The paralysing powers of fear
One of the biggest enemies of hard work is certainly fear. Because fear has the potential to paralyze us. And I guess you would agree that it would be damn hard to achieve your goals while being paralyzed by your fear. The most common fears that stop us from working hard are:
● The fear of failure – What will your friends and family, your employees or work mates think about you if you fail? What will happen to your credit ratings if your business fails? What will you think of yourself, if your diet fails?
● Social fears – A general anxiety of being evaluated by others and a resulting avoidance of social situations. What will the audience think if I come across as shy?
● The fear of success – What will happen once you have reached your goal? Will your workmates be jealous when you get promoted?
● The fear of the tax man – It is really true, not having accurate books and accounts might cause you to be scared and severely limit your ability to work hard.
Fear is controlled by the amygdala of our brains. That’s two tiny almond shaped nuclei within the temporal lobes at the backside of the brain. And – boy- does this have an influence on us.
What is important to note about fear is that in 99% of the cases, it is useless. The one percent where it is appropriate is the fear of the tax man by the way. Just joking. But then again, no, not just joking.
Unlike in the times when we were living in our beloved caves, where the chances to die were permanently present, that is not really the case anymore. While staying in your literal comfort zone back then seemed to be a pretty darn good strategy to survive, it is now a pretty darn good strategy for failure. And while we have left our caves a couple of thousand years now, our amygdalas are still hard workers, thus they just continue to search for reasons to be scared.
So rather than our old friend, saber tooth tiger, we all of a sudden fear the future, or what other people think of us, or literally anything we could think of.
And this makes absolutely no sense. Why would you care what other people think about you? They live in their own reality and you can’t influence their thoughts. So in the end they will think what they want anyway. And will it kill you? No, it won’t. So thoughts of other people are no reason to feel scared. Apart from that, it should be mentioned that their thoughts about you are very likely much more forgiving than your own thoughts about you. But more about this in the next chapter about self-esteem.
In a democratic society in the western world, there are very few chances that you will encounter a fatal event. Of course there is a remaining risk that you might have a car accident or some robbery might go wrong and you will be murdered. But the chances are so small compared to why our body introduced fear in the beginning. And while it would be appropriate to encounter fear in these situation, it certainly is not when you fail at your business, get fired from your job, or see people laughing at your belly dancing up and down while you’re jogging.
Now, to the cure. If you suffer from fear, the first thing I would advise you do, is to understand that fear is nothing else but your imagination of the future. Fear is not real. You create it yourself. It is a picture you paint about an outcome that is unsure. And fear will keep its ugly claws around your throat and the more you give in to it, the more it will strengthen its grip. It is designed to keep you from doing things. But still it is your creation. And if you create fear, you can also destroy it. Unfortunately it is hidden in your subconscious, so just the way you can’t just consciously stop your heart from beating, you can’t stop fear by any conscious measures. Sure, you can try to talk yourself out of it. Some people feel that it helps them to imagine the worst possible outcome in any fearful situation. And as long as it’s not immanent death, the fear doesn’t appear to be real. But it usually doesn’t make it better on an emotional level. And this is where bravery comes in. One quote that I really love is: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”. And the same goes obviously for the brave woman. So in order to effectively beat your fear, you need to leave your comfort zone and go straight towards it. This approach has been proven in cognitive behavior therapy over and over again. A person who suffers from arachnophobia, and is terribly scared of spiders, can only get rid of that fear by being confronted with spiders. His body will only understand that spiders are not life threatening (at least where I live) if he has gone through the confrontation with it.
Interestingly enough, you should also consider to stop consuming caffeine. Most of us do it in form of either coffee or tea and it has been proven that small doses of caffeine increase fear in _ of the population. High doses of caffeine cause fear in all of the population by the way. That might already help a lot in reducing an anxiety that is underlying your emotions.
If it doesn’t help you, however, there are a number of other things you should do. All of them have in common that the fear needs to be confronted.
A good strategy is to get angry. I hear you laughing. But this is actually not a joke. Let’s go back to the cave-times again for a minute. As we have already talked about, fear back then, had quite a vital influence on our survival. When the saber-tooth tiger showed up, fear popped in. You were left with three options: fight, flight, or pretend you’re death. I am sure you have heard about fight/flight mechanisms in casual conversation over and over again and you might now be thinking: ‘Alright Dennis, tell me something new’. Well okay then. Let’s see how we can use this to our advantage.
In present day, our fear is usually just this weird story that our mind creates to have us keep our head down. Yet, we still have the same three options to deal with it. Fight, flight or pretend to be dead. Unfortunately most people select either flight (or ‘avoid’ based on our present world) or pretend to be dead (becoming apathic and allow the fear to fully control us). What I suggest is to do the only right thing: Fight.
As so often, your mind will help you with this. Give your fear a name, visualise it as a little monster sitting on your shoulder. Be creative! Mine was pink with purple spots on his back, it had a tail and a trunk. And I named it: Creepso. From time to time, Creepso would show up on my shoulder to have his fun with me. While I was usually already scared when Creepso turned up, I realised one day that this little monster, was quite a little *enter non-vulgar euphemism here*. So I started to shout at him. I really got angry. And realised that when you personalise your fear and get angry at it, it completely loses its power. I started to humiliate poor Creepso. I remarked that he looks quite funny and turned the table. So I started to ridicule him every time he dared to show up. I laughed about how ugly he was. Insulted him and let it all out on that little monster until I got myself in some pretty darn raging. Creepso must have had a hard time in that days. Because he didn’t show up as often as usual anymore although I always gladly invited him to come back at any time. You should have seen his shocked face. He probably went home to his wife to complain about his job.
By inviting your own Creepso back, you will show your fear that you are not scared of it. And take my word for it, anger is a stronger feeling than fear. It is your decision to fight, rather than pretending your death or running away. And with every time you do this, the influence of your fear will decrease a little more. Soon enough, your monster won’t have much fun sitting on your shoulder to torment you anymore. He might still come back from time to time and try his luck, but if you continue to rage him to submission there is nothing he can do about it and look for a different playground.
As mentioned above, some people make a list as to what the worst outcome would be in any situation. This might be a less emotional and more conscious approach, which usually doesn’t work well for me. But if it does for you, all the better.
A third component, is sports. I know. I never really liked it either. But it is in fact a great tool to vent of steam that might otherwise cause weird emotions and fear. Sports can be your daily dose of endogenous euphoriants. And that can make all the difference. Plus it’s healthy despite its positive influences on your mind. And as another big argument in its favor: if you run often and for longer than just a couple of minutes, you might find yourself in a natural state of meditation. The moment when you are truly in the moment. When your brain is not busy scheming about what bad or good could happen to you, oor what good or bad happened to you in the past. When it’s just busy getting the task at hand done. Great subconscious idea sparks can bubble up from your subconscious when you’re running. So you might want to give it a try for a month or two and see if it’s something that helps you.