Your Basic Fears And How To Beat Them: Thriveology Podcast Ep. 7

Conquer your fearsWe all have some basic fear responses to certain stimuli — in other words, everyone has things that scare them.

But there are some deeper, more existential fears, that seem to trip ALL of us up.  They are based in some deep beliefs that we carry around from very young ages.  At the same time, these fears have followed civilization through the ages.

These three basic fears can keep us stuck or keep us struggling, even when the fears are unfounded and useless.

Ready to discover these fears — and how to move beyond them?  Join us for the Thriveology Podcast as we explore these three basic fears and how to deal with them.

Let me know what you think!  Leave a comment or ask a question.

Fear Series, Part 2: The Fear Holding You Back — Thriveology Podcast

Fear Holding You BackFear isn’t something you can just turn on or off.  It is a fact of life.

The only real question is how much fear is going to run your life.  Unfortunately, fear is pretty good at acting like a friend, pretending to protect you.

Instead, fear just keeps you playing smaller than you should.  Fear keeps you from giving the world all that you have.

Oh, and here is the interesting thing:  the bigger that task, the bigger the fear.  The more important it is to you, the more you will feel the fear.  And the more the fear will pretend to protect.

There is not enough time, though, in life, to not live fully.  There is too much that each of us has to give, that each of us needs to become.

Join me in this podcast as we explore the ways that fear holds us back. . . and what to do about it!

Let me know what you think.  Leave me your thoughts in the comments area below — and spread the word!

Rule 12: It’s never too late to be what you might have been.

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” — George Elliot

this is one of my favorite quotes.  He reminds me that we are never finished developing into who we want to be.  Who we are becoming is a constantly changing and developing piece.  We are always growing, changing, and becoming more and more of who we are.

Were reading about how Michelangelo talked about his creating a sculpture.  He said that he looked at the rock,  decided what was in it, then chipped everything else away.  In other words, he was looking to see what the rock was supposed to be.  That’s what we do.  We are constantly seeking to find what we are supposed to be.  Then our job is to get rid of everything else.

We grow up becoming who others want us to be.  Then one day we look around, realize that the path we have been on has not been ours, and we have to make a decision.  We have to decide whether we will continue following someone else’s path or whether we will start our own path.  Sometimes, people decide that it’s too late in life to change paths.  Too bad.  When we realize that we were on the wrong path, then we have a chance to take the right path.

Sometimes, we just know that were not on the right path, but we don’t know what the right path is.  That’s when we have to get rid of the things that are in our way of discovering a new path.  That’s when we have to chip away all that doesn’t belong.

Once we do that, our path becomes much more clear.  In fact, what we discover is that fear has kept us off the right path.  Fear has kept us from doing and being who we want to be and what we want to do.

Until we face that fact, we keep ourselves from being who we could be.  More importantly, we keep ourselves from the being who we want to be.  Perhaps, we even keep ourselves from being who we should be.

It’s never too late to be what you might have been.  Decide if you are on the path you want to be on, or if it’s time to change paths.

Rule 9: Mistakes Don’t Matter

OK, let me say just a bit more:  “Mistakes don’t matter.  How you deal with them does.”  You see, we often get so caught up in fearing that we will make a mistake that we don’t stretch.

We stop ourselves before we even begin, or we freeze up in the midst of trying, all because we might make a mistake.  But that really is the nature of life.  We make mistakes, pick ourselves up, learn from the mistake, then move on.

Well, that SHOULD be the rhythm of life.  In fact, when we don’t live that way, we have trapped ouselves into what Carol Dweck refers to as a “fixed mindset.”

Dweck distinguishes between the fixed mindset that refers to our expectations that we have innate skills, natural abilities.  A mistake would seem to be an indication that we lack in skills or ability from this frame.  So, for instance, a child is told that she is a “natural athlete.”  As time goes on, the child fears that she cannot live up to that, so she either quits trying or constantly works to prove others right.  In either case, she comes to fear making a mistake.

The “growth mindset,” on the other hand, is the (correct) belief that we are all growing, developing individual capable of learning new skills and ideas.  In that frame, a mistake is just part of the process of learning.  In fact, mistakes may be one of the best ways of learning!

