Fear, and a challenge

Fear is a powerful feeling. But despite its power, it can be very hard to detect.

Fear comes in many forms. Fear of dying, fear of missing a deadline, fear of getting fired, fear of losing a loved one, fear of some accident happening, fear of a startup failing, fear of rejection, fear of being hurt, fear of what other people might think. There’s all kinds of fears, and you’re almost always better off without it.

Some fears are even more insidious. If you’re afraid of hurting other people’s feelings, that’s an open invitation to anyone to export their fears to you. So not only do you have your own fears, you’re also going to have to deal with the fears of others. That’s just asking for trouble.

This has been the case with me. My wife is afraid of many things. I’m hardly afraid of anything, except letting her down. So when she’s afraid of just about anything, she needs me to do stuff to ease her fear, and so, bam, her fear was mine.

When you’re in fear, you’re reacting to the fear, you’re not thinking clearly. Your body is in a state of alert, trying to get away from whatever it is fearing. It’s not a very resourceful, creative state. It’s a state of stress. You’re not likely to find the best solution to whatever problem you’re facing.

There will of course be situations where fear is the right response, such as when a car is about to hit you. But it’s probably fair to say that 99% of all the fear people in the western hemisphere face is not of that kind. It’s of the unproductive kind.

The solution is to experience the fear directly. There’s always a direct sensory input to any emotion, including fear. It could be a vibrating feeling in your stomach. A pit in your chest. A tingling in the feet. Whatever it is, that’s what fear feels like for you.

So now that you know what it feels like, you’ll be able to recognize it next time. You can even become friends with it. It turns out that it’s not terribly dangerous. It’s just a feeling, a sensory input, it can’t really harm you.

Next, realize that the fear isn’t helping you. You may be afraid of failing, but it’s probably better to try than not try. And it’s definitely better to try without the fear.

A common reason to hold onto the fear is be the idea that your fear is helping you prevent whatever it is that you fear. For example that being afraid of failing is good, because it’s going to make you study harder to make sure you pass.

But that’s not true. So long as you’re in the grip of fear, you’re less likely to come up with the best course of action to prevent what you fear. You, you may study hard. But you will have part of your mental capacity occupied by the fear, which makes you less capable of study. And you’ll be less likely to see other opportunities, like perhaps whatever you’re studying is really the wrong thing for you to do.

You can’t make the fear go away. But you can give it space to just be, without reacting to it, without acting out of fear, just getting honest about the fear. The simple act of introducing this space between yourself and the feeling, this pause, is all it really takes to get back to consciousness and get out of the grip of fear. And slowly, over time, if you nurture it, it may reveal to you what it needs to let go of you, and you can be free of fear. But that’s a topic for another day.

One thing you can always do is feel gratitude for the life you have. Really take time to think about all the things you have: Your health, your family, your experiences, yourself. When you’re grateful, it’s humanly impossible to feel fear at the same time.

So your challenge for the next week is to try and notice each time you’re reacting out of fear. There’s usually a change in energy, maybe people are responding to you in a different way. And then take the opportunity to step back and familiarize yourself with your fear, and see if you can get conscious about it, instead of reacting to it. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Let me know how it goes.

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