At some point in your life, you will find yourself facing a moment of difficulty; A moment where you decide to retreat, to retract inward instead of moving forward. You know the motions, and you act accordingly. This is fear doing its thing, and you’re letting it take over your life, sending you in a downward spiral.
We have all been there. After all, most of us were raised with constant reminders from our parents to be fearful of the world. Maybe you had some trauma that has shaped you somehow, and now you fear dogs or how far you are from the floor.
Fear is not a bad thing. We needed fear to survive when our ancestors were in the savannas millions of years ago —trying their best not to be eaten by what was lurking in the shadows.
Fear is an evolutionary response, a shortcut of sorts to preserve life at all costs that serve a great purpose. The issue, however, is that our world has evolved way too fast for our brains to keep up. We haven’t adapted our fear settings accordingly.
In some ways, fear is engraved quite appropriately into certain things.
- Approaching that cute girl feels the same as jumping from high up or running towards a furious bull.
- Making that business decision that might bring economic freedom sounds absurd and reckless.
- Standing up against our boss to keep our jobs is just impossible.
The brain can’t adapt to these new scenarios and clicks that panic button all willy nilly.
A Life of Fear
It’s essential to have a clear view of what you want to become in this day and age. Once you have been freed from the clutches of the education system and start roaming the world of “adulting,” it’s constructive to have at least a general idea of where you want your life to go. Where do you see yourself in the next five years, ten years, 20 years even?
The problem with fear is that it also gets in the way of our growth. One of the most important skills you can have to be on a constant growth path and have a healthy and fruitful life is to make decisions based on facts and experience. Being in a healthy state allows our brains to make good decisions that help us and others around us.
During your life, you will make decisions, both minor and critical. As an adult, the most vital skill you have is the ability to make informed decisions. Decisions that help you move forward.
How It Looks
It might be difficult for you to perceive, but most of the time, you will be making decisions based on fear instead of facts.
- Staying at home and play games instead of going out and socializing —that’s a decision based on fear, not facts.
- Staying in a job that you’re miserable in instead of going to that interview or contacting your network —that’s fear emerging again.
- Deciding not to work out and give your 100% to pursue a better version of yourself and instead keep doing the same thing —fear.
- Avoiding working on that script, you have been thinking about writing —more fear.
- Hiding and not opening up to a friend about negative thoughts —you guessed it, fear.
These are all moments where you could have stopped and meditated about the facts and the possibilities of the outcome, and you let fear short circuit your brain into choosing what appears to be the “safe” choice. Retract, retreat, fall into a debilitating habit. And this is killing you.
You don’t realize it yet, but one of the reasons you feel like there is danger all around you and the world is going mad is because you have imbued your brain to be constantly neurotic.
How to Cope
One thing that you can do to start changing this behavior is to breathe intentionally. Yeah, I know, it sounds elementary, but hey, it works.
Take a few seconds when you find yourself in a moment where you are trying to make a decision about something and breathe intentionally. Close your eyes and go through the motion of inhaling and exhaling if necessary.
You will find that your mind will be calmer, and at least some of the noise and voices that inhabit your mind will move to the background and won’t interfere as much. Now you’re in a much better position to make a call.
I have also found it helpful to ask myself, “What would be the worst case scenario?”. You will eventually learn as you grow older that a lot of pessimism and doom colors our youth. These come from some familiar voices we have internalized early on in our lives.
We think that it’s the end of the world when our crush doesn’t reciprocate our feelings. We deem our day ruined when our latest meme doesn’t get the number of likes we expected.
But this is just our mind doing what it does best, fabricating scenarios, filling blanks and gaps with what information we have in our unreliable memory. The primitive brain is trying to protect us from the threads we have internalized as deadly.
Take a minute and ask yourself, “What would be the worst case scenario?” and the answer 90% of the time will not involve your funeral.
One last thing you can practice when facing a moment of doubt is to reframe how you see a negative outcome. Our education system has done a great job at making us dread failure. We are consistently told that we won’t have a future if we don’t get a decent grade. We are told that failure is bad, that it’s either 1 or 0, black or white. And this is bullshit.
The Hidden Gold
I’m probably (and hopefully) not the first person to tell you this, but failure is not a bad outcome. And I will go even further and say, failure is vital.
Failure is to be embraced. We tend to quickly bury it without taking a moment to appreciate what it is trying to teach us. Yet, there is so much value in failure.
As Edison said, working on the creation of the light bulb, “I haven’t failed — I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He also reminds us that when people fail, they don’t realize how close they are to reaching success before they give up.
Is the risk worth it?
There is another angle that I have not discussed yet. And is the fact that the risk of not working hard and putting in the work. The risk of not taking a risk is worse in the long run; Staying stale and unprepared.
Not working on yourself, physically, emotionally, academically, is a high cost you will inevitably have to pay in the future. Eventually, ending up with a mediocre life shut from every door that can provide meaning to your life.
You don’t want to be there. Keep in mind that today’s hardship will help you get tomorrow’s well-earned cup of tea.
In the end, fear is not going to disappear. Nor should you want it to disappear. You should still be afraid of that bear in the zoo, but it shouldn’t stifle your life.
Fear should not hold your progress hostage from you and keep you in a stale, cold place. Stagnation is something to fear. Use fear as a tool to fail forward.
If you want some advice on how to deal with the stress of the constant battle against fear, read Wendy’s post. Hopefully, it will also make you hungry for some eggs.
Keep moving forward. I believe in you.
See you in the next post.