Navigating Fear: Sonia McDonald’s Guide to Courageous Living with the Emotion Wheel

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut? Like you can’t seem to shake the feeling of fear or anxiety that’s been holding you back for months or even years? Let me let you in on a little secret. Psst. We all feel that way from time to time. It’s only human, after all.

As humans, we experience a wide variety of emotions every single day. According to research by Greater Good Science Center faculty director Dacher Keltner, there are as many as 27 categories of emotions that all blend to create a human experience!

Trying to make sense of these feelings can be challenging. But understanding your emotions is key to finding the courage to move forward in life.

That’s where the emotion wheel comes in. This simple tool was developed by Dr Robert Plutchik. It provides an easy way to develop an understanding and awareness of our feelings and emotions.

Let’s discuss how to use the emotion wheel to understand your feelings, move from fear to courage and make decisions that align with your values while living a more meaningful life.

How To Understand The Emotion Wheel

The Emotion Wheel – Source.

According to the emotion wheel created by Dr Robert Plutchik, there are eight basic emotions: anger, disgust, anticipation, joy, fear, sadness, surprise, and trust.

Dr Plutchik also identified opposite pairs of emotions, which can help us to understand the relationship between different feelings and make sense of our reactive responses.

These core feelings can be further broken down into secondary emotions, allowing us to further understand the complexities of our feelings.

The opposite pairs are:

●     Anger – Fear

●     Joy – Sadness

●     Trust – Disgust

●     Anticipation – Surprise

In understanding how these opposite emotion pairings work together, we can begin to make sense of our inner world. 

By understanding the nuances of our emotions and recognising where we fall on the emotion wheel, we can better decide how we want to respond or act in any given situation.

For example:

●     Fear can be broken down into scaredness, weakness, or nervousness

●     Anger can be further explored as being hostile, aggressive, or frustrated

3 Components Of The Emotion Wheel

There are three different components of the emotion wheel, they include :

Colours: Each emotion is associated with a different colour on the wheel. This helps to quickly associate an emotion with its core feeling and understanding. As the intensity of each emotion increases, so does the colour on the emotion wheel.

Layers: Each emotion is broken down into a spectrum of intensities, with the understanding that these emotions can be felt at different levels in different situations.

Relations: Understanding the relationship between emotions is key to controlling our responses and reactions, both internally and externally.

The emotion wheel helps us to understand the nuances of our emotions. By understanding and recognising where we fall on the emotion wheel, we can better decide how we want to respond or act in any given situation.

Dealing With Fear

Fear is a normal part of life — it can be healthy and serve to protect us. However, excessive fear can be debilitating and prevent us from taking risks or going out of our comfort zone.

When we feel overwhelmed by fear, understanding how to use the emotion wheel to move from fear to courage is essential.

What Is Fear?

So, what is fear? Fear is one of the basic emotions typically caused by feeling threatened or in danger. It can also be triggered by fear of the unknown or fear of failure. 

Fear can manifest as physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, trembling, difficulty breathing and sweating.

According to Merriam-Webster, fear is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”

In understanding where we fall on the emotion wheel in terms of fear, we can begin to understand our discomfort and make positive changes.

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What Underlying Emotions Lead Us To Feel Fear?

We often think of fear as the main emotion we experience.

For example, we may be afraid because we care too much about what other people think of us (anticipation) or lack self-confidence in our capabilities (sadness). We may also feel fear because we have been betrayed by someone or they let us down before (trust).

By understanding the core emotions that lead to feeling fearful, we can better understand our reactions and responses in certain situations.

Many underlying emotions cause us to feel fear.

Such as feeling: 

●     Scared

●     Insecure

●     Threatened

●     Helpless

●     Inferior

●     Inadequate

●     Frightened

●     Excluded

●     Vulnerable

●     Persecuted

●     Weak

●     Anxious

●     Rejected

●     Overwhelmed

●     Worried

●     Worthless

●     Insignificant

●     Nervous

●     Exposed

While we may only think we are feeling fear, we are more than likely experiencing one or more of the underlying emotions above.

As an example, think of someone who is frightened of public speaking.

Some people are more frightened of public speaking than death! 

When thinking about fear in this situation, understanding how it is linked to underlying emotions, such as feeling inadequate or exposed, can help to make sense of the fear. 

Identifying and acknowledging feelings and taking steps to address them is the first step to turning your fear into courage! 

Most importantly, it is crucial to address the underlying problems rather than focusing on a surface-level problem.

How To Identify Underlying Emotions?

So you’re now at the stage where you are ready to identify your underlying emotions. Well done, and keep going! 

I’ll keep it real right now. It can be a very overwhelming task and requires a lot of self-reflection.

It’s not easy to look at our fears and acknowledge our underlying emotions. Still, it is the only way to truly understand them.

It’s best to start slowly and make progress over time instead of trying to do it magically in a day (magic isn’t real life – so this approach never works).

The best way to identify underlying emotions is to ask yourself some questions. The key is to be completely honest with yourself.

I know, it’s easier said than done. But trust me, I was once in your position too – and had to do some real soul-searching to overcome my fears. 

Some questions you can ask yourself include the following:

●     What am I feeling, and when do I feel this way?

●     What 5 things are causing my fear?

●     What events lead to me feeling this way?

●     What was I thinking when I was experiencing fear?

Now that you have identified your underlying emotions, it is key to use the emotion wheel to understand them.

Why Fear Is A Necessary Emotion

As humans, every emotion we experience is valid and important. 

Yet, we are often told to control our emotions, or it is bad or wrong if we feel a certain way. But, in reality, every emotion we experience is necessary for understanding ourselves and our environment.

