“Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.”
Karl Augustus Menninger
“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.”
What is holding you back?
Whatever you answer, it will in many cases boil down to fear in some form.
Now, fear can be useful to keep yourself alive. But many times, especially if you live a life where you have the possibility to reading these words, fear is just a big obstacle in your path.
But what can you do about fear? How can you overcome it?
In this article I'd like to explore a few of the timeless things that people have learned about that throughout the last few thousands of years.
1. Face your fear to become stronger.
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.”
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Every time you face a fear you gain the 3 important qualities that Eleanor Roosevelt mentions above. And the next thing that comes along will be easier to handle.
And if you have to handle a big fear, whatever it may be, and later realise you actually survived it, many things in life you may have feared previously seems to shrink. Those fears become smaller. They might even disappear.
You might think to yourself that what you thought was a fear before wasn't that much to be afraid of at all. Everything is relative. And every triumph, problem, fear and experience becomes bigger or smaller depending to what you compare it to.
But to gain a wider perspective of human experience and grow you really have to step up and face your fear.
2. Facing your fear can be surprisingly anticlimactic.
“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is perhaps my favourite quote about fear. From a distance and in you mind things may seem very difficult and frightening. But when you actually step up and take action I think many of us have been surprised of how the beard of that bully just comes off. Why? Let's move on to the next tip…
3. Take action and get busy.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
“Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.”
You can't sit around think and waiting for courage and confidence to come knocking on the door. If you do, you may just experience the opposite effect. The more you think, the more fear you build within.
We often build scary monsters in our heads.
Maybe because of things we have learned from the news, the TV or the movies. Or we just think so much about something that our minds start to create totally unlikely horror scenarios of what may happen.
As you may have noticed in your own life, 80-90 percent of what we worry about never really comes into reality. Instead things can become anticlimactic when we take action. The beard of the bully comes off surprisingly easy if we just step up and take action.
And many times we get the courage we need after we have done what we feared. Not the other way around.
4. Fear is often based on unhelpful interpretation.
“Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real.”
As humans we like to look for patterns. The problem is just that we often find negative and not so helpful patterns in our lives based on just one or two experiences. Or by misjudging situations. Or through some silly miscommunication.
When you get too identified with your thoughts you'll believe anything they tell you. A more helpful practise may be to not take your thoughts too seriously. A lot of the time they and your memory are pretty inaccurate.
But this is a good thing too.
Because it opens you up to re-examining old beliefs you have based on experiences you may have interpreted in not the most helpful way. It opens you up to try again and see what happens this time instead of staying stuck in thought, inaction and fear.
5. Don't cling to your illusion of safety.
“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
Why do people sit on their hands? Is it just because they become paralyzed with fear? I'd say no. Another big reason why people don't face their fears is because they think they are safe where they are right now. But the truth is what Keller says; safety is mostly a superstition. It is created in your mind to make you feel safe. But there is no safety out there really. It is all uncertain and unknown.
- You may get laid off.
- Someone may break up with you and leave.
- Illness will probably strike.
- Death will certainly strike in your surroundings and at some point come to visit you too.
- Who knows what will happen?
This superstition of safety is not just something negative. It's also created by your mind so you can function in life. No point in going all paranoid about what could happen a minute from now day in and day out. But there is also not that much point in clinging to an illusion of safety. So you need to find balance where you don't obsessed by the uncertainty but also recognize that it is there and live accordingly.
As you stop clinging to your safety life also becomes a whole lot more exciting and interesting. You are no longer as confined by an illusion and realize that you set your limits for what you can do and to a large extent create your own freedom in the world. You are no longer building walls to keep yourself safe as those walls wouldn't protect you anyway.
6. Be curious.
“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.”
When you are stuck in fear you are closed up. You tend to create division in your world and mind. You create barriers between you and other things/people.
Curiosity on the other hand is filled with anticipation and enthusiasm. It opens you up. And when you are open and enthusiastic then you have more fun things to think about than focusing on your fear.
Curiousness also opens you up to gain understanding of something. And with understanding vague, fog-like fears disappears.
The emotions you experience are often as a result of what you focus your mind on. Change what you focus on about something and you can change your emotions about that thing.
How do you become more curious? One way is to remember how life has become more fun in the past thanks to your curiosity and to remember all the cool things it helped to discover and experience. And then to work at it. Curiosity is a habit. The more curious you are the more curious you become. And over time it becomes more of a natural part of you.
7. Remove separation. Remove fear.
“Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.”
Isa Upanishad, Hindu Scripture
The ego wants to divide your world. It wants to create barriers, separation and loves to play the comparison game. The game where people are different compare to you, the game where you are better than someone and worse than someone else. All of that creates fear. Doing the opposite removes fear.
That there is no real separation between beings, that we are one and the same, might sound a bit corny.
But one thought you may want to try for a day is that everyone you meet is your friend.
Another one is to see what parts of yourself you can see in someone you meet. And what parts of yourself you can see in him/her.
There is often an underlying frame of mind in interactions. Either it asks us how we are different to this person. Or how we are the same as this person. The first frame is based in how the ego likes to judge people and create separation to strengthen itself (either through feeling better or more like a victim). The second one creates warmth, an openness and curiosity within. There is no place to focus on fear or judgement anymore.
This is of course not easy, especially if you have held the first frame of mind for many years. But you can get insight into this by doing the rest of the things above. As you face your fears the barriers and separation you have built in your mind decreases. You come closer and feel more of a connection to other people.
With action, curiousness and understanding we come closer to each other. We gain a greater understanding of ourselves and others. And so it becomes easier to see them in you. And you in them.