Fear is a common feeling. We all have it -- to varying degrees -- about any number of different things. For many, it's a daily experience that keeps them small, inhibits their ability to succeed, and prevents them from really living their life. It's also a lie.
In the movie After Earth, Will Smith delivers a line that is incredibly insightful when we realize how much truth is behind it. He says:
"You must realize that fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice."
Fear plays with our minds by manipulating us into "What if?" thinking. It abuses our very base instinct to survive, and skews our view of the world based on the possibility of bad things happening to us. Often, the activity we fear or phobia we claim to have isn't actually what we're afraid of at all. Let's use one of my own personal fears as an example:
I am afraid of heights. Always have been -- at least as far as I can remember. It's a common fear, and I definitely get vertigo when looking over the edge when I am very high up. But is it really heights that I fear? Honestly, I don't believe so. I've flown, stood at the top of a skyscraper, scaled a 20-foot rope without being attached to anything; I've been afraid every time, but it's not stopped me from doing them. In reality, it's the falling and dying that scare me a whole lot more. And that's the "What if?" coming into play. I've been in very high places numerous times in my life, but what if the next time I do, I fall?
Some will argue that fear is what helps keep us alive, because it encourages us to avoid dangerous situations. Danger is real, and there are certainly situations we should not enter into lightly due to that fact. The problem with fear is that it is all about avoidance, regardless if actual danger is present or not. Let me illustrate with another example from my life:
I used to have a fear of speaking in front of others. Another common fear, but one with very little danger actually attached to it. Unlike falling and dying from a high place, the negative I was avoiding by being "afraid" of public speaking was potential embarrassment. That's not dangerous in any way whatsoever. It's uncomfortable and unwanted, but hardly dangerous. When I came to that realization, it made little sense to be afraid of it anymore.
By allowing fear to dictate our actions and emotional state, we choose to let it exist in our lives. Uncertainty can be very difficult to cope with, so most will operate on what they think they know, whilst dismissing or avoiding what they do not. If you were bitten by a dog in the past, you may have a fear of dogs. In reality, the fear is created by your mind as a means to avoid the potential situation of being bitten again. In order to ensure your safety, your mind creates a state which causes you to avoid any interaction with dogs -- even if it's the most cuddly and loving animal around. "What if?" takes control, your brain shifts into panic mode, and you choose to indulge the fear, restricting your actions and avoiding things.
We may not have the power to control fear at the root -- stopping it from ever arising in the first place -- but when we practice awareness about it, we can choose to not let it control us. Because it is so closely related to the fight/flight instinct, defying it is not something that comes easily. It can be done, however. When you find yourself experiencing fear, ask yourself what it is you're actually afraid of. Is it a genuine reaction to danger, and do you need to act? Or is it a case where avoiding or running and hiding from something unwanted is more comfortable than going through with it? If it's the latter, then decide if running and avoiding is how you want to live your life; if staying tucked as small as you can be inside your comfort zone is actually worth it. If you ask me, choosing to grow and expand is much more appealing than choosing to allow a "What if?" that has not yet come to pass to control your life.
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