“Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.”
― Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
Most of us a have a list of things we are afraid of.
The list can go on and on. Some might have one big fear, while others have several.
Some come up in everyday conversation, others might feel fearless until they encounter one thing that can change everything.
Fear is everywhere and we live with it day to day. Some fears are easier to overcome than others though. I’m pretty certain I’ll never get over my fear of heights. Then again, I don’t have much of a desire to. I’m ok with keeping my two feet on the ground, thank you.
My fear of people? Different story.
Most fears put you in this dichotomy of a desire to do something, be someone and at the same time not want to cross that threshold or take that step. It’s scary. There are risks.
Fear comes from not knowing what is on the other side.
Most fears can be boiled down to this singular fear. We fear the unknown.
Which realistically, is every day. Any given day, something unexpected happens. Somethings we just know how to deal with better than others.
Here is a list of questions to consider when we think about the things that terrify us:
How likely am I to encounter this fear?
Some fears we don’t run into very often. We don’t need to stress about something that isn’t really likely to happen. I’m afraid of snakes, but when I lived in Hawaii, I didn’t have to worry about it much. (This was several years ago and though rare- there have been snake sightings on the islands.)
Some fears we run into every day. Did I mention I was scared of people? Good luck trying to avoid THAT fear.
People are necessary. Relationships are vital to emotional health, and are integral to survival. Man has existed for millennia due to tribes. Whether you got along or not, everyone in that tribe had a role to play for survival.
With this understanding, I then realized that fear is something I would just have to overcome. I couldn’t stay the shy teenager that wouldn’t answer if you asked her a direct question.
If I wanted friends and the ability to do things I would have to learn to overcome this fear. I had to talk to people. I had to not be afraid when someone offered help. I needed to offer help in return when I was in a position to give it.
So how relevant is your fear to your life? Stop and think about if this particular fear is inhibiting you from things you want to do. Those are the fears to focus on.
Why Is It So Terrifying?
Let’s look at the people example again. I can’t just avoid contact with humans, we already discussed that is slightly important. So what about people is so scary?
Why would I rather lose a limb than engage in a simple conversation?
When I ask myself these questions, I kept finding the answers were something I could work with.
I was afraid of being judged. Hated. Left alone.
Let me repeat that last one for clarity: I would rather spend my life alone than being left alone by others.
A little ironic, don’t you think?
We don’t ask that certain someone on a date, we don’t go after that promotion or make moves in our lives and cry, “If only…” without realizing we are literally the only thing holding us back.
We live without the things we want without even trying.
Which brings me to the next question:
What Is The Worst That Could Happen?
Sometimes the worst that could happen is that we stay in the same state we are currently living.
Sometimes it could be much worse.
Part of my fear of people came from being abused. I used the hashtag #metoo. I didn’t want to repeat these terrible experiences I had.
Problem is, I still have a desire to have a family of my own with happy and healthy relationships.
Recently my desire to overcome my fear of people became much stronger and I am taking more time to focus on getting myself in a state of openness.
Please keep in mind, this process takes time. These epiphanies came over a span of years.
The above question made a huge difference for me, and I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders when I realized exactly what I was doing and it completely shifted my mindset.
What is the worst that can happen? It already did.
Because I had that experience, I know what I would do different and I know I can heal from it. I am stronger than this experience.
In order to avoid repeating certain experiences, I was holding myself back from creating new ones.
I was avoiding good men thanks to my fear.
Not all men are the same, not all experiences are going to be the same.
There is the possibility of finding good men, and once I stopped being so afraid, it was easier to find them.
What Are You Looking For?
Isn’t it funny how we find the things we are looking for?
Being terrified of people who would take advantage of me, kept me watchful. I had to be careful.
Being wary of people who might take advantage of me is what I was looking for. Guess what I found.
Shifting that mindset to look for the people who do good changed my life. I suddenly found people I wanted to be like. People who give and enjoy life. People who think a lot more like I do.
Let’s change the object of fear to make sure it still fits. I am also terrified of snakes. I grew up in the desert where rattlesnakes are fairly prevalent. I was always watching out for them to avoid the pain and danger that comes with a snake bite.
I found them all over the place. Kind of. Any stray shoelace made me jump. I would scream anytime someone pulled on the garden hose. I saw snakes every where, even if they weren’t real. We find what we are looking for.
Focus instead on things you actually want to see. You can still be aware of your surroundings without overdoing it.
What Are You Passionate About?
Rather than looking for the thing(s) you are afraid of, focus on what you love and what you want more of in your life. What are the things you love?
I love stories. I was the kid that got grounded from books for an entire summer for reading too much.
I read so many books, devouring each story as quickly as I could get my hands on them. Around the time I turned 12, I realized stories come in more forms than just books as I listened to my family telling stories of things they had seen and heard and experienced.
I wanted to experience stories, not just read them. I started listening to people as they gathered and exchanged stories. It was about this time that I realized stories came from people. We write them, tell them, create them.
Stories then became a great motivator to face my fear of people.
I was so passionate about stories that it didn’t matter how much people scared me. I needed to hear their story.
Understanding their story suddenly makes them a lot less terrifying.
What Would I Do?
One last question to put things into perspective. If I do encounter the thing I fear most, what do I do? Coming back to this fear of the unknown, if we mentally prepare for what happens, we have a plan to get through it.
Some things are unexpected. Sometimes the fear IS the unexpected. There are still steps that help us to prepare and allow us to move forward.
Take for example a burning building. If you are inside, do you know how to get out? Do you know more than one way out? Take a few minutes every time you go into a new building to learn the layout.
You then have a plan, allowing you to keep a level head in case of an emergency and don’t have to spend the rest of the time in the building being afraid.
Let’s come back to snakes. If you run into a snake what do you do? The answer is freeze by the way. In the case of rattlesnakes at least. Rattlesnakes will coil up and rattle when they feel threatened.
That’s right, they are scared of people. We are bigger than they are after all. They will strike with any sudden movement. Freeze, then move slowly in the opposite direction.
I would still be terrified if I ran into a snake or found myself in a burning building, but at least I have a plan for survival should the need arise.
I just have to remember to take a deep breath and follow the plan. If there is no plan, still take a deep breath, slow down and put one together.
Asking myself these questions helped me to look at fear in a whole new light. I could suddenly separate myself and look at it logically.
Life is too short to spend so much time living in fear. I would rather spend my time obtaining the things I desire rather than avoiding fear. Especially considering avoiding fear is a guaranteed failure.
The more we fear, the more fears we find.
The unexpected finds ways to happen. Then so can my dreams. Where is your focus?
Call to Action
Tired of living in fear? Download my free guide Control Your Story with questions to help you figure out how to use things to your advantage.
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