Posts Tagged 'fear'

Fear of Fear

fear of fearMost of the things we avoid are avoided because we’re afraid of being afraid.

The negative outcomes that could actually occur due to speaking up in class, caring about our work product, interacting with the boss – there’s not a lot of measurable risk. But the fear… the fear can be debilitating, or at the very least, distasteful. So it’s easier to just avoid it altogether. We avoid the feeling of fear.

On the other hand, artists and leaders seek out that feeling. They push themselves to the edge, to the place where the fear lives. By feeling it, by exposing themselves to the resistance, they become more alive and do work that they’re most proud of.

It usually looks higher from up there. When we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice, looking down at the depths of the chasm below, it’s easy to think that our plan is far too risky, or our behavior too weird.

The funny thing about perspective is that most bystanders don’t see you standing on a precipice at all. They see someone doing something a little risky, or even questionable, but by no means off-the-grid nuts. You’re far more likely to go not-far-enough than you are to go too far, especially if you tend to find yourself worrying over what others think.

Internal monologue amplifies personal drama. To the outsider, neither exists. That’s why our ledge-walking rarely attracts a crowd. What’s in your head is real to you, no doubt about it, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can see the resistance you are battling. And most don’t care about it.

How deep is the water? If it’s over your head, does it really matter?

At some point, when the stakes are high enough, you will swim. And when you swim, who cares how deep the water is?

How much does it cost you to avoid the feeling of risk? Not actual risk, but the feeling that you’re at risk? What are you missing out on? Feeling risk is very different than actually putting yourself at risk. Over time, we’ve created a cultural taboo about feeling certain kinds of risk, and all that insulation from what the real world requires is getting quite expensive. It’s easy to pretend that indulging in the avoidance of the feeling of risk is free and unavoidable. It’s neither.

The fear doesn’t care, either way. The choice is to spend our time avoiding that fear or embracing it.

 

Choosing Battle

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I enjoy playing and watching sports, particularly basketball and football. I enjoy the skill and competition, though I could live without the macho testosterone driven parts. Nevertheless those moments when things really heat up can be revealing.

I remember watching an NBA game one night where the Timberwolves’ player Kevin Garnett, whom I love, and is a respected battler on the court, found himself facing off against a player on another team (I don’t even remember who it was anymore). Kevin’s unintentional body language in that moment revealed even through a wild swinging punch he threw that he did not want to be engaged in that fight. It was so obvious to anyone tuned in to that sort of thing. But of course he had a reputation and pride to uphold, so he went through the motions.

Character is revealed in the heat of battle. Do we really want to be there, or would a quiet escape suit? Do we push through and do our duty, in spite of the risk and fear?

Examine your internal monolog as you read and think about this. My guess is it’s probably coming from a moral orientation. You see failure to step up to the plate as morally wrong, and a shortcoming.

That can be true, but if we get off of our moral high-horse for a moment, we can also understand that everyone has certain things worth fighting for. We just don’t all have the same ones. Sure, some have a higher predisposition toward fighting, but every man can be a coward if he doesn’t believe in either the cause or his chances of winning, or at least saving face.

It’s too simplistic to view character through the polarized lens of black and white, of you have it or you don’t. Character is more nuanced. What is a person’s character telling him or her is the right thing to do? Amazingly, someone could be doing a thing that we feel is immoral, but is actually consistent with that person’s character and view of the world or situation, and not wrong.

Oh, but it is so hard for us to accept this, because we’re so programmed. And we have our own agenda.

 

Bravery

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Bravery is needed to have contrary opinions and to take unexpected paths. It is mustering the courage to face the fear of the unknown. If you’re not courageous, you’re going to be hanging around the water cooler, talking about the person who actually is. That sucks, and it will eventually eat you up, poisoning your joy of life. Don’t let it happen to you.

Where does this courage come from and how do we know whether it’s misguided?

It is a willingness to accept the outcome of what you decide or take action for, rather than the fate of inertia. Mustering courage when it isn’t easy is a function of confidence in oneself and in the world. You are smart and capable. The world provides a lot of help. You can work it out. People far less capable than you have done it. The reason you want to work it out is because of a belief that things can be better, and also because life is a journey. Feeding your sense of adventure is a key to happiness.

As for the misguided part…sure, it’s possible your decision making isn’t well grounded. A little of that is inevitable and okay. Here is where self-examination is your reality check. Historically how has your decision making generally worked out for you? This is not a question of whether decisions led you into difficulty. Our lives are full of challenges that come to us because of AND in spite of decisions we do or do not make. The question is, did the decision take you on a journey that was meaningful? Did you learn and grow? Did you experience more of life? You see, it’s not about what is easy. It’s about what is worthwhile. You’ll never get perfect clarity on anything important.

Bravery is the choice to take a worthwhile journey and open new possibilities.

Bad Guys and Castles

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People, men especially, seem preoccupied with protection centered around having something to protect. It’s as if guarding the castle is somehow what makes them men. There are primitive systems at work within us here. Though most would claim otherwise, and point to all sorts of evidence to rationalize it, the truth is we engage in this way not (usually) because it’s legitimately necessary, but because it gives us a means to validate ourselves and satisfies a need, even chemically.

