Facing Fear with Deliberate Awareness
By Tupelo Kenyon
Fear is over-rated. We do it to ourselves. Fear has no reality other than our attention to it. Redirect your attention and the fear dissipates.
Where did it come from, and where did it go? Most importantly, why do we do that to ourselves?
In centuries past (and millennia past), fear was an important tool for survival. Faced with a hungry wild animal, our fear kicked in, and our imagination provided us with graphic images of what was about to happen. Lunch! This powerful motivator triggered a surge of adrenaline, which triggered our fight-or-flight reflex. Hopefully, the result of this chain of events would be our survival to feel fear another day.
These days, our opportunities have significantly diminished to provide lunch for wild animals. But, our fear reflex still kicks in, just the same.
“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.” - André Gide (1869-1951)
Since we are so rarely about to be eaten alive anymore, what are we so afraid of? It’s not so much what’s happening in our world that creates the fear as what’s happening in our minds.
“He who fears he will suffer, already suffers because of his fear.” - Montaigne (1533-1595)
Have you ever wanted to ask your mind, “Hey, whose side are you on anyway? We’re supposed to be on the same team!”
“I have lived a long life and had many troubles, many of which never happened.” Mark Twain (1835-1910)
We seem to be hard-wired to the knee-jerk reaction of fear and its poor relation worry. The outer conditions of our lives have improved since the day of our vulnerable (and tasty) ancestors, but our inner responses have changed very little. Even when we are not facing imminent digestion, we still react to the unknown with fear and worry.
Why is that?
How did we learn that?
It’s part of the package that comes with being a member of humanity.
It’s social conditioning. Learned responses. As children, we witness our parents (and other “grown-ups”) responding to the unknown with fear and worry. Naturally, we think, “Oh, that’s how you do that.” We mimic the behavior of those around us.
“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.” - Marianne Williamson
Mimicking behavior is fine if you happen to grow up in Shangri-La. It’s not so beneficial for the rest of us. Just because most people have always behaved the same when it comes to fear doesn’t mean it’s the best way. It doesn’t always have to be this way, and it’s definitely not the best way for you.
“Where fear is present, wisdom cannot be.” - Lactantius (260- AD)
We need a better response to the triggers that spark fear and worry. We need a deliberate, conscious reaction rather than the usual habitual, unconscious ones so common to the masses.
Since fear itself appears to be here to stay (even though it’s in the realm of the imagined), how can we make the most of it? How about this . . .
- Acknowledge the fear.
- Pay attention in the moment and be receptive to the message it brings.
- Don’t allow it to morph into worry by focusing your attention on the worst-case scenario.
- Instead, deliberately steer your attention to pictures in your imagination that emphasize what you want to happen (instead of what you most dread).
“Fear cannot be banished, but it can be calm and without panic; and it can be mitigated
by reason and evaluation.” - Vannevar Bush (1890-1974)
Success Involves Risk which Triggers Fear
Any kind of success comes packaged with an element of risk. If your number one priority is to remain perfectly safe and comfortable at all times, no matter what, your personal development will be nil and the excitement and adventure index of your life will be even lower.
That’s not my style, and I’m 99.9% sure it’s not a description of you either. Those with zero tolerance for risk are simply not interested in exploring the ideas in these articles.
People like us, interested in personal development and living inspired lives, thrive on new experiences. And we realize that anything new and different comes packaged with the possibility of triggering within us the fear of the unknown. Even though we may understand all the reasons why, that twinge of fear happens anyway. So what can we do?
Proceed anyway. Keep your eye on the prize. Visualize your intended outcome. Imagine what you want and remove your attention from what you don’t want. The unknown is beckoning. That’s what personal growth is all about making the unknown known.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” - Ambrose Redmoon
Fear is an Inside Job
Remind yourself that fear and worry is a product of your imagination. It’s all about what is happening “in here” and has very little to do with what is actually happening “out there.” Our imaginations create the fear. Realizing that fact is the most important step towards living a life that is virtually fear-free. It’s the doorway to living life courageously.
“Courage is resistance to fear . . . mastery of fear - not absence of fear. Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.” - Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Whenever some condition in your life triggers a fear response in you, acknowledge it consciously as soon as you possibly can. With practice, the time it takes you to recognize what’s happening and respond to it consciously will also diminish.
Eventually, your experiences of fear will become ever-shorter flashes, alerting you that it’s time to be careful, conscious and deliberate.
“Fear is a kind of bell … it is the soul’s signal for rallying.” - Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)
Fear is Calling . . . Answer with Whatever You Want
If you have remembered to acknowledge your fear, but find yourself still standing there in the middle of it, ask yourself, “What do I really want?”
Then, give yourself “a good talking-to” something like this . . .
“I’m in no imminent danger, so why am I still afraid? Aha, it’s because I’m using this wonderful gift of creative visualization backwards. I am focusing on what I don’t want instead of on what I do want. I’m grateful that the fear alerted me that I am pointing my imagination in the wrong direction. Now that it’s clear what I don’t want, I will re-aim my imagination 180 degrees and refocus on what I do want.”
By now, it’s clear the culprit is not fear itself but our own imagination run amuck. It’s just a bad mental fantasy we are allowing to consume our attention. Here’s a very accurate acronym for fear . . .
Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real
What you are seeing in your imagination has very little to do with what is actually happening or what is actually about to happen. In situations of new or unknown experiences, our imaginations provide us with a helpful service by alerting us to potential dangers. That’s great, but don’t dwell there.
“Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed.” Unknown
Using Creative Visualization Against Yourself
Don’t continue to focus on those worst-case scenario pictures in your mind while fueling them with the power of your emotions. That’s the formula of manifestation and you are using it against yourself. Your attention to those things you most dread, accentuated by your negative emotions about them, opens a conduit into your physical world that allows them to gain a foothold and begin manifesting
“If a man harbors any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking, damages his
personality, makes him landlord to a ghost.” - Lloyd Douglas
Remind yourself that it’s just your attention that’s being consumed by unsupervised imagination. Your body isn’t being consumed by the blood-thirsty. Whatever it is that’s triggering the fear, it’s probably not that big a deal, comparatively speaking. It’s the horror show in your mind that’s feeding the fear. Just turn it off like a bad “B” movie. You’ll never miss it it’s rated “PG” anyway . . . (for perverted and gross!)
Exhilaration is Waiting on the Other Side of Fear
Breaking through to the other side of fear has its rewards. Big ones! Think back to the last time you felt fear about something in your life and made the decision to proceed anyway. Recall the surge of accomplishment and personal satisfaction once you transcended the fear. It’s a rush of pleasure!
“Fear makes us feel our humanity.” - Benjamin “Dizzy” Disraeli (1804-81)
Here’s an example most of us can easily relive in our imaginations. Do you remember your first kiss? (Not from your grandmother, but your first real kiss that you instigated.)
Were you terrified? Was your imagination jumping all over the place offering possible scenarios? “What if this happens? What about that?” Eventually, you made the decision to kiss anyway.
“Do what you fear and fear disappears.” - David Joseph Schwartz
Take a moment to breathe in that memory and feel now what you felt then. Picture it clearly. Remember those hormones cruising through your body? How does it taste? Exhilarating, yes? Aren’t you glad you made the decision to (eventually) kiss anyway?
The Fear Projector
Our friend, Bill Mann, came up with the following insightful image that helps put fear in its place:
Think of your mind as a fear projector, like a movie projector. Pretend it’s small enough to tuck under your arm and take it with you wherever you go. The projector’s job is to project your fears so you can see them clearly. As you see the images flickering on the screen in front of you, they look scary, so you back away. As you do, the distance between the projector and the screen increases and the images of fear get bigger.
But look what happens when you move toward the images of your fear. The distance decreases and the images get smaller and smaller. Get up close and take a good look and those fear images get very small tiny and powerless almost insignificant.
Moral: Back away from your fears and they grow into a formidable image, larger than life. Instead, move towards them. Meet your fears head-on and take a close look and they shrink into nothingness. (Thanks Bill.)
Most of our day-to-day experiences with fear follow this same pattern. Hiding on just the other side of fear is the wonderful feeling of taking life by the horns. Transcend fear. Reach through to the other side and reward yourself with some of life’s most precious moments . . . Accomplishment. Courage. Self-confidence. Personal victory.
“Commit yourself to a dream… Nobody who tries to do something great but fails is a total failure. Why? Because he can always rest assured that he succeeded in life’s most important battlehe defeated the fear of trying.” - Dr. Robert H. Schuller (b. 1926)
Remember those fleeting pictures in your mind, triggered by fear, are meant to offer you a quick “heads-up” warning. There is no evidence that these bad things you are picturing are going to manifest. In fact, nearly every time, they are simply providing you with another very accurate acronym for fear . . .
False Evidence Appearing Real
Whatever your situation that produced the fear flash, you are unlikely in dire straits. You are probably not staring down a hungry grizzly, so it’s not necessary to let the situation escalate into a full-fledge fight-or-flight panic. That’s the acronym for fear of our prehistoric ancestors . . .
Fu*# Everything And Run
Compared to providing lunch for your carnivorous neighbors, it’s no big deal. In a year, who is going to remember? Who is going to care? It’s just not worth the energy to get worked up over something that will probably never happen anyway. (Unless you help it along with your focused attention, fueled by your worrisome emotions.)
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” - Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945)
Fear as Fuel to Supercharge Life’s Adventures
Instead of letting these relatively minor fears immobilize you, why not face them head-on, acknowledge them, and then move on. Get on with the adventure of your life, even though it includes uncertainties, episodes of the unknown and yes, occasional (but fleeting) fear.
“He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear.” -
Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC)
Once you adopt the new habit of thinking of the fear flashes as simply a nudge to be aware and pay attention, your prison of fear can no longer hold you. Swing open the door and walk free toward your next adventure.
“Fear is static that prevents me from hearing my intuition.” - Hugh Prather
Life is to be lived to its fullest, on the edge, on your toes, riding the wave of your dreams. Taking big steps and living life large involves taking risks. With this style of living, fear becomes an ever-shrinking commodity. It’s still there it just doesn’t slow you down anymore - it just provides a few speed bumps on your road of adventure.
Once you’ve put fear behind you, and it’s simply an outdated animal instinct from the past, you can embrace this acronym for fear in the past tense . . .
Focus Everyday And Respond Entirely Deliberately