Lesson 2.3 - A different way to look at fear
Tell me if this sounds familiar: you get all pumped up about a new love interest or an exciting new job opportunity and then BAM! All of a sudden you feel a sinking feeling in your belly and that all-too-familiar commentary starts in your mind.
“What if he thinks I'm too high-maintenance? What if they think I'm under-qualified? What if her family hates me? What if they think I'm incompetent?”
I’m sure you’re all too familiar with this mind vortex.
Fear is a primal force
Fear is a strong emotion. It’s also a biological response, designed to take care of us. A survival mechanism.
Now, I know what you might be thinking: “Can’t I just crush my fears? Just pull the plug and deflate that beast?”
I feel ya.
Here’s the thing: fear is an evolutionary response to keep us safe. When we perceive danger, we turn into flight or fight mode and our bodies prepare to get us through this life or death situation.
That's what our fear is trying to do. The problem is, we no longer have to worry about saber toothed tigers chasing us down. And yet, our brain wants to treat every single fear as if it's equally catastrophic.
Plus, it’s a rubbish communicator. It’s like your friend who, when she hears you’re moving across the world, instantly launches into a diatribe of all the reasons why you shouldn’t:
“How will you find a job? Are you going to make any friends? What if you run out of money? You could get sick and there will be no one there to take care of you and you’d DIE!"
Your friend has your best interests at heart but ultimately she’s projecting all of her fears and insecurities onto you. Our brain is trying to do the same thing. When we begin recognizing this, it helps to detach from the negativity because we’ll see that it’s not true, but it also isn’t out to get you.
So, when I talk about dealing with our fear, I don’t mean to say: “Make your fears go away.” That would be impossible.
We can't ever get rid of fear completely. It's a natural, evolutionary response and we need it to a certain extent. But we can learn to understand our fear and manage our response to it so that we can reclaim control and get back on track with creating a life we love.
What to remember about fear
These are a few things about fear that is important to remember.
First of all, everyone has it. This might seem sort of elementary, but if you stop and think about it, you’ll realize that, in your mind, you tell yourself that you’re the only one who really feels the fear you do.
You think: “There’s no way so-and-so is scared of running out of money. She has thousands of dollars in savings!”
But the truth is that no amount of success, progress, momentum, money, time, or anything else will keep you from feeling afraid. Your only hope for moving forward in spite of fear is to remember that everyone gets afraid, that fear is natural, and that you can in fact make friends with your fear.
The second thing to remember is that fear can be good for you. We talked about this earlier. Fear is a biologically imparted impulse designed to protect you from harm. It’s the voice that says “Get out of the ocean, the waves are too big!” or “This street isn't safe to walk down.”
Third, fear is temporary. It’s an emotion and, as with any emotion, it’s fleeting. Unless you get so scared or overwhelmed by that fear that you can’t stop ruminating. Once fear has its hooks in you, it’ll get bigger and stronger. So, the key here is to not give fear that much weight by reminding yourself that it’s temporary.
And finally, fear can be a neutral companion when we actually begin to listen to what it’s trying to tell us. We’re so used to ignoring our emotions, shoving away our fear, and being haunted by them for years, that we don’t realize that if only we pay attention to the fear and listen to it for a second, it will go away in an instant.
Looking at fear differently
So, what IS the best way to engage with fear?
What NOT to do is jump into frantic action. Racing around to make things happen, working harder and faster, turbo-charging your day, and creating all kinds of rigid boundaries and rules.
That’s what we perfectionists love to do. But it’s exhausting. It’s spinning your wheels and wasting energy. Your efforts are doing the opposite of what you want them to do, because your fear is only growing and growing.
The right way to engage with your fear is to take a moment, acknowledge it, and listen to what it has to say. What it is trying to tell you in that moment?
Don’t try to fight the fear or will it to go away. I mean, what would you do if someone were not listening to you? You’d probably YELL LOUDER, just as your fear is trying to do.
Instead, think of yourself as a casual observer to your fear. There’s nothing you can do to change it, to make it go away. It’s not in your control. It’s not good or bad. It just is.
From that perspective, you can hear what you fear is telling you. It’s telling you about your priorities and insecurities. It’s a compass pointing you to the place where your soul most want to grow.
At that moment, your fear is still present, but it doesn’t feel so threatening anymore. It feels like a friendly force, reminding you about what matters and helping you move toward what you actually want.
So, consider doing the scary thing. Using the fear. Letting it guide you to growth.
Isn’t that such a helpful and life-changing mindset shift? Here’s how I want you to use what you’ve learned in this lesson.
When updating your perfectionism journal every day, pay special attention to your fears. Reflecting upon a specific moment of perfectionism in your day, ask yourself “What fear was at play here and what was that fear trying to tell me?”
Listening to your fears will be strange and uncomfortable at first, but you’ll get used to it after a while and so will your fear. We’re so used to be scared of our fears and ignore them, but it can be an excellent teacher if we let it.
And if you’re intrigued by this topic and if you want to dive deeper into the topic of fear I highly recommend reading Tara Mohr’s book Playing Big. Playing Big helped me shape my understanding of fear and the content of this lesson. I’ll link to it below this video.