It parallels our tendency to gravitate toward outrage, or choosing to get offended. Yes, it is often a choice. It’s bottled with so much righteous indignation, judgment, and in extreme cases even hate. It’s also often bottled with baggage of our own. Things we’re hiding from and want to protect. We build things, ideas, beliefs, and lives that are sacred to us, then spend a lot of time and energy protecting them from any kind of affront. We become territorial. It’s us and them. We’re trained that this gives us power, makes us feel like men, protecting the helpless. Meanwhile, we sometimes want what they have, which then reinforces our belief that it’s a danger. We’re easy prey for this because of our ancestral instincts.

Man, it is just not as hard as we make it. The proverbial boogie-man isn’t outside your door. Yes, terrible things happen sometimes, but most of it is so overblown by the fear-inducing media that it’s skewed in our minds. We’ve been trained to look for discord, to protect from nearly any possible threat; to worry. By the way, we must remember that this day and age, the function of news organizations is to attract an audience so ads can be sold. Drama, controversy, and fear compels people to engage. It’s a simple formula. Hollywood uses it, too. Our value and contribution is as consumers. If we happen to overreact along the way, no big deal (to them).

We don’t really need the media to take us there. It simply reinforces and capitalizes on primitive stuff that already exists within.

A man wants to feel like he is the king of his domain, the protector of his castle. That’s part of what validates him. Simple as that. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It doesn’t help that women often validate this behavior.

Mankind, on the other hand, needs harmony. Sure there are legitimate threats, and we do need to be mindful of them and take appropriate actions. But we feel threatened by things that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t ultimately matter that much. We feel threatened when people do things we don’t approve of, or understand, even though they may not seriously affect our ability to live a life. Our way of life may be challenged at times, and we hate that. We recoil at the idea of someone taking something away from us, whether it be a perceived bit of freedom, a possession, or the time and heart of another. It’s all perfectly understandable, but taken to the extremes we’re fighting what becomes an impossible war, and we’re caught in the crossfire of it at the same time. Any semblance of control over others is a dangerous illusion. See the writing on the wall. Be, and, this is really important, let others be.

Your validation and happiness as a human isn’t going to ultimately be found in what you protect and hold on to. Let go. Let the chips fall where they may. Let others make their decisions about what they care about.

Layers of Lost

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Being lost produces a dreaded feeling of helplessness. We hate/fear that feeling. Thus we rarely will intentionally venture beyond the known. Too bad, because the security provided by standing pat is somewhat of an illusion.

Nevertheless the fear is real to us. The severity depends on how lost one feels he is or could become. A puzzling computer problem may upset you, but once you research it and find the solution you can pretty quickly get back to normal. You could survive an airplane crash somewhere in the Amazon, or just get confused about some turns you took in a big city. In either case there is a systematic process one can execute to find your way. You may not have the competence to make the best choices, and your efforts may not succeed before some other fate befalls you, but you’re probably going to try something, at least until you give up and give in.

Another kind of lost: An addict usually knows he’s addicted, and like the person who is lost in the woods or a city, usually even knows what to do about it. The difficulty arises from not having the will to be able to. He may try a thing or two, but when the results don’t come, or when the pain is too great, the will erodes. It can make cowards of us all.

Not always our fault in a strict sense. Certain dependencies are extremely hard to beat, but even in those cases the bottom line is we just don’t have the will to do it.

It would seem to be so much easier if our problems were based on ignorance, like the aforementioned computer issue. That’s usually the easy layer of lost to solve. The one where we know what is going on, and can’t get out of our own way, is much harder. Our emotional and electro-chemical needs, and the lizard brain protecting us from fear, wreak havoc on our lives. We may keep reading and learning, as if some new information or realization is going to come to light that will finally solve it for us.

The idea that we need more information is outdated. We have a universe of it at our fingertips. By all means learn. Learn as much as you can, but the first step to a true solution is to stop tranquilizing ourselves through seeking more and more information. Yes, finding something interesting, provocative, or soothing can provide momentary emotional relief. That’s fine, for a while. But if you find you’re going in circles, then you’re stuck (a variation on lost I will tackle tomorrow). Eventually moving it off center means applying more will, giving up, or some more radical action that you probably already know is an option.

Wonder and Futility

FutilityBoyWingsSometimes everyone but you can see that it isn’t going to work. If you don’t listen you can get badly hurt. Well, life is risky. If you don’t make a leap of faith in yourself you never find out what you’re really capable of. That leap of faith involves building a network of people who can not only look out for you, but who will help pick you up when you crash.

Fear encourages us to retreat from the world, to muddle through life without really living it. Wonder opens us up to being able to see the possibilities in things. It’s an attitude. You can control it. But it’s a lot easier with help. Being able to maintain a wonder about things is a luxury purchased through the currency of the support you have earned throughout your life.



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