Long post, perfect for your Sunday afternoon.
I’m sitting in the front passenger seat of my sister’s Peugeot 306 and we’re listening to loud upbeat music on the radio, because it helps her focus and drive.
“Do you wanna give it a go?”, my sis asks me in response to my unstoppable complaints that I need to get in the driver’s seat and practice if I’m ever going to use my driver’s license. I’ve had it for about 10 years, way longer than my sister.
“What? Now?! No, we don’t have time,” I hear myself replying with another excuse.
This conversation happens again and again, and while it plays out differently every time the bottom line is the same – I have the opportunity to do something I want (finally re-learn to drive), and I don’t take it.
In the meantime I find excuses, some legitimate, some significant, some momentary, some existential.
This is my story.
This is my fear.
I tell myself a story of seemingly unovercomable external factors to justify my actions. In fact, those external factors are all the masks worn by one single villain – FEAR.
Fear makes me tell myself the story that it’s never a good time to drive.
Fear? Not existential fear, I’m not afraid for my life. Fear of failure, of not being able to do it.
What if I can’t do it? Or I am not good at it?
Without driving I can still convince myself that I’m a good driver. Sounds ridiculous, but even local authorities confirmed it by giving me a premium driving license available to only those who haven’t had any accidents or fines. Without driving I can live in a reality where I don’t fail. Where I’m doing it well. Where I have the premium license. But that’s just an illusion. If I try and drive, I might not be good at it (most probably I’ll completely suck as I’ve not been in the driver’s seat for the past 2 years). I might fail. And obviously I’m afraid of that.
But funny thing – the only way to actually become a good driver is to give in to my fear and drive. I might suck or I might rock. There is no win without the risk.
The only way to win the premium license is to give it up.
My fear is keeping me in the comfortable limbo of the unknown, where I can pretend that the possibility of being good at driving is prevailing. Illusion.
Fear, masked as obstacles and excuses, has the power to give you an illusion of a safe place of feeling content.
In fact, that’s the worst thing I can choose. The illusion I experience now will only turn into regret and life dissatisfaction, and sooner than I expect.
Let’s see how.
False Events Appearing Real
In his book, The 10X Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure, Grant Cardone, describes FEAR as an abbreviation that means False Events Appearing Real.
One of my favorite thought leaders, Mark Twain, says that worries and fears aren’t real, and mostly never really come true.
So, is fear real? And what is fear?
I’m quite sure fear is a real thing because here it is, stopping me from doing the things my heart longs for.
But let’s hear Ms. Science.
Fear is a feeling induced by perceived danger or threat that occurs in certain types of organisms, which causes a change in metabolic and organ functions and ultimately a change in behavior, such as fleeing, hiding or freezing from perceived traumatic events.
The keyword that support the point I’m making here is perceived.
When I see a car approaching me with 100mph I would really like to feel fear and flee. The perceived danger may cause my death (although we shouldn’t even fear death to be completely free but that’s a topic for another post)
But when I refuse to drive my sister’s car for some ridiculous excuse, what is the real danger?
Only the danger of getting my ego hurt. It’s like the ego has become the same things as the being.
But it feels the same way.
In his infographic, Ameen Khwaja shows us what happens to our brains on fear.
To me, it looks pretty simple – we observe the situation and immediately deem it fearful so that behavior and body responses are triggered.
How do we know if a situation is fearful?
Well, we are all wired to fear some things. In fact, all creatures even to the tiniest cell is watchful of some events and objects. But most often, we use the features we attach to a certain event, our beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves to be written on that big whiteboard and give us direction.
In his report, The Consequences of Fear, David Ropeik writes that
Toxicologists, epidemiologists and risk experts study the physical perils [of fear] one hazard at a time. But the cumulative load of modern threats may be creating an even greater risk that is largely overlooked: the risk that arises from misperceiving risks as higher or lower than they actually are. As a result of some of the decisions we make when we are fearful, some of the choices we make when we are not fearful enough, and because of the ways our bodies react to chronically elevated levels of stress, the hazards of risk misperception may be more significant than any of the individual risks about which we fret.
Fear in itself isn’t the biggest problem, you see, it’s learning to act out of fear, or being in the habitual reaction to everything as it was risky.
So, when we choose to act out of fear, we teach our brain a new way of thinking and responding. The more often we repeat this behaviour, the more the brain learns that it is the right behavior and adopts it is a first choice.
Imagine it in that way: there’s a list of responses possible and the more you choose one, the more points it gets. Then Mr. Brain looks at the list in a situation to choose a response and “sees” that the fear response has been used again and again and guessing that’s the best match, chooses that.
The result? We subconsciously choose to act out of fear. The funny thing is that the more we do it, the more natural it becomes.
The environment in which we live affects this process of course, because it’s quite risky.
