Making fear your ally

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

If you’ve been following along with this series, you’ve identified the things you want more of in your life by starting with celebration, then you’ve taken a good, hard look at the ways fear shows up as an obstacle to your commitment to having more of those things you love.

I bet you’re feeling like fear is the enemy right about now! It’s what is keeping you from having more of all the things you want in life, so we just need to get rid of fear altogether, right?

Well … not exactly.

You see, fear is actually a helpful warning system that’s designed to give us information that will keep us safe.

If you’ve ever spent time with a small child who has not yet learned what to fear, you’ll know the danger of having no fear at all. Small children don’t hesitate to run out in traffic without looking, try to jump off high places to see if they can fly, or play with rattlesnakes like toys.

Fear is what makes us think twice before we try any of those things because fear tells us about the very real dangers that activities like that bring. Truly living with no fear would be a short life for most of us!

The problem is that fear can be a little too good at its job. It identifies any unknown (and all change, even good change, involves the unknown) as potentially dangerous precisely because of the fact that it is uncertain.

Because fear has detected this potential danger, it goes into high gear to warn us about the danger it has identified in order to keep us safe. It often starts with a small warning of potential danger, but when we ignore it and keep moving in what it sees as a “dangerous” direction, the warnings escalate to get our attention.

If your fear is anything like mine, these warnings come in the form of stories that fear tells me about the potential dire consequences of my actions. A potential change at work goes from the quiet whisper that the new situation might not be as much fun to warnings that I will fail in the new responsibilities to stories about me getting fired, losing my home, living under a bridge in a cardboard box with nothing to eat, and freezing to death all alone in the middle of the night.

The stories fear tells always escalate to the panicked level of OMG-I-AM-GOING-TO-DIE when I don’t listen to them any earlier. Always. (Even when I’m not fully conscious of it.) That’s fear’s ultimate warning level every time.

It’s this process of escalation that turns fear from a healthy warning system to a lying, manipulative enemy that keeps us stuck where we don’t want to be. And that escalation comes from ignoring fear’s warning from the outset.

A better approach is to treat fear like the ally it is and listen to its warnings when they are still in a reasonable range as one source of information for our decision. But note that listening doesn’t mean we let fear make our decisions for us either!

The challenge is finding the balance. Most of us either try to ignore fear altogether (at which point it often begins to subconsciously manipulate you anyway) or we allow it to be in the driver’s seat making all of our decisions.

The more helpful way is in the middle. Consciously acknowledge what fear is trying to warn you of (hopefully long before it gets into full-blown panic mode), evaluate its message as one of many inputs into your decision, make your decision based all of the information available, and move forward.

This may mean revising your plan to take potential risks into account. It may mean letting your fear know that you are aware of the risk and have planned ways to deal with it. It may mean choosing another route to get to what you want that has less risk involved.

Any of these lets your fear known its been heard, that its message (and the intent behind it) is valued, and that you have carefully considered it as you’ve made your choice. This both derails the escalation and allows you to deal proactively with any legitimate concerns it raises.

If you have generally defaulted to either trying to ignore your fear or allowing it to drive, try making it an ally instead—a valued passenger in the car, but not the driver. You just might find your biggest challenger becoming a helpful source of information instead.

What is your usual relationship to fear?

What is one place where you could try to make it your ally instead? What would that look like for you?


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