Chances are there is one big thing holding you back. One thing that keeps you awake at night makes you hesitate before you say yes to something new, and makes you worry about the future. And that thing is fear. But you don’t have to be controlled by your fears. Starting right now, you can get the upper hand and turn that energy around to make it work for you. Here are four surprising things you need to know to take control of your fear.

1. Fear is normal

Don’t beat yourself up too much for feeling fear. Studies have shown that you are programmed that way. Fear is hard-wired into the human brain through the limbic system that sits deep in the brain. There are neural networks that will produce fear as part of your normal brain function. By taking control of your mindset, you can free yourself from the fear of failure.

And when you think about it, fearfulness makes sense. You need a certain amount of fear to develop judgment and stay safe. Back in the days of saber-toothed tigers, humans needed fear to survive. It is the root of the fight or flight reflex to danger.

2. Fear is complex

Fear is not just a chemical reaction in your brain. Fear is composed of many layers starting with instinctive reactions through to learned responses. Learned behavior comes from discovering that particular animals, plants or people are dangerous. In extreme cases, traumatic experiences can lead to phobias or exaggerated fears. If you were bitten by a dog when you were a child, for example, you might become obsessively afraid of all dogs.

3. Your imagination feeds fear

Your ability to think and reason and imagine can lead to your fears becoming irrational. You can look at the ocean and imagine it full of sharks; you can walk down a dark street and imagine pickpockets or thieves, or worse. Fear can easily tip over into anxiety when you imagine a danger that isn’t there.

That can be problematic. If you’re living in a heightened state of fear, you will not respond appropriately, in fact, you will be primed to overreact. A fear of flying sets you up for an overreaction to turbulence or even unexpected noises. A fear of snakes may make a stick or belt seem life-threatening.

4. Fear affects how you act

If you’re constantly feeling fearful or anxious, that will affect the decisions and actions you make in your life. At its worst, you cannot act at all but are paralyzed, unable to make a conscious choice.

If you don’t master your fears, you will certainly miss out on making your life as fun and happy and successful as it could be. But you can choose to take control and use that energy in a constructive, positive way.