Fear seems so insidious, all-pervading. It seems to whisper to us and pull our strings behind the scenes of our daily lives. Secretly holding us back, spinning a web to slow us down and blur our sight.
But what if it wasn’t what we thought it was?
What would it mean for us if it didn’t have to be this way?
Who could we become if we let the shroud fall?
Accepted and Expected.
Before we start to take fear apart, let us look at how fear is often accepted, and even invisible, in society.
Fear has many guises. Leaving our phobias aside, I’m talking of the fears that have become so integrated into our everyday lives that we no longer recognize their presence or how they shape our behaviours.
One example that has brought this to light recently is this eye-opening chart on how women prevent assault that went viral across social media.
Jackson Katz, as part of his work on the ‘The Macho Paradox’ would ask the men in the room at his talks what they do on a daily basis to prevent assault. After some confusion, and some jokes, they said, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it’. That would be written on one side of his board.
Then he would ask the ladies in the room and listen, along with the astonished men, as they listed one thing after another that they did as routine to prevent assault. There are 34 behaviours listed on the ladies’ side of the chart— it’s probably not a complete list.
It’s important to be smart or aware. However, this example shows us how fear of something happening has been passed from society to the individual and how it now shapes the behaviour of many.
We also see this with adults and children. I’m a mum of three and I cannot count times I’ve said, “Be careful”.
Yet, it’s expected of us, to worry or be anxious on behalf of our loved ones. My eldest recently spent 3 months working in another country as part of his work experience. People expected me to be worried about him. I almost felt like a bad parent because I wasn’t worried!
Fear is the basis for some of our daily behaviours, shaping our routines and habits, and is a state that is expected of us.
It is used against us by media, advertising, and authorities alike to influence our spending and our choices.
a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur
The fear we’re looking at together is generally not that of all-out terror, a fight for survival. Some of you may have experienced fear in it’s strongest most brutal form, and for that, I am so sorry. Fear in a situation of danger has its purpose — to help us to survive.
Fear has levels, and like a staircase, you can go up or down through those levels:
Fear — an intense emotion caused by a real or perceived threat to our well-being
Anxiety — unease and nervousness about what we feel we can’t control , either an event, person, or problem.
Worry — chronic concern or mentally dwelling on difficulty or trouble (real or perceived)
Perception is everything.
“We live in the feeling of our thinking”
When my kids were small, we took them to a safari park and we had the opportunity to meet an elephant. It wasn’t a very big elephant, only a little higher than me, and was with his keeper in a field. My elder two hung back, eyeing it nervously even though they loved animals. My youngest surged forward, dragging me after him, and joyously started patting the elephant’s knee (that was as high as he could reach at only 18 months old or so) gazing up at the animal in wonder. When I looked round at the other two, my eldest said, “It’s a bit big, mummy”.
Perception is everything, even when it comes to elephants.
My eldest felt anxious, my youngest felt joy and wonder. The situation was the same, it’s how we perceive the situation that matters.
Did you notice in the definitions that fear can be from a real or perceived threat or difficulty?
Studies have shown that 80–90% of what we worry about doesn’t come to pass. Yet we worry, we procrastinate, we plan for contingencies. We agree with the worst case scenario .
Our deep agreement with a root fear or belief shapes our thinking and behaviour in a way that doesn’t serve us in terms of growth and productivity.
“Nothing is realistic or unrealistic — there is only what we think about any given situation. We create our own reality.”
Susan Jeffers, Author.
If I look at those agreements that I’ve personally made in a clear and honest way, I can often see where I have projected an experience from my past, or a perceived scenario, into my future.
My fear or apprehension of that happening shapes my decisions and my behaviour.
I’m not alone in this.
Fear of rejection, losing a job, poverty, divorce or abandonment, aging or sickness — I see these fears, and others, projected into the futures of those that I come into contact with.
They are projected into the future through the lens of perception, they haven’t come to pass, but they are living as though it will. They are making an agreement with an echo.
Fear is an echo of something previously perceived, either personally or inherently.
Tackling the root.
“The root of all fear is the fear of death”
I first heard that concept during a training seminar. My first reaction was, as usual, a big, “What? How can that be right?” which I then went on to investigate.
My observation is that fear is a sneaky blighter with a loud hailer who rarely shows itself for what it really is.
Why, for example, should people in England be afraid of spiders or snakes? In Australia it’s another matter, there the fear has a base in the reality that several beasties can easily kill you. Spiders in the UK, however, rarely bite and a snake bite from an indigenous species may be uncomfortable but not deadly. Yet ophidiophobiaand arachnophobia are third and fifth on the list respectively.
Phobias are fear without logic, but for me it gives credibility to the idea that the root of our fears is the fear of death itself.
Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. It ranks second in the UK and is probably one that you are familiar with.
How can this be linked to death? Not many public speakers are lynched or stoned these days.
If you speak with those who are anxious about public speaking, they may mention not wanting to stand out, not wanting to experience ridicule or shame, they worry about ‘messing it up’ and humiliation. Human beings are socially driven, our groups have hierarchy and knowing our place in that hierarchy or the collective identity can be very important to our psychological and emotional well-being.
Psychologists have taken this a step further by connecting with it that, in the past, being secure in the group meant a higher chance of protection and provision for you and your family. You had a higher chance of survival. Exclusion or expulsion from the group could mean serious consequences, even death.
Modern day social rejection appears to just implicate a social death, but somewhere in our psyche is the memory of survival and well-being being dependent on the collective group.
Fear is an echo of historical mankind’s collective drive for survival.
The life of Brian
Those who have faced death come away different.
