep enough, we’ll find we’re afraid of losing the basic, fundamental things we need in our lives:  Will I still be loved?  Will I still be safe?  Will I be financially stable?

Our inner critics know our vulnerabilities and use those to spin, what I call fear stories, to paint a doomsday picture of whatever you’re considering that feels uncomfortable or challenging.

Our fear stories are strongest, and our fear voices are loudest when we’re about to do something meaningful.  If we felt 100% confident before sticking our necks out for something, it would be “easy,” and we wouldn’t be stretching ourselves or growing.

So, the goal isn’t to get rid of our fear, because that’s not possible!

The goal is to minimize the fears that are over-the-top and completely unrealistic.  Then, for fears that may be more realistic, the idea is to feel the fear and discomfort and move with it instead of retreating.

If we’re not used to this, it can take practice to face that fear and push through it.

How to Manage Your Fear to Get Unstuck

In order to manage your fears so that you begin to get unstuck, try the following:

  • Let go of expectations:  When you create expectations around what you think will happen (or not happen), this is tying yourself to the end goal.  But, where you end up isn’t set in stone and will shift and change.  So, don’t worry that much about where you’re trying to get to...focus on the process of getting there.  That’s where the magic happens and where you learn.  In doing so, when you “fail,” you don’t see it as a failure, you see it as part of the journey, you learn from it, and you move on.

  • Focus on something else:  Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, or what you think you can’t do, or what you think won’t happen, focus on what’s right in front of you.  You can’t control a lot of those outcomes, but you can control what you do right now.  Take action - almost any action - and it will quiet the fear.  What’s one thing you can do to take a baby step forward, even if it’s 100 steps from where you ultimately want to get to?  I’m betting that baby step isn’t nearly as frightening as your overall fear for where you want to go.

  • Examine the fear:  What are you actually afraid of?  Since most of our fears are rooted in the potential loss of love, respect, security (financial, physical, emotional, etc.), or safety, question how realistic is the outcome of your fear.  Likely, upon closer and objective inspection, you’ll see it’s not as guaranteed as your Inner Critic would have you believe.  Even if it is, make a plan for it now, and that will slide you back into control and will lessen the fear.

  • Reach out to people around you:  Don’t carry the burden of your fears on your shoulders alone!  Share your thoughts and feelings with those who care about you and accept their support and help.  Sometimes just talking through what you fear will lessen it’s hold over you.

Final Thoughts

Fear on its own is a good thing - it keeps us alerted to dangerous situations.  But, the trick is to break our Inner Critic’s ability to use fear as a means to control us.

We have to challenge those fear stories, focus on what’s immediately in front of us, and lean on the people around us to push through those fears.

If we don’t, we’ll sadly stay stuck in the Midlife Muck and live a life well below our potential.  

So, what’s it going to be?  Be defeated by your fears, or overcome your fears?