I help teach SCUBA classes.  In the beginning, I ran around trying to make sure the students made no mistakes.  Then the instructor pointed out that the students needed to make these mistakes in our controlled environment, so that they did not make them when it mattered.  I broke myself (mostly) of that habit, and instead turned to the idea of helping the students learn and recover from the mistakes.  I believe they are much better divers now.

As Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Start taking the shots!  Make some mistakes, then decide what to do about them!

Rule 7: Ask “What’s The Worst That Can Happen?”

Today, the question that can help you challenge your fears when thinking about doing something.  You see, fear pretends to befriend and protect us.  So it whispers into our ear all kinds of thoughts about not doing something because “something could go wrong.”  But in actuality, there isn’t much fact behind the images of utter destruction.grand-canyon-jump

So, the question is “what’s the worst that can happen?”  Then think through the answers.  Are they really that bad?  If they are, and it isn’t your exageration from fear, then perhaps you shouldn’t do it.  Say you are standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and you want to jump to a rock outcropping 6 feet out from you.  You are scared, but still thinking about it.  You ask the question:  “what’s the worst that can happen?”  And you answer “Oh, I don’t know, a 5000 foot drop.”  Then, your fear was well-intended!

But let’s face it, that is not the typical situation.  No, our fears are normally about non-lethal situations.  In fact, our fears often only serve to constrict our lives, keeping us from growning and developing.  That is when the question is magic!

How about this one:  someone asks you to give a short speech during a business gathering!  Fear whispers in your ear “I’ll mess that one up. . . that’s scary!”  Quickly, you find a conflict on your schedule, a reason why that is not going to work out.

But what if you asked the question “what’s the worst that could happen?” and you were realistic?  The worst may be that your words don’t come out as clearly as you would like.  Or people won’t agree with you.  Or you will die of embarrassment (there has never been a verified case of this!).

OK, so maybe your words don’t come out as clearly as you would like.  Maybe your tongue gets tied, but haven’t you seen others do the same in a speaking situation?  Even presidents get tongue-tied and say the wrong things.  But they are still presidents.  In other words, there is likely far less risk than you think.

You answer the question, you face your worst fears, realize that they aren’t so bad, and you decide to take a risk.  That is the nature of life, growth, and learning.  That is how we develop into better humans.  So ask the question, question the answers, and see that fear isn’t the friend it pretends to be.

Rule 6: You Get To Choose Your Response To Fear — Unhealthy Responses

We have established that fear is a given.  We cannot get rid of it.  We can only decide whether or not fear will run our lives.  And we can decide how we will respond.

But what if you find yourself constantly in the grips of fear?

There are two basic approachs to life that are steeped in fear: Controlling and Passive. These approaches, on the surface, appear to be opposite. But in reality, just below the surface, they are identical. They are steeped in founded in fear.

In fact, there is a core terror involved in both approaches.The Passive person chooses to let life make the decisions for him or her. Wherever the waves toss, there is where the person lands. Being active feels either futile or terrifying. For some, the terror is based on feeling as if others will be watching and judging. And perhaps even more frightening, life might just hold that person accountable.

Passivity comes in many flavors. For some, it is just a matter of inaction –staying in the same job and miserable year after year, staying in a miserable marriage but doing nothing to make it better, or a myriad of other things. We stay and do nothing.

Then there is the inactivity of avoidance. This is when we pretend not to notice, put those blinders on, and keep moving. Miserable job? It hasn’t even registered. Relationship falling apart? What relationship?

Some master passivity as a way of expressing anger. Instead of expressing our anger, we use passive behavior to sabotage the other. Someone asks us to do something. We agree to do it, then don’t. They confront us, and respond with “I forgot.” Abdication of responsibility on a silver platter!Some maintain passivity as a philosophy better known as futility. It is much easier to pretend that nothing matters, that actions account for nothing. In believing this, we are relieved of any responsibility. At least we pretend this to be the case.

When I was a boy, my father returned from a trip with a gift, a small piece of granite with these words painted on it: “Not to decide is to decide.” To a small boy of eight or so, those words don’t mean a lot. But they have become more and more pronounced as I have grown older. In actuality, there is no such thing as passivity.

Every moment of every day, we are making decision after decision. Often, we make those decisions by not deciding. We pretend we have relieved ourselves responsibility by not deciding. Yet a decision has still been made.

