“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.” —Rudyard Kipling
I’m certain I am not alone in being weary of allowing irrational fear to hold me back. I know absolutely, I am in good company when I admit they still do.
Looking Back at My Fears
“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am astounded at the number of times I’ve been shut down, even paralyzed by fear in my lifetime.
I’ve stopped short of speaking my truth, of taking a stand for something I believed in, of standing up for myself or someone else, of trying something I wanted so badly to try or telling someone how I feel about them.
I’ve missed out on great opportunities offered to me, and missed out on the thrill and satisfaction of moving forward creating something new.
I have kept my voice, my gifts, my wisdom silent, thereby discounting them to myself. Simply because I believed some ‘fear’ thoughts.
And What About Fearlessness?
“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.”Roy T. Bennett
I have also done things lots of people would consider terrifying, and I was NOT stopped by fear. In fact, fear occurred to me only on a rational level in these cases. The love of and excitement around what I was captured by, what I wanted to experience, was much more powerful;
I got back into horseback riding after breaking my back at 11 years old, getting bucked off a horse.
I learned how to ride a motorcycle, then took up motorcycle road racing at 40 years old. I devoted myself to that for 10 years. During that time, I crashed too many times to count. I broke many bones, split open my knee to the bone, had 2 concussions, 8 separate surgeries, most involving the addition of plates and screws to my skeleton. And always, I got back on the bike and into the next race as quickly as my body (and my sports surgeon) would allow.
At 51, I sold my house, almost all my belongings, quit an excellent job of 12 years, bought an RV and left the Bay Area where I had lived my whole life. I meandered across the country with just my 2 cats and an open mind and heart, with no destination or plans for my future.
And Still, Those Irrational Fears
“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.”Soren Kierkegaard
So why do I find it impossible to ask a guy out? To state the level of compensation I want for my skills and experience? To stop doing what I no longer want to do? To write a book? To drop concern about what other people think? To create an empire? To make certain phone calls?
Because of me, of what I am believing. Because that fear that holds us back is irrational. By definition, that thought is a persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.
There is no evidence to support it. The fearful thing doesn’t exist, hasn’t happened or even been attempted. Its not based on real, physical danger. So what is actally happening?
Understanding my Fear Response
1. At some signal that is a remnant of some experience in my past, there is a chemical reaction in my body. A cascade of sensations is activated that I interpret as unpleasant, something I don’t like and must avoid. My whole being immediately tenses up and narrows in its focus and capacity for rational thinking. My world shrinks, as do my possibilities. The conditions for shut down have begun. Those chemicals are creating my feelings.
2. ‘Mind’ is signaled at lightening speed to get involved and do its part, filling in my awareness gap with thoughts that explain what ‘must be on going on.’ And this is based on the feeling I’m experiencing, which is trying to make the thoughts real, important and full of artificial meaning.
3. Imagination kicks in. I’m no longer living in the moment. Suddenly the vault to my past is wide open and Mind is rifling through, picking anything and everything to validate the fear, to make it more real with images and memories that capture all of my attention. I’m living in the past.
4. Then just as quickly, I’m living in the future, as Imagination is extrapolating those memories into a construct of whats going to happen next. Rapidly Imagination weaves a story I won’t like, and must avoid. Not about what is actually happening, it’s a story about what doesn’t exist. The more I entertain those thoughts, the more Imagination cranks out even more corroborating thoughts, digging me deeper into the hole that diminishes me.
5. It happens so fast. I will then get into action (or inaction) based on what I did in a similar situation in the past. And I repeat the habit of shutting down, avoiding. I miss an opportunity to test my initial interpretation of the event. Worse, I miss the opportunity to grow my capacity to experience something different, to learn, and to change the trajectory of my life.
Fear menaces all of us at one time or another, and for some, fairly regular. What if there were ways to change our relationship with ‘irrational fear as menace’, and transform it into ‘fear as useful information’? By simply learning to engage it differently? What would we have to do to end the hijacking and destruction of irrational fear?
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” —Rosa Parks
There are a lot of practices we can employ to end the madness. Here are 12 that I know work:
1. Decide the devastation of irrational fear is intolerable and no longer an option. That will start your journey of education and skill development in practices that release them.
2. Understand fear is simply information in the form of sensation, and your job is to evaluate that information, not readily accept your first interpretation.
3. Flip your interpretation of the sensations of fear from ‘uncomfortable and to be avoided’, to an exhilarating energy that signals its time to stretch. Its time to get out of homeostasis for a bit. Growth and resilience are on the other side.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” — Jack Canfield
4. See fear as helpful information. It’s discomfort heightens awareness. It is an indication that something is up, it may be time to pay attention, to take action, look deeper or to get moving. There is a message for you there, especially if the same fear keeps showing up. When you see it as helpful, but admittedly hard to get to, you’ll move toward the message.
5. Contemplate those fears that are regular visitors. Create some space and willingness to do this. Feel them fully. Find out what’s on the other side of them. Is there an attachment, or investment in something that you don’t want to lose? Look at that deeply and own it if you find it. See how much energy you invest there, and understand the corresponding intensity of your fear reaction.
6. Decide to stop feeding the thoughts the fears generate. Don’t give those beliefs real estate in your mind. Interrupt the belief pattern by putting something else there, like the opposite of the fear that is also likely true or likely even more true. Or a previous success in your life that discredits the fear. Find real life examples of those. Dwell on them. Spend time visualizing them and feeling the feelings of them. Write them down.
7. Directly challenge the thought. A great coaching question is ‘What would you do if you couldn’t feel the fear?’ Or as Byron Katie would ask ‘Who would you be without that (fearful) thought?’
8. Stop feeding the fear the stories. Stop talking about them. Instead, contemplate the evidence that they are robbing you of your potential, who you really are, what you want and what you are meant to share in this lifetime.Once you really know this is the effect, its harder to continue to allow it. And once you atart seeing that happening in others, its even harder to continue the pattern.
9. Focus on the feelings on the other side of that temporary sensation of fear. Relief, elation, freedom, empowerment and accomplishment. You’ve had this experience.
10. Test the fear with a specific action. Prove to yourself that the only thing allowing it, sustaining it is you, with your belief in it. I love Jai Jeng’s 100 Days of Rejection, where he tested the validity of his fear of rejection. He set out to get a ‘no’ to his requests everyday. And transformed his internal and external life. And lots of other people’s lives along the way.
11. Feel it while its happening. Let the fear move through your body. Remember it’s a chemical reaction, it needs to play itself out in your blood stream. Joe Dispenza explains the lifetime of an emotion in your body once triggered, is only 90 seconds. Its unpleasant in the moment, but the chemicals wont kill you. It lasts much longer when you continue to feed it with thought, and spin up that loop. Sever the link between the emotion and the automatic thought process that gets triggered. Turn your focus and appreciation on the genius that is your physiology. Visualize the chemicals completing their job and dissipating, and the lovely feeling afterwards.
12. And lastly, practice overt compassion, as often as you can, for yourself and anyone you see in the grips of irrational fear. We’re in this together, this rampant and debilitating product of our psychology and conditioning. Compassion makes room for clarity, clarity reveals truth, and truth can eliminate the grip of fear. In doing so, truth really does set us free.