The Flavors of Fear and How to Choose the One That’s Yours
We are frequently told about how we should ignore fear and go for what we want and to some extent that’s really true. However, I think fear (like ice-cream) has more than one flavor and some fears can actually help us. There are times when fear is appropriate…like when we are faced with physical danger or someone is threatening one of our nearest and dearest. I like to distinguish between four types of fear.
Raw, visceral fear: This is the fear we experience if a threat to our own lives or the lives of our loved ones is imminent. I believe most of us in the Western world will rarely experience this, except perhaps in a car crash. Our instincts bring us through this one.
Irrelevant fear: For example, I am afraid of jumping out of a helicopter or going skydiving. However I do not have the slightest desire to do either of those things so the fear does not impinge on me. To be honest, this is one fear I certainly wouldn’t be bothered trying to overcome!
Limiting fear: When most personal development experts talk about fear, this is the one they talk about…the fear that stops us doing the things that will help us bloom and grow…going for that interview, asking that man/woman out on a date, public speaking. We know it’s a limiting fear because while it feels visceral we also feel excited and wistful about the action. People experiencing this sort of fear say stuff like “I’d love to do X, Y or X but…” and feel envious of those who do embark on those tasks. Here are some ways to get around this fear…
- Get out of your head: Talk to some supportive people about it. Speak honestly about your fears…get the fear out of your head. If you do not have some people like this in your life…sit down and write what is in your head until it begins to repeat itself. It will look a lot more manageable when it’s out of your head.
- Giant leap or tiny step?: Either decide to tackle your fear by going at it head-on. One friend of mine decided to conquer her fear of public speaking by giving a workshop for over 80 people…. Another way is to take a tiny step. The tiny step should take no longer than 5 minutes. Pick up the phone, send an e-mail, check a website, ask someone for help. This in itself can break the inertia.
- Enlist support: Other people are far more compassionate and understanding than we often give them credit for…we’ve all made mistakes and we admire people who have the honesty and vulnerability to admit they need help. Make your request as specific as possible e.g. if you have to make a speech, ask someone to listen to you rehearse and then give you positive feedback. Make sure to thank them in some way.
- Make fear your friend: I usually find that when I listen to the voice of fear, it sounds a lot like my mother warning me against potential danger. When I recognise this, it makes it much easier for me to acknowledge it but then do what I was going to do anyway!
Useless fear: One of my favourite quotes is from Benjamin Franklin “I’ve been through a lot in my life…some of which actually happened”. This sort of fear is the product of not having enough of a rich, interesting life and an over-vivid imagination. Unfortunately, it’s also tends to be self-fulfilling. Of course one of the good by-products of this sort of fear is that when the bad thing about which we have been worrying actually happens…it’s a lot less traumatic than our mind has made it. However, it’s also an acknowledgment at some sub-conscious level that life is uncertain, unpredictable and much of what we value can be taken away from us within seconds. We have a choice then as to how we deal with this…destroy our peace of mind by trying to control this or instead begin to see this as an opportunity to be grateful and appreciate what we do have.