Fear: 4 Questions You Should Ask

Fear plays a funny role in our lives. A funny role, but a very big role.

The earliest fear I remember having, maybe at 3 or 4 years old, was this: My family would be out for a walk. I’d fall behind, and as soon as my family was out of view, gypsies would rush out of the trees to steal me away and make me be their own child. (I had heard about gypsies.)

I remember watching The Elephant Man when I was 9 or 10. I hardly slept for a week. It’s an old black and white–true story–about a man with a deformed head who was put in a circus and ridiculed and died alone. I knew there was a good chance that would happen to me.

Around 11 or 12 I used to sit on the stairs crying because I was quite sure–in fact I knew–that I was going to die. Die early. Die early of one of two diseases: Small pox. Or spinal meningitis. And the morning I woke up with a sore neck after falling asleep propped against my headboard, I knew spinal meningitis was the culprit. I was beginning to die.

I’ve been afraid of lots of silly things in my lifetime. Of spiders laying eggs inside my ear. Of accidentally dropping something on a baby (like I actually had a phobia I’d like toss something on a couch only to discover a baby had been lying there). Of hitting somebody with a line drive if I ever batted a baseball as hard as I could. I have had many strange diseases I learned about on WebMD.

Maybe the scariest possibility of all was put in my 7-year-old head courtesy of my older brother: Bill Clinton and Al Gore were going to sneak into our house in the middle of the night and murder me in my sleep. (Bet you can’t guess which political party I grew up in.)

 

And then I grew up, and fears became more sophisticated. I’ll accidentally screw up my taxes and get in trouble. I’ll run out of money and become homeless.

So I say yes to things I don’t actually want, because I’m afraid of what someone will think.

More frequently, I say no to things I do want, because what if I screw them up?

What if people discover that I’m not a very cool person? What if nobody likes my blog post? What if I try making a podcast and nobody listens? What if people make fun of me? What if I accept a promotion only to fall flat on my face? What if I make close friends, and those friends let me down? What if I open up to a loved one, and they realize they don’t like me? What if, what if, what if…

Lots of things could go wrong. I could forget to lock the door to my home before I go to sleep. And when I go check to make sure I locked it, I might see it wrong and still leave it unlocked. Oh man… (#thankyoutherapy)

 

The thing is, I think even though our fears get more sophisticated as we get older, they’re still just exactly what they always were: Just fears.

Fears that you can get past. Fears that probably won’t come true. Fears that, if they do come true, will probably be fine.

Have you ever watched a child learn how to swim? Take their first jump in the pool? They stand there shaking and whimpering. Mom or dad smile and coax them into the pool. “I’ll catch you!” But the child is frozen. “It’s going to be okay. I promise.” But what if you’re wrong, mom? Finally–finally the child decides they want it bad enough to try anyway. They jump. Have you seen what happens to a child’s face in that moment? The terror changes to this incredible feeling of wonder and awe. So many emotions flash across their face: Relief. Excitement. Pride. They did it! They’ve unlocked a whole world of fun and fulfillment. They’re so relieved and excited they can’t help laughing. Giddy. It feels so good.

What’s something you’ve been so, so afraid of, that when you finally did it, you felt a similar relief and pride and excitement? What’s something you really wanted that you couldn’t have for a long, long time, because you were afraid? As Jack Canfield says, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

Sometimes the fear doesn’t just go away once you’ve done your thing. Sometimes when you face your fears, all you feel is capable or healthy.

But I bet that most of your things you’ve done–through the fear–have left you with the incredible realization that it was okay. Even if it didn’t feel okay, you’re all right. Life’s not over. You are strong. You CAN.

 

But fear is still scary.

 

So in case it helps, I have 4 questions I’d like to suggest that you ask yourself about fear. 4 questions to quietly reflect on and answer thoughtfully:

1. What is something you haven’t done/aren’t doing because you’re afraid?

2. On a scale from 1-10, how vague is the outcome you’ve been afraid of?

3. What are the realistic possible outcomes? The good? The bad? If the bad happened, how would you deal with it? (Be very specific.)

4. What one step could you take today to move toward that thing you’ve been too afraid to do?

I don’t think answering these questions will make you unafraid.

But I do think when you answer question 1, you’ll realize that you want to do your thing even though you’re afraid.

And when you answer question 2, you’ll realize you’re mostly just afraid of the dark. You’re afraid because you have no idea what possibilities are lurking on the other side of your fear. As the iconic horror writer H. P. Lovecraft put it, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

And when you answer question 3, you’ll realize that when you switch the lights on and take a more realistic, honest, specific look at what was in the dark, it’s never quite as awful as you thought. In fact, the whole thing might be quite safe.

And when you answer question 4, you’ll be starting your new journey. A journey toward the life you want and dream of. No matter how scared you are.

Because you see fear for what it is: Just fear.

You’ve got this.

And you’re going to be okay.

Ralph Waldo Emerson - world is not so scary when you look

Fear

Fear is a weird thing. It plays a huge role in our lives. Huge.

How many dreams have you never bothered with because you’re afraid you’ll discover you can’t achieve them?

How many times have you tried to put yourself out there and deliver a message from the bottom of your heart, only to abort halfway through because–what if it will be taken wrong and people will be mad at you?

How many times have you regretfully said yes to things you didn’t want to do because you were afraid of the backlash if you said no?

And how many exciting opportunities have you said no to because you were afraid of what would happen if it didn’t go perfectly?

How many hours have you spent distracting yourself and keeping busy because you’re afraid of what you’ll really find in the inner corners of your mind and heart if it were quiet enough for you to really listen?

And take a guess at how many blog posts I’ve scrapped because I’m afraid people will take them wrong, think I’m ignorant, or consider my opinions inappropriate.

