Fear is an every present part of our world. It has been conditioned in us since we were kids. In grade school, we learned to fear giving the wrong answer, fear the bad marks, fear not getting into the right program or right school, fear taking a position that was contrary to our teacher’s. As we grew older we started to fear not being able to make a good living and support our family. We fear not saving enough for retirement. We fear not being able to help our kids with university. We fear losing our jobs, we fear, we fear, we fear.
Many people would love a career change, a move, a new path in life, but they don’t take action because they fear. They fear failing. They fear criticism. The media knows that fear is big business. We rarely hear about inspirational stories on the news (even though these stories occur every day). We hear about the disasters, the business failures, the scandals. Marketers know that fear sells. They use pain as a motivator – in that if you don’t purchase their product, or use their service then “this” may happen to you. We then gladly part with our hard earned dollars because we don’t want “this” to happen (even though the probability of it actually occurring is quite remote in many cases). We are addicted to fear as a culture. As a result many of us live in fear. It has become part of our social conditioning.
Despite being the most technologically proficient species it is remarkable how often we make decisions that are routed in fear. We analyze possible risk as probable, even likely, then we make irrational judgments based on emotions, social conditioning and group influence. As a result we experience a form of self-proscribed paralysis. I believe that it is possible to get to the point where fear doesn’t pervade all of our decisions, however we were socially conditioned to overemphasize risk and cling to safety, and as a result, a re-conditioning must take place to come to terms with fear.
The following method is perhaps one of the simplest, and most practical, that I have come across to help deal with fear. I call it the survive-thrive technique.
First, ask this self-directed question: “What is the worst thing that can possibly happen in the situation”. Often the absolute worst thing that you can think of has basically no chance of manifesting itself. For example, very few people die or lose loved ones by change careers. Usually the very worst-case scenario is simply failure in a desired new venture. Failure will then trigger a chain of events that are possible, for example having to go back to your old employer and ask for your old job back. If the job isn’t available (which it often isn’t) then it may be necessary to get a different job, maybe even a step down in income, or dip into some savings, or sell the boat. Usually this is the absolutely worst-case scenario. In all likelihood the worst case scenario won’t happen, but we’ll run with it for a moment.
The next step is to ask the follow up question: “Can I handle it?” Your response may surprise you. At first you may think that a career setback or a “visible failure” where you are the subject of criticism would be the worst thing in your life, but when you really take time to synthesize this prospect you realize that you have the inner fortitude to handle it. Not only do you have the ability to handle it, but the more you look at it from this angle the more you realize how silly this little fear was in the first place, and you feel foolish that you allowed yourself to spend so much time worrying over something that clearly you had the emotional ability to handle.
This analysis can have a powerful effect on us, because we actually realize our own inner strength instead of being hypnotized by the pervading culture of fear that surrounds us. We realize that we are actually brave. We realize that we have the inner strength to deal with failure or setback. If we experience a setback or a disappointment we will just look for an alternate route to our destination. It is like a feedback mechanism, and it is characteristic of being in a state of flow. We become much more likely at this point to identify the values that are most important to us and then make changes, even if those changes are scary, difficult or challenging.
Now we have momentum in dealing with our fear. Now we are stating to feel brave, even powerful. So then we take the analysis one step further. We ask ourselves this powerful question: What is the best possible thing that could happen in this instance? It is necessary at this step to use the neglected muscle of our imagination to visualize the fulfillment of the best-case scenario. Even better is to experience this visualization by asking yourself these questions: “How would I feel If this took place” and “What does this mean to me?”. This exercise induces a compelling emotional state and excites you to take action. You start to experience again the pull power of a crystal clear and compelling objective.
Other ways to come to terms with disempowering fear is to visualize a situation in your life where you successfully conquered a fear or learned a new skill. If you can recall this experience vividly then you can induce an emotional state similar to how you felt in the original instance. Once this emotional state is induced then you simply remind yourself that this new challenge is the same as the previous one that you successfully navigated. Just like the previous experience, you just need to learn a new skill set in order to be successful in this new endeavor.
We must never forget that fear is the companion to growth. We cannot grow unless we learn. We can only learn when we encounter, for the first time, something that was previously unfamiliar. The correct path is not to try to eliminate fear entirely. Fear is an emotional response giving a signal that you are in unfamiliar territory. The path is then to take action to navigate the unfamiliar territory. Educate yourself as to the rules of this new territory. The problem is never the fear itself; it is how you hold the fear. If you hold fear as inhibitive then you will feel helplessness, depression and paralysis. When you hold fear as simply an emotional signal it results in action, education, energy and empowering choices.