Going back to my fear of driving, this behavior that I exhibit is teaching my brain to use the fear response for other situations as well.
And I can sense that.
When I was 19 and my frontal lobe wasn’t fully developed, I didn’t fear anything (that’s when I got my license by the way). Just a few years later, I started acting out of fear and creating regrets.
I’ll tell you about one of them in just a few moments.
First, I’d like to step on the shoulders of a few more giants and share with you their view on fear so we can hopefully find the truth somewhere in all of this.
Fear in Buddhism
According to Buddhism, there are two types of fear: healthy fear and unhealthy fear (you were already guessing that, right?).
Let me give an example:
I’m afraid of snails because of one particular accident when I found an alive one crawling on the greens in the salad I’d thoroughly washed. This is an unhealthy fear (and kind of hilarious as well, I know). I realize that and I have taken steps to face it – I held a snail for like a minute a few months back, and that’s as far as I’m willing to go currently.
But, back to my point….this is an unhealthy fear because the snails don’t have a plan to dominate my life and torture me.
A healthy fear would be the feeling that you get when you get mugged in an alley. It would most probably cause you to give in your wallet and smartphone rather than start a fight with a guy holding a gun to your back.
I call unhealthy fears, daily fears. We’re so used to them that we don’t even identify them as fears, but just as the way things are. For example, asking my husband to order pizza instead of picking up the phone. That’s the daily fear of my imperfect Turkish.
But in fact, the daily fear are our strongest indicators of how to become a bigger, better version of ourselves.
Fear makes me not do things, while the only way to do something in life, is well, to do it.
In his bestseller, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes,
“Fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
The Danger of Living In Fear
Not becoming the best version of ourselves is only a small portion of the life enjoyment fear takes away from us.
I told you that I’m going to a regret story with you, right?
It’s about regret. But first, why regret?
Obviously, fear is a powerful tool for….missing out on life.
Fear leads to regrets about life.
And here’s mine. I didn’t go to that concert with my brother from another mother, my homie. At the time I was afraid that someone won’t like me going. I postpones for next time. Well, there won’t be next time because the person I was supposed to go with passed away 1,5 years ago. It brings tears to my eyes that I missed to create another memory with the person who was my best friend and became my wedding’s best man before he left this world.
Why don’t I better show you what people regret?
At least half of Forbes’ 25 Biggest Regrets In Life have to do with fear of going after what we really wanted – love, dream, job, friendship, quality time.
Fear of the unknown and of failure make us live a life of regrets.
And regrets are super dangerous – because they last.
After all, fear lasts as long as we don’t do what we’re afraid of. The moment I sit on that driver’s seat and run that engine, feel that I’m in control of the car and drive for 30 minutes, fear will be gone. Or at least a small part of it.
With every further attempt there will be less fear and more confidence.
But what happens if I decide to bow to fear and never drive? Pretty soon I’ll start feeling disappointed with myself, regretful and my self-confidence will plunge. I’ll feel like a failure for not trying (apart from not being good at it!).
One feeling will take over: regret.
And you know what? Regret lasts forever. Or at least, until we’re on the planet, in this form, and that can be quite a while, you know.
As my father says,
Life turned out to be longer than we planned for.
This has to do with saving for retirement (start now!), but it makes a lot of sense when it comes to regret and fear as well.
How long can you live with your regrets? Can you afford to feel regret for as long as you’re alive?
I don’t know….this sounds pretty much like hell to me.
But isn’t fear necessary for survival?
We saw how our brains work. We know what fear is. But let me play the devil’s advocate and ask this one question: isn’t fear a response to a life-threatening danger?
Let’s say, for example, I’m walking on the side of a high building. I’m afraid of falling because I might die. My brain tells me to move away from the edge and be safe.
The ego protects me by keeping me whole, by not letting me hurt myself. The problem is that in our complex lives, staying safe is a very stretched expression.
We are afraid because our brains are advanced enough not only to remember past occasions (burning my finger on the stove), but to project possible scenarios (I know I’ll die if I fall down from the building even though it never happened before).
This is where imagination comes in…
The biggest fears come from the unknown – that what we have not experienced at all.
The brain, obviously, can’t differentiate the real dangers with the dangers imposed on the ego. Because when I get in the car and drive, there isn’t a real danger other than hurting the ego that has decided it can’t fail.
We need fear as an emotion to keep us from doing stupid things.
Fear is necessary and limiting in the same time. What a beautiful duality.
So what’s a girl to do?
Please allow me to introduce to you the artwork of Gavin Aung from Zen Pencils who illustrates the words of Frank Herbert in this beautiful piece to answer this question:
What Fear Shows Us
Embracing fear might not look like a juicy bite, but it’s important to start practicing it. Maybe not with our biggest fear first, but with the small, conquerable fears, because…
Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Steven Pressfield
In fact, unhealthy fears show us the path to growth.
