Fear is a human emotion that comes pre-downloaded with our software. We are all afraid -- with the exception of, say, Liam Neeson (who seems damn near fearless). Fear makes many seemingly innocuous decisions for us, as humans.
The tricky thing about fear is that it can be so elusive, we don’t even perceive it as such. All too often, fear disguises itself as pragmatism. Fear is a skilled ventriloquist capable of reaching up your keister and controlling how you act.
We’re discomforted by the prospect of a burglar breaking into our homes, so we take appropriate measures to prevent that from happening, which results in a sense of practicality.
But, let’s say you want to ask your boss for a raise or start a conversation with someone to whom you’ve never spoken before? Is it practical to take measures to avoid these potentially discomforting situations? Perhaps not.
But, habit-forming creatures as we are, we can make ourselves believe that avoiding any and all fear is the sensible thing to do.
So, how do you know what’s what? Are you saying “no” because you want to, or is fear working you like a sock puppet?
Learn to observe your mind.
Train yourself to be aware each time you’re faced with a decision. It can be as trivial as choosing a condiment for your sandwich or changing lanes on the highway. We often make these decisions without being fully aware we are doing them.
Can you remember each time you decided to sit down on a chair today? If you can get better at noticing how often you make decisions, you’ll be able to approach them from a distance and with clarity.
Are you afraid?
Is this decision scary? Are you frightened of what may happen if you decide upon it? If the answer is yes, good! You’ve been able to identify it instead of getting caught up in it. Think of it like you’re labeling a package with the proper packing slip: 'Okay, there’s fear here.'
Now what? Spend some time with it. Notice what fear does to you. It might give you a headache, make you nauseous or make you upset. And then, put all of those feelings on a shelf somewhere and ask yourself the mother of all questions...
What do you really want?
You know the answer to this one. You always do. Asking other people, “What do you think I should do?” will almost always fail you. Even if the answer is “I don’t know,” you can eventually arrive at an answer by paying attention to yourself.
Decide when it’s time to decide.
At a certain point, you’ll need to choose. Should you move to another state? Should you say hello to her? It’s so easy to get caught up in a cycle of “If I do this, then this might happen, but if I do the other thing, then this other – oh wait! What if I do THAT?”
Just as it was important to recognize you were faced with a tough choice, it is equally important to realize when the decision process no longer has value. Overanalyzing is like a hamster wheel from hell. Try to relax.
Sometimes, you’ll have to decline opportunities. You can’t say yes to everything; you cannot please everyone. Some things are not meant to be, and sometimes, it isn’t the right time.
This doesn’t mean you are succumbing to fear. However, there are special moments during which we experience a flux of conflicting and complicated emotions.
Maybe you want something so badly that it terrifies you and you feel paralyzed. Maybe you’re afraid of both options? Here’s a great rule of thumb: If what you desperately want happens to overlap with what you’re afraid of...
Go for it.
Fear can be a good sign and a bad sign; it just depends where you want to stand as you look at it. If you get good enough at riding fear, it can be exhilaratingly fun, and the only way to get good at it is by saying YES in the blind every now and then. The more attention you give to fear, the more power it has.
The best way to approach anything of which you are fearful is to train yourself to recognize when the noise starts: 'I’m not good enough to succeed at that. I don’t know how. I’d feel safer if I didn’t.' Only once you notice fear started talking will you be able to shut it up.
Accept how it comes to pass.
Give yourself a break. Life can be rude and unapologetic. You’ll almost never go about everything perfectly.
Coping skills take practice and not every decision includes a risk. But, the more you train yourself to accept the outcome, however trivial it may be, the happier you’ll be.
Let go of things and observe casually from a distance, like an astronaut peering down at Earth from her space shuttle.