What if we tried doing scary things more often? I’ve been working hard on that this year. It’s scary. But it’s freeing.

Be brave! And remember that being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. Being scared is okay. Do more fear-things.

Jack Canfield - Fear

Uncertainty

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
– H. P. Lovecraft

“Change.” It’s so hard that there are books and seminars and coaches all dedicated to helping people with “change management.” It’s also 100% inevitable.

Why is it that when faced with uncertainty, we often (always?) fixate on all the scary things that could happen?

Sitting in the quiet this early morning I found myself noticing all the good things that life’s weird twists and turns have brought me. There is so much more good in my life than all my times fearing the unknown led me to expect. I’ve had countless uncertain times, nerve-wracking to downright terrifying. But so far, most of the awful things that could have happened haven’t.

Isn’t that how life goes? I’m not going to say that change is always for the better–sometimes it depends on how you look at it. And sometimes really sad, permanent things happen–things that will always hurt.

But look back at all the times of flux, the times of questioning, the times you have felt lost or unsure in life, the times you’ve lost your normal… What have those times brought you in the long run? I bet that change has been an overwhelmingly positive force in your life.

Why do we go straight to the bad? The what-ifs and the worries? We humans are an incredibly fearful bunch.

Try this: Next time you are faced with change, take some time looking for the good things–the opportunities and the benefits you can find. You may find way more happiness in the change than you’ve learned to expect.

Good luck, smile on! :)

lao tzu - eternal void infinite possibilities

Scary till you do it

H P Lovecraft - Fear of the unknown

I find that things can be scary to me until I do them. If not scary, at least intimidating or overwhelming. Giving a performance, running a marathon, making new friends, confronting a coworker, or even just a little handyman project at home.

“It’s scary till you do it” seems like a good general rule to me, and one that can be very helpful to remember.

I say “general rule” because on occasion, things we are scared of get even scarier after we make ourselves do them. Case in point: Giant crowds or loud parties can get worse and worse every time for an especially introverted introvert.

But this really is a more common theme in life than we may first imagine. Sure, most things in life don’t scare you right now. But they used to. When you were a newborn baby, meeting a new face scared you. As a toddler, dogs scared you until you had met a few of them. You were scared of riding your bike without training wheels until you finally just went for it. You probably used to be scared of the pool. And even though you’ve gotten used to most things in life, there are probably a few things that still really scare you. Interviewing, mortgages, or maybe even spiders.

A perfect example: My wife and I were hiking the other day and found a snake. She assured me it was harmless. She and her siblings used to catch them in their yard. In my head I believed her. But when she reached down and grabbed its tail, I just about had a heart attack. The thing is, she had plenty of experience at this. I did not. Easy peasy for her. Not for me.

More applicable to day-to-day life–and what got me thinking about this in the first place–is car shopping. Last Saturday I went with my brother-in-law to a dealership to look at cars. The entire process was brand new to him, whereas I had bought from a dealer twice before, loans and all. More than anything, I was really there to help make it less overwhelming, to lend some confidence. After a day at the dealer, my brother-in-law talked about how much easier it would be next time around for him. He knew what to expect now. It was no longer uncharted territory. And someday he’ll be the experienced car shopper helping someone who’s a little scared because they haven’t tried it before.

 

Understanding that things are less scary after you do them doesn’t magically make things not scary. It just makes scary okay. It helps us do the scary thing anyway so we can have the big reward.

Planning our entire wedding and honeymoon trip to Italy by ourselves, when neither of us had traveled far in a long, long time, was very nerve-racking. I just kept feeling like something wasn’t going to work out. Like we’d get there and realize we hadn’t gotten our plans quite right. Like we weren’t actually going to be able to pull off our dream wedding. But there was also a little part of me that remembered traveling to Africa alone when I was younger, and how much easier and less scary it was than I thought it was going to be. So we took a leap and did it. It was absolutely incredible, and now travel planning is a lot less intimidating.

 

Understanding this general rule helps us to do scary things anyway. Understanding a bit more about how it works might make life even easier. So here are a couple more things I’ve noticed:

The longer you put something off out of fear, the scarier it gets. Standing at the top of a cliff, staring down into the water below, friends daring you to jump in–you realize just how high it really is. You take a step back and start to launch yourself. Halfway through you freeze. You panic. It’s too far. So you wait and wait and wait. You keep preparing yourself to jump. But for some reason, it gets harder and harder and harder the longer you wait. Sometimes life is easier when you just do the scary thing quickly.

It might still be scary after you do it–just probably not quite as scary as before. Doing something you were scared of doesn’t guarantee it won’t be scary anymore. In fact, with many things it will probably stay scary even if you’ve done it a number of times. Like starting a new job. It could be your tenth employer and you’ll still be nervous. But I’ll bet you’re not as when you started your first job.

The more you do the scary thing, the easier it gets. If you want to be less scared of something, do it again and again. I have come to love public speaking, but I was definitely not a natural at it. The first time I ever tried, I lasted about 10 seconds, did more squirming than speaking, and cried in front of an audience. Then I kept doing it through the fear. After a few times it was still awful, but a little less. I kept doing it through high school, and then later on through a Toastmasters club. Eventually, public speaking became so familiar and comfortable it just wasn’t scary anymore.

It is okay to be scared. Just let yourself be a human. You’re going to do better than you think.

 

Courage isn’t not being scared. It’s doing something even though you’re scared. And the more you exercise your courage, the less scary things get.

When you were laying in bed as a kid, the coat hanging in the closet that looked like a monster got a lot less scary when you got up the courage to go check it out for yourself.

Now that you’re an adult, remember: Big scary things life things usually aren’t so scary once you get to know them.