You are on your way to accomplishing a massive goal. Things are in motion. Everyone is looking at you; suddenly you get stuck. You can’t move on. Fear just invaded your mind. So, you downplay your goal. You take a secure path where success is guaranteed.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. — Psalm 23: 4
I find this passage of the Bible remarkable. It shows us the magnificent power we have over fear. Yet, to overcome fears we need to understand them, challenge them and develop the right mindset.
What is Fear?
A problem well stated is a problem half-solved. — Charles Kettering
According to the Cambridge Dictionary: “Fear is the “unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful, or bad that is happening or might happen.”
Notice a few important terms in this definition. Unpleasant emotion, worry and something is or might happen. The word “certainty” doesn’t appear in the definition because fears are born from uncertainty.
Let’s look at a more interesting definition.
F.E.A.R (false evidence appearing real). Although the source of this quotation is unknown, it holds a surprising truth. We crave certainty, our brain searches for evidence in the real world to confirm what we think. Once confirmed (confirmation bias)we believe it to be true. We justify our fears by provoking it to happen in real life, i.e.self-fulling prophecy.
Understanding our lizard brain
Fear is not just an emotional reaction, it’s also biological. When we are afraid, a part of our brain commonly called “lizard brain” takes command and leads us. Seth Godin coined this term in his book Linchpin.
Located in the limbic system, the lizard brain’s scientific name is amygdala. According to an article of Joseph Troncale on the blog Psychology Today, “The lizard brain is in charge of fight, flight, feeding, fear, freezing-up, and fornication”.
When the lizard brain senses danger, it tells us to run or hide.
Let’s look at an example:
I hate talking on the phone. It feels uncomfortable to me and requires a lot of brainpower. When I need to make a call I feel a great deal of panic and my lizard brain says:
What if they don’t answer.
What if you don’t say well what you want to say? So, every time I have to call someone, I procrastinate out of fear.
The simple act of standing in front of people is a threat to the amygdala. It cannot differentiate real danger from false ones. It’s often why we are afraid when public speaking or watching a scary movie when we know it’s just a movie. The lizard brain perceives as threat everything that makes us uncomfortable. But we all know, there’s no progress in our comfort zone.
How to slay your fears?
Action is the antidote to fear. In his book The War Of Art, Steven Pressfield stated: “Most of us have two lives. The life we live and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.”
There are several instances in our life where fear took over our ability to think or prevent us from doing an important mission. Unless you live in a country where there’s incessant bombing, it’s not to your advantage to let fear crush your dreams.
Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential… Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work. — Steven Pressfield
When fear strikes in, we should ask ourselves: Is this a real threat? Am I going to die? Will this matter two years from now?. By real threat, I mean is your life is in danger?
As the ubiquitous saying goes : feel the fear and do it anyway.
Afraid to speak up in the meeting? Your opinion might be the missing ingredient. Fear is often a sign we are doing what matters. We experience little fear doing something unimportant. In fear of jeopardizing your current social status, do not just do the safest thing. Go in the direction of your fears and dance with it.
In his book The Flinch, Julien Smith advises that not flinching is important to keep top of mind when facing fear, saying:
You don’t need to throw yourself into a fire to know it’s bad. But most lessons aren’t like this. They aren’t fatal, and they will make you stronger, not weaker. You should seek them out.
Develop the right mindset
Without the right belief, it’s impossible to look fear in the eyes. Research has shown there are two mindsets that govern our life. A growth mindset and a fixed mindset.
Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, explained the difference between the two in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. People with a fixed mindset look for ways to confirm what they know by staying in their lane. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset look for learning opportunities and ways to conquer new ground. In summary, the “fixed mindset peeps” want to prove what they already know while “growth mindset folks” are looking to know/do what they haven’t done or known.
“In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.” Carol Dweck
Take a look at the decisions you made this year. Were they there to challenge you? If not, sit down to write a fears-to-face list. Then, give yourself a deadline to face them. Start by tackling the smallest ones.
Each fear you overcome gives you a ticket to face the next one. Our actions and inaction dictate if our fears will turn into triumphs or into regrets.
While writing this post my lizard brain is shouting:
This post is too long.
You are not an expert on what you are talking about.
I couldn’t care less.
If I had succumbed to this fear, I would not have written an in-depth post like this one. Of course fewer people will read, but that’s not the point. The point is to challenge myself as well as help people think in ways they haven’t done before.
If our ancestors were afraid of dying, we would still be slaves.
If Martin Luther king had let if his fear of public speaking win, his dreams would not be real today.
Imagine all the great things we will not have if we operate from a place of fears. In my own life, I’ve discovered my bad habits are often the results of fears. I become a better human being each time I face those fears.