Fear can be a useful ally. It can focus us, keep us safe, even keep us alive. Fear of illness or injury can motivate us to stop smoking, to exercise, and to eat healthier food. In our communities, fear can motivate us to make our air and water cleaner, our bridges and levees stronger, our workplaces safer.
Fear can also be an enormous hindrance. It can color our world so that a rope appears as a dangerous snake or an offer of friendship is perceived as an imposition or even an attack. We can fear not getting promoted or losing our jobs, fear what people think about us, or fear that people aren’t thinking at all about us. The list of possible fears is almost endless, so it is not surprising that, sometimes without our knowing it, our actions and decisions can become ruled by fear.
When we are afraid, our first impulse is to tighten our bodies and shut down our minds. We are no longer receptive and playful, which becomes an enormous hindrance to learning new skills in the workplace, to collaborating, and to making interpersonal connections.
Buddhism speaks of five primary fears:
- Fear of losing our state of mind
- Fear of public humiliation, or fear of speaking in public
- Fear of losing one’s reputation
- Fear of losing one’s livelihood
- Fear of death
Reducing fear (and its physical manifestation, anxiety) and opening oneself to new possibilities — surprises, even — is the first step toward a more lasting sense of freedom. To reduce our fears we must begin by acknowledging and becoming aware of them. This process of increasing awareness of fear is strangely freeing in and of itself. Each day brings experiences in which we have an opportunity to acknowledge our fears without self-flagellation (more on this below) so that they can be set free. This can allow wholly new approaches or solutions to appear, giving us the space to focus on our most important goals (even if, in losing our fear, our goals become something very different than previously imagined!).
Fear is like the “gunk” or rust that clogs our minds and our bodies, the perfect and beautiful engines we were born with. In our current world of more-faster-better, it can be difficult to see and feel the pervasive influences of fear. Transforming fear is not a one-time thing, either; we must develop ongoing strategies and habits to continually lessen it.
3 Ways to Acknowledge and Release Your Fears
- Invite your fears to tea
Begin by naming your top five fears. Write each one on a piece of paper. If so inclined, you can actually make a pot of tea and fill a cup for each of your fears. When we acknowledge and open up playfully to our fears, they tend to lose their influence and power.
- Play with your perception of time
Spend some time every day outside of usual “clock time”—in meditation, with mindfulness practice, or by taking a walk in the park, for example. These practices can act as antidotes to the fears we hold about not having enough time (which is a root cause of feelings of burnout and overwhelm).
- Practice generosity
Generosity is the perfect antidote to fear. When you practice being generous with your time, your joy, and your spirit, fear has no choice but to loosen its grip. In fact, finding composure and acting with clarity and resolve, right in the midst of your fears, is a form of generosity that in Buddhism is sometimes referred to as “giving the gift of fearlessness.”
One of my favorite quotes about fear:
In my next newsletter, I’ll talk about the self-defeating practice of making assumptions, and we’ll explore ways to identify and let go of limiting beliefs.