Rethinking Fear

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I’ve been reading some remarkable success stories lately, and there is a common theme tying them all together: the importance of facing your fears. Throughout history, every great success is preceded by someone’s firm decision to not give up, even in the midst of crippling doubt and paralyzing fear.

At some point, these strong and deliberate individuals made the choice to not fold or cower or shrink back, but to face their fear head on. The rest, as they say, is history.

Recently I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s astoundingly insightful book Big Magic. Her book is one part prep-talk, one part swift-incapacitating-body-blow that, to put it delicately, ‘ knocks yo butt down.’ Page after page is filled with stories and insights on the creative life, and her own journey with the precarious position of creativity. It was her teaching on fear, though, that granted me a new perspective.

Gilbert argues that fear is not to be avoided or ignored, but rather, to be acknowledged and dealt with. Because the truth is, we all have fear. Being a creative person isn’t about being fearless, but about being brave.

Breakthrough moments, successes, achieving something new, they all happen on the other side of fear when a person chooses to keep working and keep fighting and keep going. Bravery is learning how to confront your fear and work with it. It’s all about pushing ourselves out of the ol’ comfort zone.

After reading Big Magic, I did a little research on fear and how our minds handle it. The research is really quite interesting. Turns out, regardless of what you’re afraid of, our bodies tend to react the same way chemically.

We get the sweaty palms and increased heart rate and the wobbly knees. The chemical reactions are the same, even if our fears are completely different.

Moreover, we’re not entirely sure what causes certain fears in the first place. People can have the same experience, but a totally different interpretation of it. Two kids go to the circus. One falls in love with clowns; the other is struck with trepidation every time they see balloon animals.(Admittedly, clowns is a horrible example because clowns are down right terrifying. I think it’s a proven fact, right?)

The crazy thing, though, is regardless of what you’re afraid of, the research reveals that we can actually trick our brains to overcome our fears. Little by little, we train ourselves to be calm instead of anxious, to stare fear in the face and stand up to it.

It seems counterintuitive, but the way we overcome fear is by doing the very thing that scares us. The scarier the better, actually. And this is where faith comes in. Faith trumps fear. When we let the excuses and “what if” scenarios pile up, we avoid the task of faith. Faith isn’t about being fearless–it’s about movement alongside fear. It’s about embracing trust and hope, forces that are stronger than fear.

When you stop and throw in the towel, you allow fear to win. But fear doesn’t own us. Fear is like your weird uncle that shows up once a year for Thanksgiving. You give him a seat at the table because you know he’s staying until dessert, but you’re not letting that dude stay the night.

Fear joins us for the journey, but doesn’t get to determine the destination.  After all, fear is just a chemical reaction in your brain…and one that we can learn to live with.

Do something that terrifies you every single day and you’ll learn to live with your fear. In fact, you might even become good friends. You’ll learn to talk to your fear and let it know that you feel its presence. You’ll even acknowledge how fear has won out in the past. But you’ll also let fear know that things are different this time around.

So keep dreaming and pursuing and moving forward. If you’re scared straight, you might be on the right track.

Fear isn’t going anywhere, so take it with you. Just make sure you let it know who’s in the driver’s seat.




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