The Controlling person is just as fear-based as the passive person. But the control is based in the clear illusion that anyone has any level of control over life. Okay, that might sound paradoxical or even contradictory to what I just said about being passive. I moved the conversation to the importance of being active. Yet now I state that there is no control.

Here is the key: people who act in controlling ways fool themselves into pretending they have some ultimate control over their life. People who are pro-active in their lives assume that nothing is guaranteed and everything is at risk. But moment-to-moment, pro-active people move in ways that allow them to meet life, to approach life with hope, an antidote to fear.

Rule 5: We All Have Some Basic Fears

We share fear with every living creature. The difference is that we are able to add emotion and thought to the feelings. Sure, some animals are capable of emotions –anger in particular. But as far as we know, no other animal reflects on their fears.

Because we are thinking creatures, we take a fear and weave it into a story about ourselves. And this leads us to some basic fears. These fears rotate around the following:
1) Not having enough.
2) Not being good enough.
3) Not being loved enough.

Not Having Enough

One of our most basic fears is that of not having enough. Unfortunately, this is a fear that afflicts almost everyone, regardless of how much he or she actually has. In fact, some of those suffering the strongest pull of this fear are those with plenty. In fact, this fear is very creative. We often believe it is only about money. It is not. It is having enough of anything: friends, time, toys, health, you name it!

This fear drives in us a need to find more and more. For some, this is the root cause of tendencies to hoard. We look at people in the news whose homes are stacked from floor to ceiling with junk, trash, magazines, whatever. But we fail to notice our own ways of hoarding –hiding money in accounts or under beds, having friends that we never contact and don’t really have anything in common with, gadgets that don’t meet our needs yet lure us to buy them. We hoard rolls of tissue paper, as if there will never be more, or at least more on sale! We move to bigger and bigger homes to hold more and more of our stuff.

We are predisposed to want to hold onto things. In fact, just look at the design of our bodies. The vast majority find it very easy to gain weight, to have our fat cells accumulate the extra calories. But we find our bodies very resistant to letting the weight go. Even at a cellular level, we end up hoarding!

Our bodies have lived through times of feast and times of famine. Those able to efficiently hold onto those extra calories got to pass on their genes. Bodies quickly burning through the available supply perished.

But it is our fear of not having enough that leaves us scrambling through daily life, so close to our work that we miss the destruction of this drive. Few people arrive at the end of their lives with regret for time they took in leisure. But many bemoan the lost time spent in work propelled by fear.

Many would argue that perhaps it is this very fear that has led us to great successes. And in many ways, they would be correct. It is another bit of irony that humans are much better at running away from something than running toward something. In other words, we are often more motivated by fear than by a goal.

It is also unfortunate, then, that this fear extracts a heavy toll on the individual. In some sense, it is society that profits from the motivation of fear, but at the expense of the individual. Look at it in a corporate sense. The bottom line of a corporation is often directly related to the degree of effort exerted by the individuals in that corporation. If fear is nipping at the heels of these individuals, more effort is exerted. This effort pays off for the company, but rarely for the individual. The reward for extra effort and extra time spent at work? Often, it is more responsibility, more stress, and more time required.

The individual is not benefitting in the same way the corporation does. In fact, the cost can be rather heavy. Our bodies are designed to live with stress for short periods of time –not for entire careers! In the short term, stress creates a readiness in the body for that flight/fight response. But in the long term, our bodies begin to break down when exposed to a constant level of stress. High blood pressure, diabetes, even cancer all have been attributed as outcomes to stress.

As is often the case, sometimes a fear has a basis in reality. Perhaps there really is a shortage, that there really isn’t enough. But sometimes a fear is irrational. It is not a reflection of reality. We come to believe there is not enough, but that exists only within the paradigm we weave within our mind.

Not Being Good Enough

Our second basic fear is not being good enough.

This fear is one of comparison, competition. We tend to judge ourselves against another standard. This standard is often a comparison between what we “know” about ourselves and what we “believe” about the other. In other words, we end up comparing all the negative stuff we think true about ourselves to the positive image others portray to us (and we portray to them). We end up seeing “the yuck” of our own lives, but fail to see it in the other.

