Redefining Fear

Fear can often stop us from doing so much; it can stop us from starting a new business, meeting new people, standing up for what we believe in, and so many other things. When we let fear take over it controls us and I say ‘let’ because it is a choice. When we feel fear what if we decide to do the thing that scares us anyway?

Like any emotion, fear is felt in the body as a response to a stimulus. This stimulus will be different for different people. A common example would be public speaking; when faced with speaking to a large group of people many people will experience fear. This triggers the sympathetic nervous system and we experience things like – dry mouth, sweaty palms, increased heart rate. This is the ‘fight or flight’ response within the body which has been very useful at keeping us alive in the past. When faced with a fear, such as coming face to face with a tiger, this rush of adrenaline from the sympathetic nervous system helped us to stay alive. However, in a modern world where we experience such extreme situations a lot less frequently, we still have this response but to less life-threatening situations.

We sometimes feel fear in response to something we have experienced before and want to avoid in the present/future or it can be response to something we have not yet experienced but have attached negative thoughts to. Both of these can be an unnecessary need for fear – just because something has been negative in the past does not mean it will be again in the future and if it is something we have not experienced before then we really cannot assume it will be! However, this is easier said than done. The physical response of emotion within the body is immediate. The mental response to emotion is more considered – this we can control. This is what we need to learn to harness.

When we feel fear in our bodies we often forget to differentiate that from our mental evaluation of the physical experience. We attach thoughts to our emotions without realising we’re doing it! In being more mindful we can learn to recognise the emotion, the feeling in our body, in response to a situation and change the way we think about it. When we experience fear it’s important to take a moment to really listen to the body, feel the physical sensations and just notice how it feels in the body without judgement and without attachment of thoughts. Changing the mind from judgement: ‘I feel afraid’ to acknowledgement: ‘my heart is beating fast and my stomach feels unsettled’. Noticing the facts of the physical sensations on their own. In making this separation, this distinction, we can remember it is a physical experience and we can choose to take some deep breaths, feel the feelings and attach different thoughts.

In being more mindful we can choose not to give into the same stories we tell ourselves about fear.

Tim Ferris recommends asking yourself the following questions when faced with fear: “What are the worst things that could happen?” and “Could I get back here?”. In working out the worst case scenarios we will often realise they are not that bad, or we realise that it might not ultimately change our lives that drastically. This can be a good place to start but for me I prefer to thing about the best case scenarios when faced with fear. I choose to ask myself “But what if it works?” thinking about the positives, all the amazing things that can happen if I lean into the fear and do the thing anyway. That feels like power to me.

Changing the way we ‘judge’ or ‘label’ an emotion can be powerful. Fear can be our strength. From fear we can do amazing things.

Take a moment to think of something you’re fearful of. Sit with any physical sensations which arise in the body notice the physical without attaching thoughts, just feel it in the body. Take a few super deep breaths, let it dissolve a little, then write it down; why does that thing make you feel fear and how can you turn it into a strength? How can you use your fear to make something or do something awesome?

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