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How is your Fear Level?



In 2001, after 6 months of unemployment, I began to experience some pretty serious fear. After another 6 months reinventing myself for a new job (and making lousy money), fear was turning into outright panic.


On Tuesdays (bill night at Casa de Birkhead) as I faced the stack of bills and the checkbook, I often had to leave and take a walk around the block to just breathe and remind myself I wasn't going to explode or have a nervous breakdown.


I still face a lot of ingrained fear from my childhood and from (idiotically) training myself to be a 'glass half empty' guy for most of my life. But I'm learning, from reading, my coach and from trying new things. Here are a few thoughts on fear.


Fear itself is OK - fear is natural and not necessarily a bad thing. Fear is useful because it guides and protects us from doing things that will actually harm us, like walking too close to the edge of a cliff, or putting our hand in the fire.


But behind most legitimate fears are horrific, irrational illusions of harm that often don't serve us like normal fear. In fact, walking through life while persistently coddling this kind of irrational illusion is paralyzing and counter-productive.


Many people become conditioned to the coddling...they associate past memories or other people's stories of actual harm with circumstances that appear to be leading to the same kind of harm. So regardless of how different the circumstances, they can 'feel' the same misfortune coming their way.


For me, getting laid off and facing financial hardship brought back terrible childhood memories and hurts. Nothing about my adult life was the same as when I was a kid, but the illusion that I could put my own family through that same kind of pain was so strong that it was often completely paralyzing.


The associations weren't valid...I'm not my dad, my wife isn't my mom, I don't live in the same town, or have the same abilities. Literally nothing is the same, but for a long period of time I let the illusion of potential future harm alter my ability to act in the here and now. And just so you know I'm not "holier than thou," I still regularly wrestle those old demon fears...I master them more often now, but they haven't gone away.


Many people fall into this irrational fear trap...and in the deep bottom of that pit are four predictable results.


First, we feel anxious, nervous and afraid to act, so we won't or don't do the very things that might relieve us of the circumstances surrounding our fear. Because we make decisions based on emotional projections of the future and are coddling imaginary hurts, we often can't act rationally in the here and now. Often if we do decide to act, we go timidly and without confidence, sabotaging our effort and ending in a 'self-fulfilling' prophecy where we fail.


Second, we use up energy we need for other parts of life. Suddenly we're too tired and lethargic physically and mentally to love those around us, stay alert to opportunity or experientially new habits that might keep us from real harm.


Third, we radiate fear to the people around us, making them either shrink from us (which puts us in stony isolation) or join us (multiplying and legitimizing the fear). It's common knowledge that misery loves company, and a big reason is that sometimes we'd rather be around other people who are afraid than screw up the courage to act no matter what other people think, or what the outcome is.


Fourth, we radiate that fear to the universe and out into our own future. That's particularly dangerous because a person becomes what he or she habitually thinks about: their mind and heart naturally react to the feelings about their irrational fear in ways that actually push us toward the feared thing, rather than away from it.


Often, we know these things are true, but choose irrational fear anyway.


We believe that fear is the natural and easier response, so we allow it. Or we try to be brave on the outside (put on a happy face), but don't have the will to really change what's happening on the inside. So even while we attempt to persuade others and ourselves that we're OK, inside we're wracked with doubt and fear, our self-talk remains negative and our actions powerless.


If you're seeing yourself in this post, first let me offer you this knowledge from my own experience: it's OK. Stop worrying about it! Stop feeling guilty or strange or anything else about it - just accept where you're at, even if you're still afraid. You're not the first to feel like you do now, you won't be the last, and you can learn to act in spite of it.


There are other steps after that - specific disciplines, self-love and an iron will to do what's in your own best interest, rather than letting our own heart or feelings dictate what should be managed by our will. But they're just steps...anyone that WILL take them, can take them.


Fear is a natural reaction, but irrational fear is a learned one that most people can interrupt and learn to do without. Unless you have chemical or other physical issues, attaching yourself to the illusion of harm and letting it knock you off track is a choice you can un-make whenever you want to. It's a matter of will and technique.


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