What are you afraid of? Be honest, we all have something
Can you think of a time fear has negatively contributed to your life? Or maybe stopped you doing something really worthwhile? Well you're not alone, sadly I can think of plenty of examples. Worry, stress and anxiety can all be traced back to fear in some way or another. Of course fear can help us make good decisions and serve a purpose to avoid harm, but it can also completely cloud our judgement and limit the way we live our lives. More importantly, limit our happiness.
Why I started reading on fear
I began reading further into fear late last year. I felt fear had negatively contributed to many things in my life. Throughout high school I had major difficulties with my mental health, which continued well into my adult life. Something that I admit will always be a work in progress. So many of these problems I can trace back to fear, of all shapes and sizes. An important first step for me was accepting and acknowledge this.
The thing that has helped me most is reading. That and listening to podcasts, watching Ted Talks and other helpful videos from people I was reading about. Not only have they helped me identify this as a problem but also given me the power to want to change things. If you can accept and identify a problem, you're half way there.
Remember, that voice of doubt or fear inside our heads isn't actually us talking back. It isn't even a true reflection of ourselves. If we learn to control how we react to those negative thoughts, that is truly a better reflection of ones self. Fear, like all emotional responses we have a far greater power to control than we realise.
Keep it simple - Perspective & Mindset
We shouldn't seek to rid all fear, I don't believe that's possible. We should seek to change our perspective and mindset towards fear. Feel the fear but guide it towards truly positive experiences. View fear as a motivator to push ourselves towards more challenging and rewarding experiences. No-one has ever achieved great things by not pushing themselves outside their comfort zone and facing fear head on.
The power of your mind - far greater than you think
It’s easy to forget that the brain is an organ we actually have some degree of control over. If you tell it to think about something then it probably will. We have the ultimate brain control but often fail to use it. As hard as I try I cannot get my kidneys to suddenly change their task. The brain on the other hand I can force it to think about whatever I want it to. This takes practice. But we all have this power within us.
A quote by Shakespeare sums this up well... nothing is inherently good nor bad, but our perception makes it so. When you think about this more deeply, it's hard to argue that some things aren't inherently bad or good. E.g. Hitler = Bad, Chocolate = Good.
This can determine whether something that one person may see as a terrible tragedy, may be seen as the most rewarding and life changing experience for another. From any situation we ultimately have the power to decide how we will respond to it.
There is always potential positives to come from any circumstance. We should accept that no matter how harsh our life experiences may feel, some good can always come from them. When actually faced with our fears we often deal with them far better than we could ever imagine. I am confident we are all far stronger and more powerful than we give ourselves credit for.
Recently when a little stress or fear has come into my mind I've started trying to shift my mindset. Rather than wanting to avoid that situation or wishing it wasn't happening, I try to adjust my focus. Redirecting it towards a belief that any difficult situation will ultimately make me a stronger and better person in some way or another. Seeing fear as a stimulant for personal growth and that we can grow and ultimately benefit from any uncomfortable situation we place ourself in. Uncomfortable can be a positive thing if we look at it this way. Again, this all lies in our perception.
Redirecting fear towards a positive experience
For this I look to professional athletes or high performers in any field. Despite what some people may believe, these people definitely still feel fear. Perhaps even more than others. But they are able to use fear in a beneficial way and guide it towards positive energy. Instead of letting it hinder their performance or causing them to run from difficult situations, the very best of the best use fear to hack into flow and ultimately drive better performance.
A good bit of advice that is always clear in my mind is this... If you're nervous about something it's probably a good thing. It means you care, it means you want to do well. Accept it, try to channel it towards positive preparation and confidence. And remember, you'll learn more from the experience if you fail than if you were to succeed in a relatively easy one.
For a further example of this, I recommend looking up a big wave surfer turned motivational speaker named Mark Mathews. He made his career out of facing some of his biggest fears. Despite being terrified of the ocean as a kid, he grew up to become one of the best big wave surfers in the world, facing up to 70ft monsters of the ocean. When it comes to extreme sportspeople such as this, many people see them as crazy and born without fear. That's certainly not true. They feel the fear, they do it anyway. If someone who as a kid was scared of the ocean can grow up to surf these giant waves, I’m pretty sure we can all face our own fears with the right motivation, perspective and mindset. We all have that power.
Why do such trivial fears consume us?
There's no simple answer to this. Many fears even if they were to come true would be relatively harmless. A very common example of this is public speaking. Numerous studies have concluded public speaking as a number one fear for many people. Do you know what number two often is? Death. Yep that's right, in many studies people have ranked speaking in front of their peers apparently worse than facing the inevitable end. At the end of the day if you stumble over a few words, is it really going to matter? Is it really going to change your life? No, but maybe you'll even learn something positive from it.
The stress caused by worrying about a certain "negative" outcome can often be far worse than facing that event if it were to actually come true.
A mindset like, "It's just me, I'm scared of heights. I'm just going to accept it." Or "I get very anxious when public speaking and that will always be the case, it's just how I am" - certainly do not help. Nor are they accurate. If anything, this way of thinking only reinforces our negative views and helps support fear avoiding behaviour.
Get out there & feel that fear!
Often facing our fears is far less uncomfortable than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness. Which in many cases is what happens when fear takes over.
If you have read this far, I urge you to write one simple fear down. Then I encourage you to write down ways you can safely face it and go out there and do it. If you're afraid of public speaking, enrol in a class for public speaking - arguably no harm can come from this. Sure you might embarrass yourself a tiny bit in front of some strangers who will never see you again, big deal. You will surely grow from the experience. Arguably, this is the most important move we can make.
ACTION, ACTION, ACTION!
Action is the key to everything. When we are scared of something how often do we avoid it at all costs? If we truly want to feel better about something, accept that the only way is to go out there and face it. We get so good at avoiding the things we often need to do most.
Recently I sat on a cliff looking out to sea. Like the above example, this is something I would usually avoid doing at all costs. Yet, with no one else around I did it anyway. It wasn't that I didn't feel fear, I was shaking. But it actually felt great. Maybe not all our fears are this easy to face but a lot of the time they can be. If I did this again I would probably feel the exact same fear, but I'm sure overtime this would become less and less. For me I know I am still afraid of heights until I face this more regularly. Next for me, I think I’m ready to throw myself out of a plane and go skydiving. Who's with me?
We all struggle with fears even if we choose not to admit it. If any of this has brought up issues for you, please seek help. Remember you aren't alone and there is always help available.
Further recommended reading / watching
- Mark Mathews interview with Lewis Howes - https://lewishowes.com/podcast/h-mark-mathews/
- The process of fear setting - https://tim.blog/2017/05/15/fear-setting/
- Solve for Happy : Part 7 : The Illusion of Fear with Mo Gawdat - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yrvd8reBIKk
- You aren't at the mercy of your emotions -- your brain creates them | Lisa Feldman Barrett - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gks6ceq4eQ