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Learning to Face Your Fears

“We suffer more often in imagination, than in reality” – Seneca

What are you so afraid of?

Lions hunt gazelles, but these graceful animals are very swift and hard to catch. Lions run at speeds up to 34 miles per hour. Gazelles run a much faster 60 miles per hour. In order to successfully bring down their prey, lions use an ingenious strategy. They split up according to age and speed; the young, fast lions chase after the gazelles but they steer them toward a grassy area where the old, slow arthritic lions are hiding in the tall foliage. As the gazelles come toward the grass, thinking they’ve outrun the young lions, they hear a deep roar coming from the grass. Frightened, they turn and run away from the roar and right into the mouths of the young, energetic lions—which under these conditions are able to catch them. Had the gazelles “run toward the roar”—the thing that scared them—they would have been safe, because once they encountered the older lions lumbering in the grass, they could have easily run right past them. 

Here’s the lesson: when we are afraid, our natural inclination is to run away from what scares us. However, the more we face our fears, the less we are afraid of them.

Have you ever had anxiety about a particular situation but when you got there you wondered, “What was I so afraid of?” This happens to me with voicemail. I will get a call from someone and I am afraid to check it for fear that the person calling will be asking me to do something I don’t want to do. “What if they invited me to an event I don’t want to go to?” I am such a people pleaser that I am afraid of letting someone down to the point that I won’t check their email sometimes for days. This leads to shame. Then I start to spiral and from shame I move on to resentment. I resent that person for even calling in the first place and making me feel these unwanted feelings. Talk about a spiral of crazy making.

When I answer my voicemails immediately I find that 9 times out of 10 the person is just calling to say hello or to give me a piece of information that I needed. Even worse is when they do invite me to something and I miss out on it because I was afraid of being invited. I don’t know what that is about, but I have learned that it is best to just fact things immediately. The longer I go without dealing with any problem that makes me uncomfortable, the more it scares me and robs me of my energy. 

What else is robbing you of your energy? When you look at Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method – “The KonMari method is a system of simplifying and organizing your home by getting rid of physical items that do not bring joy into your life. It was created by organizing consultant Marie Kondo and described in detail in her best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Her method simply asks, “Does it Spark Joy?” If not, get rid of it. The same can be true in your relationships, your career, your finances. So the question I ask myself “Does it spark fear?” Yes. And why? Is the fear even rational?

Fear of Failure. Fear of Shame. Fear of Pain.

Fear comes in many forms, but when I look at what makes us afraid on a daily basis I’d say that fear of failure, fear of being shamed, and fear of being hurt are among the top fears people face. We learn to be fearful in our youth. As children we learn to be afraid of strangers usually from our parents. We fear being different, learning that standing out can often get you ridiculed or bullied. We learn that being vulnerable can be painful. We create walls to protect ourselves and then we live in fear of having our safe and comfortable spaces invaded.

Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals

As I was researching this topic for this post I came across this great Ted Talk with Tim Ferriss. He shares his recipe for avoiding self paralysis and self destruction. He introduces the topic of stoicism – which is basically controlling your emotion. I’m not a huge fan of being stoic, if being stoic means repressing your feelings. However, if being stoic is a plan for calming your mind and taking control of your emotions, then I’m all in. As I listened to this talk I had to agree with Ferriss’ plan of action.

The hard choices — what we most fear doing, asking, saying — are very often exactly what we need to do. How can we overcome self-paralysis and take action? Tim Ferriss encourages us to fully envision and write down our fears in detail, in a simple but powerful exercise he calls “fear-setting.” Learn more about how this practice can help you thrive in high-stress environments and separate what you can control from what you cannot.

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