If I want to become more – i.e. a better driver or to turn from a non-driver into a driver altogether – I need to embrace my fear, follow my fear.
Fear tells me what to do.
Afraid of driving? Drive to grow.
Many times when we don’t do something, it’s the unrealized fear of something, that’s stopping us.
For example, when I procrastinate launching my consulting business with excuses that I don’t have the time or skills to start it yet, this is the fear I have that it won’t turn out to be as successful as I imagine it in my head.
But if I don’t try I’ll never know. And sooner than later, I’ll regret not trying.
As I write this, it becomes clear to me that fear exists because of my attachment to the end result – driving or helping people with my consulting. The fear of this end result not manifesting is what’s really stopping me from experiencing life in all its forms.
It’s better to try and experience life rather than live it in your imagination.
That’s a wise life – in which the end result isn’t the goal, the experience is the goal.
After all, as Buddha says
Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.
How To Practically Conquer Fear
We’ve come to the point where it’s quite clear where fear comes from – attachment to results – and we should be ready to detach, free ourselves of fear, and experience life.
They who have conquered doubt and fear have conquered failure. James Allen
Right, so we need to take some action to conquer fear and thus, failure.
But what is it?
How can I stop making up excuses and get into that car, turn the key, and get going?
Unfortunately, I don’t have the one-size-fits-all answer.
It’s more complicated than most people make it look and we won’t always manage to succeed. But let’s try.
Undoubtedly, the first step to facing fear, is realizing what you fear.
That might sound simple, but in fact, can take a lot of time, contemplation, meditation, and self-exploration. But naming your fear is definitely step #1.
How can you do that?
Identify what you’re attached to.
Many times, we’re so emotionally involved into an outcome (like my believe that I will be a good driver one day), we invest so much hopes and dreams into it, that the possibility of it manifesting differently are terrifying.
Let’s name the attachment: being a good driver.
That wasn’t hard, right?
Now turn the attachment around into the opposite of what it is: being a crappy driver.
I’m a crappy driver.
Well, honestly, that sounds much better to me than not driving at all, you know! There’re many crappy drivers out there and if i’m gonna join that club, I’m gonna do it with pride.
Wow, that was kind of liberating!
You can follow my example if it makes sense to you and label your attachment and its opposite.
Is it so bad?
It might be, depending on your fear, but don’t forget that’s just Mr. Wannabe Perfect (yes, you, ego) talking.
It’s gonna feel bad if you’re labeled as a bad mom, or a bad hair-dresser or as a weak, emotional person.
Now, get used to that, learn to live with it. Think about it, visualize it and work with it until your ego becomes comfortable with it.
Hint: Not easy, but…
….good news, the worst part is over!
After you’ve let the fear take over you, go through you, take everything you’ve hoped for and throw it out of the window, it’s time we show that fear who you really are.
Using The Power of Fear
What are you afraid of more: being a bad mom or never being a mom?…
….Being a crappy driver or never being a driver?
To really be free of fear, we need to use fear.
I think that’s not a way of tricking fear, conquering it or avoiding it, but using it. Fear with fear, you know.
Psychology gives us many ideas aboutconquering fear, from embracing it, to changing goals or thinking differently about it.
The one thing that nobody teaches us is to eliminate fear.
Because it just isn’t possible. It’s neither viable or healthy to not be afraid of the things you fear. You fear. I fear. We fear.
But we gotta work with that fear, right? At least if we want to move forward and live truly.
So, let’s use it.
A way to move forward, even when fear is present, is to fear the regret more.
This is a small mindset shift (or a huge one, rather) that doesn’t need to eliminate fear, but to channel it, and I have a hunch this is the way to go.
My fear is mine, and I’m gonna make it work for me.
I’m going to channel the fear I feel into fearing the regret more than the actual thing I’m afraid of.
I’m going to fear never driving my kids to school more than being ridiculed for not being able to park well.
I’m going to fear never going places more than the stress of driving.
This is how we don’t fight fear, but we work it to get to the point where it’s useful for us.
I’ve said that writing is therapeutic many times. That’s why this blog’s tagline is Writing For Happiness. But to experience it myself every time I open up, tell my story, and go deep into it, is priceless.
As I’m writing this I’ve still not gotten in a car and driven my way to anywhere. It’ll take some time.
Yet, writing my feelings and the deeply rooted story I’m telling myself, had a powerful effect on me.
I see how ridiculous is some of this fiction.
I see how silly it seems when you actually put it on paper.
And I see my fear. I look it straight in the eye.
I know you’re there. You can’t hide anymore.
You’ve been spotted. And soon you’ll be tamed, channeled, and I’ll drive.
When will this happen?
Well, most probably when the fear of missing out on the experience becomes bigger than the fear of failure.
I guess I need some motivation!
Hit me up, what am I missing on when I give up on driving to feed my fear of failure?
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