Sometimes the fear can grip ever tighter as it now seems justified, or we can choose life. I’ve had friends die in their 30s and 40s, and not many of us are untouched by the shadow of cancer in some way or form. But facing the mortality of others can help us to choose to live, to appreciate what we have to celebrate and enjoy in our own lives.
Facing your own mortality changes a person.
Brian Pennie, in his article ‘What it’s like to die before you die’, explains it to us like this:
“Fifteen years of addiction had taken a climactic hold. I lost my job, my mind, every important relationship in my life, and my body was rapidly deteriorating.”
Then, he chose to live.
He faced the death of his relationships, his status, his mind, his body.
What makes Brian remarkable is the way that, today, fear doesn’t faze him. His message as a writer, university lecturer, public speaker, and self-development coach is ‘Change is Possible’. He seeks to free others from fear.
When speaking with him, you are left with such a sense of vitality, of possibility and opportunity. His ‘Why not?’ attitude is inspirational. He’ll pursue an opportunity where others would have not dared ask, and that has brought him success that others have only dreamed of from afar
He understands how his thinking shapes his opportunity and reality.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Personally, I am not afraid of death — the dying bit can be undignified or uncomfortable, so I’m not looking forward to that, but the being dead part doesn’t worry me. In my mind, it’s just like emigration with less paperwork.
So why do I have fear operating in my life?
Because I’ve made agreements with the echoes.
In her classic book ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ Susan Jeffers asks us a powerful question.
“If you knew you could handle anything that came your way, what could you possibly have to fear?”
It’s a challenging concept: if we believe in ourselves and the abundance and opportunity of life, creating that which we want through our choices and our thinking, what reality could we create?
How would seeing fear, not as the real deal, but as an echo change how we grow and live?
Back here again
Have you ever experienced times when you feel like you’re back facing an old enemy?
One of mine is ‘the fear of success’.
I think I’ve been there and sorted that, only to notice the old familiar symptoms again — procrastination, perfectionism, slipping back into redundant habits. When this happened I used to feel really disheartened and down, I’d feel like I would never be free of it.
Then I heard Gay Hendricks explain that growth happens in a spiral.
What I was seeing and experiencing were only echoes of what had been, as I passed that way higher up the spiral.
“Fear is excitement without the breath”
Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy.
I first heard this idea through the coaching of Gay Hendricks, author and coach. After questioning it intellectually, I’ve been living this out since I heard about it.
This is the second layer to the experiment. Understanding that we live in the feeling of our thinking, that perception is everything, is the first layer. Using our power of choice is the third.
Breathing is something that we’re all pretty familiar with. We do it a lot. We don’t have to think about doing it as we even have a special part of the brain, the medulla, that regulates it all for us. However, we can consciously change our breathing patterns, and this in turn affects us physically and even emotionally.
Did you know that you can change your body chemicals and signals with just three deep controlled breaths?
Just three. It seems that the old advice to ‘take a deep breath’ has some truth to it. Breathing in a deep and controlled manner calms the brain.
Studies have also shown such diaphragmatic breathing techniques can increase attention duration and decrease the negative effects of stress and the hormones associated with it.
Before going on stage, I consciously warm up and relax my body, especially my neck muscles. Deep breathing is included as part of the preparation and that, along with my trigger line to get me into character, allows me to access a peak state of focus, ready to perform. It made me wonder if using this technique would benefit me in other areas of my life.
When fear grips us, or when we’re anxious, everything tightens up and our breathing becomes faster and more shallow. But by consciously taking deep, controlled breaths from our diaphragm we are sending the message back to our unconscious mind that everything is okay (mind-body intervention). It believes the message and our brain then chemically reacts accordingly (physiological response), lowering levels of cortisol, a hormone released during times of stress.
All that from a few deep breaths.
Change the script.
This is when the third layer of my experiment comes into play. I change the script.
To change my thinking (and therefore my feeling, perception, and created reality) I need to change the words that I use when talking about things and especially when talking to myself.
In a previous article on using the power subconscious mind we look at using questions and the positive reshaping of affirmative statements to activate and reprogram our mind.
What I have been doing recently is literally breathing into the feelings of tightness that come with worry, anxiety or fear. For me, consciously breathing in is choosing abundance and life, not fear and death, and I’m sending positive signals to my brain that all is well.
I’m teaching my first local coaching workshop this month. If I think to myself, “Oh, that’s scary…never done this before…who am I to be doing this?…” do you think my anxiety level will go up or down? (Sorry, no gold star if you answered up.)
So I’ll catch myself, and change the script. Instead of saying that it’s scary, I’ll switch the label to ‘exciting’ instead. Sometimes I use ‘interesting’ or ‘fun’. When I do this, I can literally feel the energy rise in my body. I find myself smiling!
What goes into our ears and eyes goes into our mind and out through our beliefs and actions. Words have power.
By being intentional about our words, we have the power to define a situation, change a perspective and, therefore, change the outcome that we create.
“Positive words make us physically strong, negative words make us physically weak…It is as though the inner self doesn’t know what is true and what is false. It only reacts to what is fed.”
Next time you feel yourself react to worry, anxiety, or fear in which ever guise it harasses you in, you can choose to change the outcome.
- Breathe. Take a deep controlled breath from your diaphragm. In and out of you nose.
- Understand that fear is an echo and let the echoes fade. Take 3–4 deep, controlled breaths as you do this.
- Change the story you’re telling yourself — if you write the script, you write the next chapter of the story. Say your changed phrases out loud to yourself. Listen to them.
- Allow your perception to shift.
- Change your perception of a situation — you’ll change your starting point for your decisions, your actions, and therefore your outcome.