When this is the case, there is no way for us to measure up. I know my internal world, but not that of the person I use for comparison. So all my faults end up being placed against only the strengths of the other.

Our fear of not being good enough, in evolutionary terms, is the reality of the survival of the fittest. If I am not good enough, I will not get the resources I need (or mate I need) to continue my (and my genes’) survival.

Here’s the problem: all living organisms are in this struggle. But day to day, moment to moment, only humans seem capable of making themselves miserable over this. It is merely a long-term question for other organisms. We humans, on the other hand, constantly underestimate our individual selves (while overestimating ourselves as a species).

Not Being Loved Enough

We humans really are “pack animals.”  We need connection.  We seek community.  Studies show that when people do not experience enough affection and love as infants and children, their long-term development is negatively impacted.  In other words, when we don’t get enough love, we suffer.  That need never goes away.

In fact, one of the highest ranking determinants of life satisfaction is having loving relationships.  That may not be a spouse or partner, but we all have the need to feel a sense of belonging.  Friends and family may fulfill that role, or it may be a spouse or partner.  Notice how we build communities with clubs, churches, social organizations, informal gatherings, even lunch groups at work.

So this fear of not being loved enough strikes deeply within us.  It is a fear that this basic need to be a part of a group, to feel accepted and loved, will not happen.  This is the fear that has us worried about our relationships, our love life, what people think of us, and influences how we interact with people.  The stronger this fear, the harder we work to not be rejected.  Sometimes this ends up being a very needy approach to relationships.  Sometimes this ends up being an act of not needing anyone.  If you know people who reject others before they are rejected, that person is as much caught up in this fear as someone who will do anything to maintain a relationship.

The Basic Fears Just Are

In other words, we all have those basic fears.  Most of us have one of these fears that is more potent than the others. If you take these three categories, begin to look at those thoughts that break you into a cold sweat or wake you up in the middle of the night.  Which category does that fear fall into?

Just being able to name the category is not going to end the fear.  It really is like anything else, though.  Once we expose it to daylight, it often loses its power.  Once we realize what is filling our sails, we may not be able to stop the wind, but we can learn to steer with it.  The fear may always be your basic fear, but knowing that allows you to avoid being run by it.

Quotes About Fear

Quotes on Dealing With Fear:

A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are for. –John A. Shedd

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear. –Mark Twain

Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive — the risk to be alive and express what we really are. –Don Miguel Ruiz

Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live. –Dorothy Thompson

Fear grows in darkness; if you think there’s a bogeyman around, turn on the light. –Dorothy Thompson

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do. –Eleanor Roosevelt

[W]e now know that the human animal is characterized by two great fears that other animals are protected from: the fear of life and the fear of death… Heidegger brought these fears to the center of his existential philosophy. He argued that the basic anxiety of [humanity] is anxiety about being-in-the-world, as well as anxiety of being-in-the-world. That is, both fear of death and fear of life, of experience and individuation. –Ernest Becker

Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is. –H. Jackson Browne

Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact. –Henry James

Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness. –James Thurber

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship. –Louisa May Alcott

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment. –Marcus Aurelias

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. –Marianne Williamson

Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is a freedom. –Marilyn Ferguson

Worry gives a small thing a big shadow. –Swedish Proverb

Usually a person has more faith in their fear than faith in their future. –Doug Firebaugh

A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears. –Michel de Montaigne

We have nothing to fear but fear itself. –Franklin D. Roosevelt

Love is always creative, fear always destructive. –Emmet Fox

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. –Helen Keller

Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile initially scared me to death. –Betty Bender

Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life. What is it you would let go of today? –Mary Manin Morrissey author

What I run from runs my life; what I face frees me to live. — Fred Richards

Rule 4: Fear Is A Fact Of Life

Fear is a fact of life.  We may as well get used to it.

I say that because we all spend an inordinate amount of energy avoiding fear.  For what?  We still feel it.  In fact, very often when we avoid fear, we really only grow that fear.

Let me be clear:  I am not talking about the fears that keep us alive (our survival instincts), but about the fears that rule our lives.  Someone gets anxious around others, so he or she stays away from people.  Someone fears speaking in front of others, so she or he turns down a great job to avoid that.  Someone fears a broken heart, so he or she avoids getting close to someone.

