“Fear is not real..... It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present, and may not ever, exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me danger is very real but fear is a choice.” ~ Will Smith.
Fear is normal part of the human experience, that everyone feels from time to time, to varying degrees. Whilst it is normal to experience fear, it doesn’t have to stop us doing what we want to with our lives. We innocently misunderstand what it is telling us, and what it means when we feel it. This blog will help clarify what fear really is, and what we need to do when we feel it.
THE BIOLOGICAL FEAR RESPONSE
Fear is a natural response within the human system, and is designed to keep us safe. As we know, a fear response will kick in if our safety is threatened, regardless of what we are currently thinking and doing. For example, if we are about to be run over by a car, we don’t think about it. In fact all thought stops and our automatic instinct is to dive away from the oncoming car. Another example is the experience of an ‘inner knowing’ type of fear that we are wise not to ignore – such as not walk down the dark alley alone. Or if we get a sense that being around a certain person isn’t safe, we need to heed that sense to keep ourselves safe. Nevertheless, in our modern world, this fear response is activated far more than it needs to be, or is optimal for our health.
MODERN DAY FEAR
The fear we experience today is rarely coming from imminent danger, from the proverbial tiger about to eat us. Mostly, our physical security is not threatened. However there is a pervasive belief that our emotional and psychological safety is able to be threatened.
Fears can show up in all kinds of areas in our lives – fear of being, or not being, in a relationship; fear of losing our job; fear of ill health, dying; fear of heights; fear of going out. Once we experience these fears, and IF we take them seriously, suddenly we find ourselves limiting our lives, or our behaviours because of the fear we feel. We start to make decisions in our lives based on our fearful thinking. E.g. I won’t go for that promotion as I’m scared I won’t get it; I don’t want a new relationship in case I get my heart broken again; I can’t go on holiday because I’m afraid of flying. Fear starts making the decisions for you.
There is a whole self-help industry built around conquering our fears, or overcoming our fears. Countless tools and techniques to help us to move past or beyond or through our fear. We are told that we need to do something when we feel fearful, because it means something about us, and our capabilities.
When we view fear this way, as something that looms large, has power and needs to be overcome, I find that it keeps our attention focused on the fear, and keeps our minds busy with it. This in fact is the least helpful thing we can do!
WHERE FEAR IS REALLY COMING FROM AND WHAT IT IS TELLING US
“There is no illusion greater than fear.” ~ Lao Tzu.
Fear isn’t a ‘thing’. It is merely a word we use to describe a feeling. What if fearful feelings don’t come from a particular circumstance, or event or activity, as we may innocently believe?
Some people use the acronym F.E.A.R which you have probably heard. Which stands for False Evidence which Appears Real. Actually, fear is THOUGHT which appears real. Any feeling we experience whether it be fearful or happy is always coming from inside of us; from the inside-out. Never from the outside world-into us.
When we experience fear we are simply experiencing our own scary thinking.
Most people know that they are feeling their fearful thinking, particularly if they are fearful about something that hasn’t actually happened yet. For example, if we are scared of getting ill, we know that in this moment we are healthy, but are imagining a scenario where we are ill and are scared by that. Or we fear having to give a talk in public, and are imagining all the things that can go wrong. It can be easy to see the relationship here between our thinking and the feeling.
However most people also believe that the fearful imaginings are giving them important information about the future…about their capabilities, about what they should and shouldn’t do. Somehow the equation, if I feel afraid of something = I shouldn’t do it, starts to look real. If they are fearful of giving the talk, it means that they shouldn’t do it. Or if they are fearful of getting ill, it then means they shouldn’t go out, or must have a certain lifestyle. We end up waiting to not feel afraid before we do these things.
But the discomfort of these fearful feelings is never telling us about what we should or shouldn’t do. Feelings don’t know about the future; they don’t know about the past; they don’t know about our skills or capabilities; our levels of confidence or our self-esteem. Feelings ONLY know about where our mind is at in any given moment. Feelings are an incredibly precise feedback mechanism for one thing only…our thinking in the moment. This feeling is telling us that we have left the present moment, that we are away from ‘home’, away from our centre or power. Fear is not predictive of the future or what we should do; it is a reflection or shadow of our thinking in the moment. We can see it like the rumble strips on the side of the road, as a warning we are off track in our minds.
