As emotions go, fear at the very least fascinates us, and may well exert a far stronger hold on us than we’d like to admit.
I just did an internet search on the word “fear” and got 530,000,000 hits. Then I did a search for the phrase “books about fear” and got 399,000,000 hits (yes, those are millions). In contrast, look for “courage” and you’ll get 131,000,000 and for “books about courage”, 90,700,000.
Examining fear through some well-known quotes offers up an interesting mix of perspectives – perhaps fear is something to be ignored as Admiral Farragut commanded: “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” . Or it might be something to be beaten: “The first duty of man is to conquer fear; he must get rid of it, he cannot act till then.” as Thomas Carlyle suggests. The title of Susan Jeffers’ exceptional book about fear tells us to “Feel the fear and do it anyway” . Meanwhile the statesman Benjamin Disraeli offered this interesting perspective: “Fear makes us feel our humanity.”.
If you’ve thought that fear was simply a hindrance or an obstacle you may be surprised that it serves a most useful purpose in our lives – it gets us to pause and think of consequences. For example, a candle’s burning wick may present an alluring wave of color and light, but we won’t touch that flame for fear of being burned – and rightly so! Clearly, some of our fears are experience-based, as they should be. Let’s face it, odds are pretty good that if fire burned you once it will burn you again. Unfortunately, we often use the expression “I’ve been burned before” to excuse ourselves from participating in any number of things – relationships, memberships, purchases.
The key to getting up and over this slippery slope is to clearly differentiate between facts and suppositions. There is a world of difference between “fire burns” and “my relationships will end badly”. Immutable reality vs. (perhaps) self-fulfilling prophecy.
A while ago I wrote a blog post about regret (see “Regrets, I have a few, but then again…”) which came to my mind while I was vacationing in Hawaii. I had just the setting I needed for an opportunity to play the Fear-it-or-Regret-it game. I’ll need to tell you about my 3 trips there…
My first visit held the delights of paradise for 5 days and a little storm called Hurricane Iniki (the largest storm to ever hit the island in recorded history) for 3 days. On my second visit I nearly drowned off Maui ; I was rescued by a friend but was badly cut by slamming repeatedly against the rocks at the water’s edge. On to Kauai the next day to surf and I promptly broke a finger on my right hand. There was a bit of concern, one might say, when I told my family I was going to Kauai for this most recent visit.
So round one of the game: Will I even go since I’d been “burned” before? Oh yeah, I was going; I simply would not allow myself to regret not taking a chance to have a great vacation. Foolish abandon? Oh, hell, no. First of all, I steered well clear of hurricane season, second, I swam only in areas where I could control the extent of my exposure to currents and rogue waves.
This is how the game played out, round by round:
Fear of heights? Take a flying lesson in an ultralight powered hang glider and zip-lining backwards through the jungle canopy.
Fear of drowning? Jump out of a boat off the Na Pali coast and go snorkeling, and for good measure jump from an 18’ outcropping into a pool of water in the jungle.
Claustrophobia? Crawl through a tunnel to get to see a cave that would otherwise be unapproachable.
Let’s see… that’s Fear and Regret zip, me 4 (by my own count so don’t correct me)
Please understand that I was not without fear – oh no, no. no; I think my heart beat harder during these activities then it did during my first trail race! My desire to live my life more fully, my commitment to myself, beat regret and fear hands down.
I used my (overactive) brain to do something helpful – I checked (and double-checked) safety records, I was mindful of my physical abilities and endurance, I evaluated each situation and separated the inevitable from the merely possible.
I recalled one of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain: “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”.
If you look for the opposite of fear you find “courage”. Here’s the thing though – the definition of courage is not actually “fearlessness”, it’s “the ability to do something that frightens one”. Hold onto that little nugget! Just one moment of courage is enough to start building a pattern of fear-busting.
So, what do you fear and what thoughts do you have on how you might overcome that fear and live your life more fully?