Fear pretends to be our friend.  It whispers in our ear that it is only protecting us, but fear restricts us.  It keeps us from living a full life.

Unless we learn to accept it and move on.  As Susan Jeffers says, “feel the fear and do it anyway.”  What powerful, and counterintuitive, advice!

This rule fits into the previous rules about thoughts because fear is tied into our thinking.  We use our thoughts to stay caught in our fears.  In this way, we misuse our thought capacity.

Just for a moment, let’s think about fear.  Remember the old “fight or flight response” from Biology 101?

Imagine yourself living millenia ago. The world was far less safe to you than it is now. Replace our city streets with small paths running through the jungles or forests. Imagine miles and miles between safety. Imagine not being at the top of the food chain (that’s a big one!). You are, literally, at the mercy of the elements! In some ways, it is amazing that our genes are even still around.

Through the process of natural selection, those capable of getting away, steering clear of danger (in other words, quick to feel danger and fear) survived to pass on their genes. Those more reckless or those unable to detect a threat no longer have genes to pass on. Those genes became extinct.

Now, in evolutionary terms, it has only been a blink-of-an-eye since then. While we have used our intellect to tame the wild, pushed back nature and its threat to the edge of town, we still live with those genes that were selected way back! In other words, we are wired to have a fear response.

Not only are we wired to have that response, it is a response that happens automatically. Remember that class when you heard how animals have a fight-or-flight response? That response is also a part of our make-up. Not only is it a part of our make-up, it still happens as automatically as it does for that animal.

For survival’s sake, our bodies do not need for our minds to take the time to consider a risk analysis. It needs for our minds to go on automatic while our bodies get out of the way. Imagine again, being alive millenia ago. Imagine walking down that path we mentioned. Imagine seeing a shadow move across the path. Our body does not need for us to have this thought: “Hmmm, I wonder if that was a saber-tooth tiger? Or maybe it was just my imagination? Perhaps a bird flying by?” By this time, if it were a saber-tooth tiger, our questions would have ceased, and a very satisfied tiger would remain.

And if we determined that it was, indeed a tiger in time, our mind does not need for us to ask the question: “should I run away? Or perhaps I should climb that tree? Or maybe I can scare the tiger away?” Our body needs us not to think, but to act. And in order for it to act, our body goes on automatic. It responds in ways that are almost impossible (notice the “almost” part) to control.

We see the shadow, and our pulse quickens, our breathing becomes more rapid. Our stomach tenses, and our palms become sweaty. Perhaps we even feel our feet take on a life of their own: they want us to run, move, get clear of the danger!

Our brain and body need for this to happen nearly instantaneously. That is what is necessary to survive. So we perceive a threat, and we respond.

Now, fast-forward those millenia. There are no saber-tooth tigers. Rarely do we find ourselves below the top position on the food chain. And our threats have become much more difficult to ascertain. Who is the enemy? Is it that person around the corner? Is it the boss? Is it our spouse? We still feel that immediate and automatic response to a sense of threat, even if that threat turns out to be nothing more than someone who had a bad day, someone who is not a threat but a grouch!

We have this automated system that scans for threats.  That is true for all crawling, flying, swimming and walking creatures.  There is only one difference for humans:  we add our thoughts into the process.  We feel some natural anxiety, but decide there is a threat.  Then we move into fear mode.

Think about two events for a moment.  Recall something that made you excited, gave you an adrenaline rush that you would seek out.  Now recall something that scared you, made your stomach do flip-flops and that you would avoid.

Got it in your mind?  For your body, there is no difference between those two reactions.  Your body is doing the exact same thing in either case.  The same chemicals are being released.  Your muscles are responding in the exact same way (including your heart)!  The difference between those two events?  Only the thoughts you attribute to each item.

And the same event may be interpreted in opposite ways by different people.  For example, I SCUBA dive.  I love it.  I find the experience to be exhilirating and freeing.  My wife does not care for the water.  The thought of being 80 feet below the surface is more frightening than exciting.

The task is to work through whether the fear is really protecting us, or if we are adding our thoughts in.  In other words, it is once again about becoming aware of our thoughts.  Once we are aware of the thoughts, we can choose to act in spite of feeling fear.  The presence of the fear is non-negotiable.