We innocently also make fear very personal. Saying “Oh I am scared of spiders/heights/vomiting/failure/success”. We believe it is part of who we are, a permanent fixed state within us. But if fear is only ever coming from our thought in the moment, and thought energy is fluid, ever-changing and not fixed, fear cannot be a fixed or personal part of us either.
Here is a simple equation to understand what fear really is:
Fearful feeling = we are having fearful thought in this moment.
To reiterate the point: The fear is telling us we are feeling fearful thinking in the moment, nothing more, nothing less. Or another way to say it is, we’re always living in the feeling of whatever thinking we’re having at this moment. The well-used phrase “feel the fear and do it anyway” makes much more sense to me now that I understand the true nature of fear.
WHAT DO WE DO TO STOP FEARFUL THINKING?
“Being scared is part of being alive. Accept it. Walk through it.”
~ Robin S Sharma
When we find ourselves caught in fearful thinking, the only thing to do is to notice. We don’t have to start to think positively, or say an affirmation. We can know that the design of the human system means that our thinking will reset, and we will return to a calmer state of mind, without us having to do anything. It may occur to us to do something, but we don’t HAVE to do anything. The human mind is designed to come back to quiet, and peace all by itself. A good metaphor for this is a snow globe. If you shake a snow globe the water becomes cloudy as all the snowflakes swirl about. In the same way, as we get caught up in our heads, our mind lacks clarity and gets ‘cloudy’. We don’t see clearly. However if we just set the snow globe down, the water inside clears all by itself. Clarity is restored. It’s the same with our minds. They reset all by themselves. (Here is a video where I explain this if you want to see more).
The mind may not settle as quickly as our ego or personality would like, but it will settle. The noticing is enough. Once we notice we are on the ‘train of thought’ of fear we don’t have to stay on board or let is take us all the way to the station. We are free to jump off the train and wait for it to pass. Once we notice that is enough to be back in reality, back in the present and not caught up in the fearful imaginings of our mind.
I rarely give advice these days but if there is one suggestion I might make it would be this: not to navigate life or make decisions when we know we are in a fearful state. Wait for the fear to pass, until you feel more ‘at home’ before making any decisions. Once we are back in our common sense and wisdom, generally we make decisions with more clarity.
THE FOUR REASONS WE DON’T NEED TO FEAR ‘FEAR’.
This is how it looks to me; why we don't need to fear feeling afraid:
1. Fear is not a problem to be overcome. It is simply a feeling based on where our thinking is in any given moment. All emotions are safe and transient because they are coming from Thought, not from our circumstances. So we don’t need to ‘do’ anything to get rid of them or to move through them. The human system is designed to do this all by itself.
2. This thinking will shift and change all by itself, and so we don’t need to do anything about it, other than notice.
3. The psychological system will reset itself. The snow globe will settle if we leave it alone.
4. We have wisdom and connection to an intelligence greater than ourselves that we can rely on to guide us ALL the time. We are never disconnected from this wisdom and it shows up exactly when we need it. We can rely on this innate capacity within us to see through our fearful thinking, and to act from a calmer, more connected space. (In this video I talk a bit more about our inbuilt wisdom, if you fancy checking it out.)
The objective of this understanding is not to never feel fear again. That’s almost impossible. The objective is to be able to feel ANY emotion, including those we don’t enjoy. Knowing that all emotions are safe, temporary, will change all by themselves, and are only ever telling us one thing – about our thought in the moment.
Lindsey Elliott is a Transformative Coach, and Three Principles practitioner working in Brighton and online. She offers one to one coaching in a life-changing new paradigm of understanding how human beings work. With this understanding you can move from feeling insecure, stressed, anxious or unfulfilled to happy, secure, inspired, peaceful and filled with love.
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