"If you become someone who is uncomfortable unless she is creating change, restless if things are standing still, and disappointed if you haven't failed recently, you've figured out how to become comfortable with the behaviors most likely to make you safe going forward." ~Seth Godin The Icarus Deception
A lot of people who don't know me very well are always very surprised to hear that I deal with fear because I do a lot of scary, risky things and yet I don't outwardly appear to be fearful.
The truth of it is that I actually have a very rich and complicated relationship to fear. Which includes experiencing it in about as many different ways as is humanly possible.
On the emotional level, I have been awakened in the middle of the night with eye popping, heart pounding, hyperventilating panting panic as well as feeling plagued at other times by free floating anxiety and a deep sense of dread. Physically I have run the gamut from sleepless nights, to lying on the couch for days at a time from emotionally induced back spasms, breaking out in hives and a whole panoply of gastrointestinal distress symptoms. And psychologically I have suffered from lack of confidence, self doubt and full on catastrophic thinking.
So fear is not a stranger to me.
And I don't like this dance with fear one least little bit. It makes me decidedly cranky and it's also something I whine about on a regular basis.
I remember one time when I was doing yet another mind-numbingly terrifying, reaching beyond my current comfort zone kind of thing and I said to my husband. "I am SO sick of this. Why do I always have to go through this process every time I'm doing something new. I wish I could find a way to not be so scared of this (fill in the blank)."
And my husband, who is a very wise man as well as being more than a bit of a smart ass said " Just do something scarier!"
Which was actually brilliant and very much to the point. Because fear is related to the unknown and the unfamiliar. To doing things I've never done before. And expanding my horizons out even further than I'm already stretched means that the formerly terrifying thing recedes into "not-so-scary-after-all"status.
I think what makes me so willing to go through the fear again and again and again is that once I do the nerve wracking thing …. whether it's having an emotionally vulnerable conversation, or writing a risky blog post or making a video for the first time or creating a new workshop …. I often end up feeling all kinds of really wonderful emotions like exhilaration, pride and deep satisfaction.
It also helps that even though I FEEL fear I don't identify with fear. I don't define myself as a fearful person. Fear is something that I regularly experience but I'm very clear it is not at core who I am.
In my experience, there are two kinds of fear.
There is what I call "real" fear, which is based on actual danger in the moment, like encountering a person who wants to do you harm, having a near miss while driving, or slipping close to the edge of an actual ( not metaphorical) cliff. It's related to stuff outside of yourself and it's always happening in the here and now.
But the fear I am exploring here is much more akin to anxiety and is directly linked to how you think about and talk to yourself. It originates in the gray matter between your ears. It's all wrapped up in beliefs and perceptions about your abilities and capacities to have an impact on the world and to make things happen.
What you are afraid of with this second kind of fear is that you don't have what it takes to do what you want to do. It's the fear that comes when you are testing yourself, pushing your limits, and trying something you've never tried before. Which means you aren't confident yet that you can pull this new thing off successfully.
This form of fear is also associated with needing other people's acceptance and outside approval.
It's being convinced that you can't ever get those things because you can't see YOURSELF as someone who has value. Who is good enough. Who is deserving of attention and applause. It has deep roots in old beliefs related to shame and lack of self worth. And lack of trust in yourself.
There are a few things I've learned about this second type of fear and how to deal with it that I have listed below, in the hope that it will be helpful to you in dealing with your own relationship to fear.
Fear is not something that you have to mange or get rid of.
Lots of folks think that they have to be totally free of fear before they can take the risks they need to take to make changes in their lives. Which is the biggest fallacy about fear that there is. So they try to fix the fear with insight and understanding. They are convinced that unearthing the roots of the fear and gaining clarity about where it's coming from or why it's there will help them get over it.
But there is no getting over it.
And there is no such thing as being fearless. There is only the everyday courage that is available to all of us. And this courage only gets activated by taking compassionate action in the face of fear.
Focusing on trying to get to the bottom of fear keeps you engaged with it in ways that are distinctly unhelpful. Obsessing about gaining insights into it is simply a distraction from doing what the fear doesn't want you to do in the first place. Which is changing, creating, growing and expanding.
I will often take steps to soothe and comfort myself around fear, making attempts to calm my body down through things like breathing or meditation, yoga or massage. But that's very different from trying to banish it entirely or getting caught in the tricksy bramble bushes of thinking that you have to totally make sense of it and sort it out before you can make a move in the direction of your dreams and desires.
Fear is always about the future.
It's obsessing about something that hasn't happened yet which means it's impossible to deal with actual real world concerns in the here and now. Its tormenting yourself with all the potential bad things that could possibly happen and catastrophizing about worst case scenarios. One of my favorite quotes is "Worry is a misuse of the imagination" by author Dan Zadra. And our imagination was made for better things than spending our precious time making up 10 million different versions about how things can go horribly wrong.
Fear is simply another form of energy.
When you take the time to explore fear on the visceral level, it is simply a bunch of different sensations. It's all the things associated with a surge of adrenaline, like your heart pounding faster, sweaty palms or a tightness in your chest. It's a stepping into hyper alertness which is the bodies response to new and untried situations. It can be distinctly unpleasant but never in and of itself dangerous. And if you don't feed it with your thoughts it will ebb and flow just like any other kind of energy.
Fear only becomes a problem when you make up stories related to the fear and then believe them. And these stories are usually all about how inadequate, unprepared, defective, imperfect, incompetent, and inferior we think we are.
When you are believing those fear based stories, you are forgetting the truth about your most essential nature, which is that you are filled with startling beauty, wondrous gifts, and uniquely valuable superpowers.
You are forgetting that fear is simply a feeling and a state of mind. But that we always have a choice about how to act. And that when our actions are coming from that core of love that is always there no matter how scared we might be, all the fear we ever could imagine can't stop us from bringing that love into the world.