Our theme for this month’s newsletter is FEAR. It really is the only limiting factor that restrains us from following our dreams and living our optimal life, and there is so much confusing and contradictory information out there on the subject we thought we’d focus on it this month.
Fear can be simply defined as the assumption that in the future we will experience more bad than good, more drawbacks than benefits, more pain than pleasure, etc. But positives and negatives are perceptual biases. How often have we perceived an event or experience to be bad, only to realize over time that it was beneficial to us in some way? Similarly we often infatuate with people, events, situations or experiences only to be disappointed when we later discover the associated challenges. There is an old story from the east which illustrates this idea very well…
An old farmer’s horse runs away right before harvest time, and the local villagers say “what bad luck, but the farmer replies “we shall see”. The horse returns, leading a herd of wild horses. The villagers say “what good fortune”, but the farmer replies “we shall see”. His son is thrown breaking in one of the new horses and breaks his leg. The villagers say “what bad luck”, but the farmer again replies “we shall see”. The army travels through the village on the way to war, conscripting all able bodied young men, and of course leaving the farmer’s injured son behind. The villagers say “what good fortune”, but the farmer yet again replies “we shall see”…
Non judgment frees us of the burden of fear and stress
Shakespeare understood this fundamental truth, saying “there is no good or bad, but thinking makes it so“. Another enlightened soul who glimpsed this truth was Ralph Waldo Emerson, saying that emotional pain and pleasure have no basis in reality, that they are personal illusions, figments of our imagination. John Milton also recognized it, saying “the mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven“. What this all means with regard to fear is that fear is fundamentally irrational. We are not at odds with the world around us, we are an active and integrated part of it. Our experience is not random, but rather wholly defined by how we perceive ourselves, how empowered we are, and how we show up in the world.
- Health & well-being – fear of not being healthy enough / damaging your health as a result of doing what you want to do.
- Knowledge & wisdom – fear of not being intelligent enough or not having sufficient knowledge or wisdom to succeed at what we truly want to do.
- Spirituality & evolution – fear of offending some spiritual authority (human or otherwise) by doing what you want to do.
- Family & relationships – fear of losing love and support of family members / partner as a result of doing what you want to do.
- Connection & influence – fear of losing social connections, influence, status, etc. as a result of doing what you want to do.
- Vocation & business – fear of failure.
- Wealth & finances – fear of losing money / not making enough money as a result of doing what you want to do.
Although fear is certainly responsible for most of our limitation, it is important to recognize that it also has an up-side, or certain benefits. Fear is a common and almost universal survival response to the unfamiliar and unknown. We tend to experience fear when we approach a situation or task that is unfamiliar or that we are ill prepared for, and in such cases it can serve to keep us present and aware. A certain amount of fear sharpens your senses and keeps you focused on what you are doing. Fear is part of our intuition. It arises from the subconscious mind, which is aware of our limited knowledge, wisdom and ability, and tries to focus our attention to avoid discomfort, pain or even death. Mastery of fear is not about removing fear, it is about understanding it.
In my view, as a natural progression of human evolution our focus is shifting from mere survival towards really living, demanding a deeper understanding of, and insightful new ways of managing fear and our other emotions.
When our intuition is influenced by erroneous beliefs, based on an imbalanced perception of our past experience, the resulting fear becomes compounded. It becomes a limitation. Often when we have been injured or emotionally hurt in the past and were not able to make sense of the experience, we tend to label similar situations we encounter as detrimental or dangerous, and they inspire fear in us. This compounded fear is something more than a functional survival mechanism, and is limiting because each new situation really needs to be evaluated totally independently if we are to capitalize on the full range of opportunity available. Because each new interaction or event in the universe is essentially evolving the sum of all information, more and more possibilities and opportunities are constantly becoming available to us. Each successive situation provides an expanded set of opportunities and possibilities. If we base our actions solely on past experience we limit our access to some of these emerging possibilities and opportunities.
It makes a lot of sense that we feel the greatest sense of satisfaction and fulfillment when we overcome considerable fear to achieve our goal, but there is more to the above statement than that. The interplay between our strongest underlying drives and motivations, and the erroneous beliefs we harbor produce the greatest of our fears.
Responses to fear…
There are a range of responses to fear, from plain ignoring it to being completely paralyzed by it, and everything in between. As you may have guessed, neither of these two extremes is an optimal response. Blowing it off can result in us getting into situations we are not able to handle. Succumbing to fear can result in paralysis and then regret over lost opportunities. The most productive approach to fear is to acknowledge our fear, be aware of our limitations in terms of knowledge, wisdom and ability, and then either remove the limitation or proceed with the necessary caution.
Sometimes people experience a fear of feeling fear itself. Here the origin or cause of the fear gets buried and the focus is on the fear itself. Once triggered, this fear of fear itself creates a vicious cycle effect which continues to amplify the fear. This is known as anxiety disorder in modern psychology. This condition is the result of a deeply held belief that the outside world is cruel and dangerous, combined with a low self-worth. This produces a victim mentality and the belief that we have no control or influence over our experience.
Fighting fire with fire…
One interesting way to overcome any fear that is holding us back in life is to make a list of the drawbacks, missed opportunities etc that we would experience if we fail to follow our dreams as a result of this fear. Make the list as extensive as possible, keep adding to it until you have at least 50 entries. In this way the fear of not doing something can be made greater than the fear of doing it, effectively removing fear as an obstacle and installing it as a motivation.
Fear in relationships…
If you fear losing someone in your life you have in effect given them power over you. You have consciously or subconsciously put the person on a pedestal and assigned more value to them than you assign to yourself. In this situation people tend to sacrifice their needs and desires for those of the person they are afraid of losing, subconsciously building frustration and resentment towards that person. As the frustration and resentment build, they begin to act it out in the relationship, effectively driving the other person further away from them. At a subconscious level we are unable to respect someone who sacrifices themselves for us. It is unlikely that anyone will value and respect someone more than they respect and value themselves.
The fear of losing someone effectively prevents you from truly enjoying your relationship with that person and happiness eludes you. Often this person will consciously or subconsciously become aware of your fear and use it to control you.
Only when our beliefs change about our own value is this limiting compounded fear released and we are able to feel in control of ourselves and our lives again. Without compounded fear we are more able to remain present to enjoy every moment of our lives.