Facing Fear The Right Way

I think most of us have one fear or another. A fear may lurk in our subconscious mind. Hidden away in a dark corner. A fear that you’d rather not confront head on. Something that you wish would go away. Something that you wish would leave you alone.

In this post I’ll explore why you may want to confront a fear. To expose a fear to the cold light of day and to address it head on. Not only will this bring closure and a sense of relief, but most fears don’t turn out to be as bad as you think they will be. Liberate yourself from fear, remove the load from your shoulders.

Read on to find out how.

What are you afraid of?

The first step is to think about what the fear is. It’ll only take a moment. Bring it from in the back of your mind to the front.

A 2005 Gallup poll asked a national sample of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 what they feared the most. The question was open-ended and participants were able to say whatever they wanted. The top ten fears were, in order:

In his book Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters

author Bill Tancer tried to estimate what people fear the most. He analysed the most frequent on-line queries that involved the phrase, “fear of…”. This made the assumption that people tend to seek information on the issues that concern them the most. His top ten list of fears published 2008 consisted of:

But of course, these are only examples. Your fear could be anything. But whatever they are they will be something you know you should deal with but don’t want to think about.

But it’s important to try to.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that death appears in both lists. 1)I’ve written about how to approach death with a stoic outlook before. The fear of death dominated the lives of our ancestors. They designed rituals to reduce that fear. They helped collect the cultural ideas that we now have in the present. These rituals also helped preserve the cultural ideas. The results and methods of human existence had been changing at the same time that social formation was changing. You can say that the formation of communities happened because people lived in fear. The result of this fear forced people to unite to fight dangers together rather than fight alone. //


Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely — Buddha
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From Hidden to Exposed

By now you should have an idea of what your fears are. If you hide an identified fear then its power increases. The fear intimidates you and starts to slowly paralyse you. Once you expose the fear then its power starts to diminish, to fade and to wither away. In other words, the power of the fear reduces.

Of course, the fear will still be there, it won’t disappear altogether. You will still have to deal with it. Still have to identify the root cause and cut it out of your life with a series of planned, sequential actions.

I find that thinking about a fear in detail to be helpful. And also trying to write down the specifics too. The more exact you are with this exercise the better. Vague notions of what is bothering you don’t lead to the best solutions. Albert Einstein said:


Given 1hr to save the planet, I’d spend 59mins defining the problem & 1 minute resolving it.
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Most people are not rigorous enough in defining their fear. They attempt to address the fear without that rigour of working out what it actually is. They then miss opportunities, waste resources, and end up pursuing a path that leads to frustration and failure. The belief that the sooner you start to work on your fear then the sooner it will be free of it doesn’t always work. You may want to speed toward a solution. You may worry that if you spend too much time defining the fear, then you may never get to the starting line. Avoid this approach. Take your time to write down the fear. When you’re finished you will have defined it along these lines: “I want X to achieve Y as measured by Z.” Such a statement is a call to arms that clarifies the importance of dealing with the fear. And it helps define what is needed to address it. As an example:

I want zero debt to achieve financial freedom as measured by a bank balance which is in the black.

By framing the statements in the positive you decide what you do want rather than what you don’t want.

Action Planning

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. - H. P. Lovecraft

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. — H. P. Lovecraft

Once you’ve examined and quantified the fear it’s time to list out the steps needed to overcome it. Taking steps, no matter how small, towards a solution is better than no action at all. The paralysis which fear provokes starts to unfreeze. Listing out these actionable steps will start to move from an unknown set of activities into future with an end point. An end which is tangible and concrete.

Of course, you still have to have the courage to take action. Don’t over think it, just do the first action on your list today. Complete even one tiny step which takes only a couple of minutes. This starts the drive towards positive change; towards killing a fear.

In the heat of the moment

The sequence of steps I outline above is great for proactive change. But what about “heat of the moment” situations. These situations are where fear is more about the effect of your unhelpful reactions. Reactions which result of an emotional outburst and the aftermath which this may trigger. I recommend that using a version of a Stoic exercise called the “view from above”. You can find a great description of this exercise here:


… make observations about mankind, look upon the human scene as from some lofty height…
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– Marcus Aurelius

Stoics have access to a visualization technique known as The View From Above. Using it, we take time to place ourselves in a universal context. One person in a community, one community on the earth, one planet in the vastness of space, and so one. Today I was introduced to an interactive experience called Here is Today. Here is Today is very similar to the View From Above. It places us in the context of time and challenges us to wrestle with the vastness of existence. I recommend taking a moment to experience it.

So, use this to put yourself and your situation into a wider context. View yourself outside of your body, looking down. Then expand your perspective in space and time. As Marcus Aurelius suggests in Meditations IX 32:

The agitations that beset you are superfluous, and depend wholly upon judgements of your own. You can get rid of them, and in doing so will indeed live at large, by embracing the whole universe in your view and comprehending all eternity and imagining the swiftness of change in each particular, seeing how brief is the passage from birth to dissolution, birth with it unfathomable before, dissolution with its infinite hereafter.

Or you may want to compose, memorize, and repeat brief, relevant Stoic passages to yourself. These help to exert some control over you automatic unhelpful thoughts. They begin to replace these thoughts with more a more beneficial mindset anchored in the present moment. An example which springs to mind is from the novel Dune

is:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
  • From 1965 novel Dune
  • by Frank Herbert

You could also customise the composition and memorization of your own such Stoic litany based on your own specific fears.

To Conclude …

The vast majority of problems that we all have, be they large or small, begins with a fear. Failure, inadequacy, being alone, lack of control, discomfort. They’re all fears. Fears that you aren’t good enough because of a lack of belief in yourself.

It all boils down to the fact that fear is an integral part of what it means to be human. We live in a world that is on the move and is constantly changing. This generates uncertainty and at an evolutionary level, this scares us. This fear forms who we are and is a part of life.

In this post I suggested that we can tackle two aspects of fear. These were working out what your fears actually are. Then planning a series of steps to deal with them. I also recommended the use of a litany. This can be anything that you repeat to yourself to counter a negative, unhelpful automatic thought. Reminding yourself that whatever external is causing you fear it is an indifferent.

So what are your fears and what will you do about them? How do you deal with your day-to-day fears? Please leave a comment below.

Photo credit: dhammza via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND


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References [ + ]

1. ↑ I’ve written about how to approach death with a stoic outlook before. The fear of death dominated the lives of our ancestors. They designed rituals to reduce that fear. They helped collect the cultural ideas that we now have in the present. These rituals also helped preserve the cultural ideas. The results and methods of human existence had been changing at the same time that social formation was changing. You can say that the formation of communities happened because people lived in fear. The result of this fear forced people to unite to fight dangers together rather than fight alone.

//

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