The Role of Fear in Our Lives
There is an old adage: There is nothing to fear but fear itself. So why does fear grip us? And what can we do about it?
My paralysing fear of flipping from the boat while scuba diving was magnified by the engulfing sea water once I was in the water. The icy hand around my heart as I waited to ski down a ‘red’ slope for the first time was made worse by the harsh snowfall slapping against my goggles. But I survived those experiences and, more importantly, began to enjoy them after some time.
Why Do We Fear Some Experiences and How Does Fear Help Or Hinder Our Development?
When we fear an unknown experience, our primal “fight or flight” response kicks in. It feels as though our brain is telling us “this does not look or feel good, better not do it”. It is a natural way of us trying to protect ourselves from the unknown – just as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did generations ago in the wild. In today’s context, fear can manifest itself in experiences which do not necessarily lead to bodily harm – such as giving a presentation; fear of appearing unknowledgeable in public; or the fear of a more experienced colleague.
Fear arises in these situations due to the assumptions we make of ourselves, our abilities and the way others see us. We think that we are not good enough to give the presentation, not knowledgeable enough to have all the answers, or fear disappointing our esteemed colleague by not matching up to their standard. Fundamentally, we underestimate our own abilities and overestimate what others think of us.
At this point, we either override our fear with “it will be alright, breathe and go” or we can give in to it. Chances are people who choose the former are more likely to stretch and develop themselves over time. While the fear may still exist in our bodies, there is wonderful learning in managing the fear itself. Taking deep breaths, feeling what it is like to feel fear and still carrying on. Another old adage, “look fear in the eye”, aptly summarises this stage as we acknowledge that we are fearful yet take a decisive step towards facing and overcoming it. We may begin to realise that the fear only existed in our minds and that other people were feeling fear as well.
Fear As A Healthy Catalyst
If we see fear as a step towards our own development and learning, it can serve as a healthy catalyst. The problem arises when we are stunned into inaction or avoidance, which can debilitate our growth journey.
What have I learnt about facing my fears? Simply this:
• It is alright to feel fear
• Deep breaths are the key to managing fear
• Know that often times no one else is as harsh on you as you are on yourself
• You will learn from the experience, and learning keeps us young
• Others are carrying their own fears and “stuff” just like you
So, go ahead, make fear a part of your life. Sense it, feel it, but definitely work towards managing it. That will be when we are truly transforming ourselves into better human beings.
When are you usually fearful?
What does fear feel like in your body?
If you could draw your fear, what would it look like?