“Fear constitutes the most intense form of human oppression. When you are afraid, you cannot be happy. Fear is the single most destructive emotion in the heart’s armoury, the single biggest roadblock that you will encounter in your search for fulfilment and happiness,” says Shmuley Boteach, author of Face Your Fear: Living with Courage in an Age of Caution.
It is only when we decide to face our fears and challenge them that we begin to realise how changeable and often trifling our fears really are. Arguably, one of the most damaging results of being ruled by our fears is that of the resultant regret it often leaves behind. There are numerous ways in which fear can lead to regret in our lives; one example we can all relate to is that of career advancement.
Veronica had worked in the same position for a number of years. She had been responsible for training numerous new employees in her department during that time. After many years of working together, Veronica’s supervisor, Dawn, was moving on to a management position. Dawn encouraged Veronica to apply for her old job, but Veronica was afraid to apply for her supervisor’s position in case she got the job but was not able to perform at the same standard Dawn had maintained. Veronica decided to “play it safe” and stay where she was, as she knew she was very good at fulfilling her current role and felt secure in that knowledge.
Plus Veronica had decided the potential risk of humiliation in front of her colleagues and old supervisor far outweighed the advantages she would enjoy in the higher position. So, instead, one of Veronica’s far less experienced co-workers applied and got the position. Not surprisingly, this outcome left Veronica suffering a mountain of regret. In allowing her fear of failure to guide her decisions she had also deprived herself of a wonderful opportunity to take up a position she would probably have greatly enjoyed.
This example makes it easy to see how our fears can act as a barrier, preventing us from achieving what we want. In not achieving our goals because we are too afraid of the risks involved, we end up letting our fears drive our lives in a direction we would rather not go. It was quite reasonable for Veronica to be anxious about applying for the supervisor position, for it required her to step out of her “comfort zone”. The problem came when she allowed the fear of failure to defeat her, preventing her from even attempting something she really desired.
Although we’d rather not suffer its unpleasant effects, fear can be an important emotion, notifying us of danger. “If we couldn’t be afraid, we wouldn’t survive for long. We’d be walking into oncoming traffic, stepping off rooftops and carelessly handling poisonous snakes,” says Julia Layton, author of How Fear Works. However, when our fears become excessive, they can work as an emotional anchor, preventing us from enjoying happy and fulfilling lives.
The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we are able to control fear when it occurs, or whether our fears are at the wheel, steering the course of our lives by influencing our decisions. When left unchecked, fear can become quite a debilitating part of your life without you even realising it. In some cases it can get to the point where you may wake up one day and realise you can’t remember what it’s like to feel calm. The biggest problem with allowing yourself to be controlled by your fears is, the more you try to avoid the things that make you fearful, the seemingly larger the list of things you are afraid of will become.
The most damaging effect this kind of fear can have is that you develop a persistent need to stifle these fears and deny you have them. And so, unwittingly, you make them larger than life in your mind.
Stop fear from running your life
It’s important to identify our fears and challenge them so we can diminish their impact and be free to achieve our goals.
- Take some blank paper and put FEAR in the middle of the page with a box around it.
- Start brainstorming all the things that make you feel fearful; the number of items can be as many as you like. If it is real to you, no fear is too small to be included.
- When you have completed the page, take a step back and look over all the things that make you feel fear. Begin to look for any similarities in the different items on your page. You will probably realise that certain ones have a similar theme so can be grouped together. For example, a fear of wasting time can be linked to a fear of taking chances. Once you have challenged your fear of taking chances, you will no longer feel that you’re wasting time!
- At the beginning of every week, look at the list and choose another “fear item” to challenge. It’s important not to overwhelm yourself. Start on smaller fears and build up from there. You will find that as you succeed in reducing or even eliminating smaller fears, your confidence will allow you to challenge bigger issues that cause you to be fearful.
For the broken-hearted
A commonly felt fear is one caused by a broken heart. Most of us have, unfortunately, been there and risking going through that agony more than once can be very scary. This fear can lead us to build an emotional barricade around ourselves in an attempt to prevent it from happening again. The biggest mistake you can make is to think, “The break-up really broke my heart and I’m afraid that someone new might break it again, so next time I’m going to only go on dates with people I think might be potential life partners.”
This puts far too much pressure on you and an unrealistic level of expectation on any people who may cross your path. A way to challenge this fear may be to make the idea of dating fun and lighthearted. Why not drag some friends along to a speed-dating session? It’s harmless fun that you can share with your friends to giggle about later. The best thing will be that you might discover there are many lovely people out there, people well worth taking a chance on.
Let fear = achievement
A final element of fear that cannot go unmentioned is its potential as a tool of success. This is, of course, after you have learned to harness your fears. A healthy amount of fear is essential as it provides you with a keen sense of self-awareness (ie, drawing your attention to things you must do/improve/strive towards); drives you to go to work each day so you have money to pay the bills; gets you studying so you can pass the course and get your dream job; or encourages you to slog it out in the gym so you can have a healthy body.
See how certain types of fears can actually be utilised to provide you with the necessary motivation to achieve your dreams and desires? Use the tools mentioned to take the first steps towards stopping fear from running your life.