Fear is no different – it is essential in protecting us from dangerous situations.

Some of the most important things that happen when we experience fear include:

●     Fear serves an important purpose in protecting us from dangerous situations

●     Fear motivates us to take action and prepare for the worst

●     Fear helps us focus and stay alert

●     Fear can be a source of inspiration by pushing us outside of our comfort zones

●     Fear can lead to insight and understanding about ourselves and our situations.

●     Fear leads us to conquer our anxieties and become brave to overcome them.

●     Fear gives us a heightened awareness.

●     Fear warns us of potential danger.

Fear can be good for us in a healthy environment when it isn’t a fight or flight situation.

 Why Living A Life Of Fear Is Unhelpful To Our Goals

While understanding our fear is helpful, it doesn’t necessarily help us move from fear to courage. 

You’ve probably heard the saying:

“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” – George Addair.

So if we constantly live in a state of fear, the other side of our fear (and everything we ever dreamed of) seems unreachable

The Side Effects Of Fear

If left unchecked, there are many ways that fear can manifest itself and affect our health. They include:

●     Physical Symptoms – increased heart rate, sweating, nausea, muscle tension

●     Mental Symptoms – anxiety, difficulty concentrating or focusing, intrusive thoughts

●     Behavioural Symptoms – avoidance of situations that cause fear, withdrawal from activities and people you used to enjoy

●     Emotional Symptoms – guilt, shame, anger, or depression.

Living with an overwhelming amount of fear can be paralysing and keep us from fully understanding our emotions and making progress towards our goals.

How Can You Embrace And Face Your Fear?

We all know that fear can overpower you and take control of your life if you let it. That’s why it’s vital to ‘face your fear” and embrace it, to overcome it.

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.’ – Marie Curie.

Some methods you can try to overcome your fears are:

Embrace the emotion wheel

Understanding and acknowledging your feelings is key to understanding your fear and taking control of it. The emotion wheel is one of the best ways to help identify different emotional states and how they interact with each other.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a form of self-care that can help you to better understand and manage your emotions. It can help us become more aware of our current emotional state. Taking time each day to simply sit and observe how you’re feeling in the present moment can help bring awareness to the fear lurking beneath the surface.

Change Your Internal Dialogue

It is essential to be mindful of the self-talk that you give yourself, as this can influence how you react to situations in life. Changing your internal dialogue from negative to positive will help you better understand your emotions and find the courage within yourself. Don’t expect change overnight, though. But you can completely flip the switch within a few weeks or months and change your habits.

Reframe the situation

Understanding and reframing the situation can help you to put your fear in perspective. If you take a step back, acknowledge it, and try to look at it through different lenses, you may be able to find the courage to move forward.

Write it down

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you process and understand them. In addition, journaling can be a powerful way to express the fear lurking beneath the surface and reflect on it.

Take action

Comprehending our emotions can give us insight into how we can take action towards finding courage. Taking small steps is the best approach. It can help build confidence and give you a feeling of accomplishment and belief that you can tackle more significant problems in the future.

How To Deal With Fear While It Has Taken Over Your Life

The first step to dealing with fear is to recognise that fear is not bad all the time. It’s a natural human emotion and is important in keeping us safe. The key is to use the emotion wheel to interpret your feelings, so you can move from fear to courage.

Is fear interfering and controlling your ability to function in your day-to-day life despite your trying to overcome it using positive methods? If so, you should consider seeking professional help, such as therapy or counselling.

But, if you’d instead overcome your fears on your own, consider my Coaching program as an alternative. I focus on courage, commitment, and change to help you overcome your fears and empower the change you want to be. 

Final Thoughts

Fear can be a powerful emotion, but understanding and using the emotion wheel can help us find the courage within ourselves to move past fear and create positive change in our lives.

Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the understanding of using fear to fuel constructive action that leads to success.

With understanding comes knowledge, with knowledge comes power, and with power comes the courage to move forward in life, no matter what fears may come up along the way.

Are you ready to overcome your fear and become the courageous leader you were born to be? You got this!

‘You can be strong as a leader and be kind.

You can be courageous as a leader and be fearful.

You can be a leader without the title.

But first comes courage.’

Sonia McDonald

If you’re ready to conquer your fears, my book First Comes Courage: Leadership Starts Within is a great place to start.

By Sonia McDonald – CEO Of LeadershipHQ And McDonald Inc. Leadership Coach, Global Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO And Award Winning Author.

31/44, Sturgeon St, Ormiston, QLD 4160


Sonia is passionate about her voice. When Sonia speaks, everyone in the room feels like she is having a conversation with them as her audience will feel as if they are the only one in the room. She speaks from the heart. She is brave. She wants everyone to be brave. She is an impactful and motivational leadership expert and speaker that creates a life-changing experience. People call Sonia sassy, inspirational, real and a speaker who leaves a lasting impression. Her high-energy, authenticity and humour combined with actionable and practical advice, empowers her audience and provides them with great drive and confidence to take courageous actions and inspire great leadership in all aspects of their lives.

Sonia also is founder of LeadershipHQ and McDonald Inc. and is also a renowned and award-winning author, having written several of her own books, Leadership Attitude, Just Rock It! and First Comes Courage as well as being a regular contributor in The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. She was named as one of the Top 250 Influential Women in the world as well as Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs by Richtopia.

Through her leadership advisory and coaching work at LeadershipHQ, and founding the Outstanding Leadership Awards, Sonia is internationally recognised as an expert in leadership and culture, organisational development, neuroscience, kindness, and courage.

Sonia is also a full-time single parent and has a passion for women in business and teenage mental health. Sonia travels and speaks across Australia and Globe, and she is on a mission to building a world of great leaders and leadership.