Love & Fear | How to Master the Two Forces Which Govern All Your Decisions
I’m a strong believer in the idea that our entire decision-making process is influenced by either of two powerful, opposing factors: the fear of something, versus the desire for something.
Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we seem to balance these two forces against one another when deciding on a course of action — and the course chosen is dependent on which force bears more weight.
I won’t enter a burning building for fear of getting burned. I will, however, rush into a burning building to save a member of my family should they be in such a situation.
I won’t work out today for fear of the pain and soreness I know I’ll have to endure. But I do love the energy, mental clarity, and aesthetic benefits that exercise does provide….so, I actually will work out today.
Sometimes the contrast between love and fear is great, making the decision easy: I love my bed and am contemplating taking the day off, but the fear of losing my job is even greater so I’m forcing myself to get up.
Other times the contrast might be more subtle, rendering the decision more difficult. I love spending time with this person but I fear the commitment, fluctuating emotions, and all the negative aspects associated with a romantic relationship.
Most of us already have an unconscious, predetermined love/fear setting for all our decisions — this is based on our past experiences, values, personality traits, etc. For example, it is easy for me to decide to ignore a phone call from an unknown number. The fear of having to speak to an annoying salesperson or risking a scam outweighs my desire to find out if the caller may actually be somebody I know. I’m not consciously weighing the love/fear factor; it’s already been determined for me.
These predetermined values make it much easier to make decisions, reducing the need to constantly weigh things out. Most of our everyday decisions are made this way: what to eat, what to wear, who to talk to.
It’s the harder, more emotionally challenging decisions that require conscious involvement, especially when motivated by fear. Fear is just as powerful as love, but it is a negative force — it goes against our conscious desire. As we’ve seen in the previous examples, love and fear can coexist in any decision-making process. But to be motivated by love, passion, and desire is to have more freedom than to be motivated by fear.
And to be clear, fear isn’t always bad. Sometimes fear is a healthy decision-making parameter. Fear of getting hit by a car may save you from walking into a busy highway.
But when fear becomes the anchor in preventing an otherwise advantageous opportunity from taking off, or when it creates stagnation in an environment where growth is critical, every effort should be made to uproot that anchor.
It is my belief, that no matter how heavy the burden of fear may weigh upon you, there is always a counterweight of love and passion that can tip the scale in your favor. I want to show you how I’ve figured out how to remain motivated by love instead of fear.
We make thousands, maybe millions of decisions a day, most of them bypassing our conscious mind. We’re likely more mindful of the critical, life-changing decisions, but even then, if we’ve become accustomed to consistently choosing the less challenging option, we may not even be aware of the opportunities we have missed.
Fear of challenge, difficulty, and struggle may make our decision-making process easier, but it doesn’t make life better. I can easily refuse to work out, refuse to eat healthily, refuse to wake up early, and refuse to work hard simply due to a fear of how difficult those things may be, but my well-being will certainly suffer at some point. The key is to be cognizant of the exact moment that fear is being chosen over the love of something better. If we aren’t even aware that we’re choosing poorly, it will be difficult to choose otherwise.
I assume, that like any muscle, the human will is something that can be strengthened. I say this because I can more comfortably choose to do something difficult at this age than I could have 10 years ago. And that’s not simply because I’m wiser. I’ve gradually developed a muscle within my will to choose the difficult, despite the fact that fear may always be present. This was cultivated through a series of challenging circumstances, some voluntary and some involuntary, which forced me to strip myself of all assumptions and expectations and to find the bare truth of how difficult decisions are made.
It’s in this raw state of vulnerability, where presence of mind is at its most heightened, where fear and love are equally as enticing, where the costs and repercussions of either decision are clearly laid out in front of you, and where responsibility can’t be placed on anything other than yourself, that the human will is truly refined.
To be comfortable in this state, and to know oneself in it, is to be able to have the will to bypass the fear in any other situation in life, no matter how difficult or how intimidating the conditions.
For me, becoming comfortable in deciding against fear meant immersing myself in the hardest, most naturally intimidating situations. In most cases, it’s the physically challenging scenarios that best facilitate the development of will.
My favorite way of working out is to be alone in a large open space where I can shadowbox to my heart’s capacity. I envision myself fighting a larger, tougher, more skilled boxer, but who also represents every negative aspect in my life which I’d like to destroy. All of my anxieties, fears, self-doubts, regrets, and shortcomings are embodied in this imaginary opponent of mine. As I’m bobbing, weaving, and throwing every ounce of energy into each punch, I’m envisioning victory and power over these negative aspects. This act alone is enough to amass enough motivation, energy, and self-confidence to tackle whatever challenge the day may bring, but this isn’t what breeds willpower over fear and struggle.
Punching the air as hard as you can for any length of time is tiring. The real challenge comes when I begin to get tired because then, I have a decision to make. The feeling of wanting to quit is quite overwhelming. My heart is beating out of my chest, my lungs are expanding to their maximum elasticity, my arms and legs feel detached, and I have every right to stop — after all, it’s not even a real fight.
It’s this moment just before I choose my next course of action that is most important.
If I choose to keep going, something incredible happens. I begin to realize that my will is the one in control of how things unfold, not my body. It matters not how tired I am. It matters not how physically incapable I think I may be. The decision to continue is made by my mind, not by my arms or legs. Sure, I may very well feel physically tired, but how I feel is irrelevant to the actual execution of the decision.
It’s those raw, vulnerable, honest moments where you’re faced with a decision, and you choose the difficult, that the will is strengthened. And sure enough, little by little, just like a muscle is developed with gradual exercise, the will to overcome fear and difficulty is developed as well.
Another example of strengthening will through struggle is through immersion in cold water. There are reports of physical and psychological benefits to cold showers and while I have experienced many of them, those aren’t the types of benefits I’m advocating for.
Dousing yourself in cold water in the early morning hours is one of the most ridiculous and uncomfortable things you could willingly do to yourself. But the most difficult part doesn’t necessarily involve actual contact with water. The most difficult part of taking a cold shower lies in the moments just prior to stepping in the shower when every reason for why you shouldn’t be getting in there begins to surface.
If at that moment of truth, you somehow decide to jump into that shower, you’ve earned gold. The act of deciding to go against the pressure to obey your carnal instincts is a tool that can be further developed and applied to a myriad of other obstacles in life.
This is how the strengthening of will relates to the involvement of love and fear in our decision-making process.
Every action we take requires a decision. Sometimes we become so accustomed to a certain pattern of decision-making that we gloss over very important choices, often choosing the easy, less productive route. The danger lies in when faced with an important decision but our compulsion is to instantly move toward the less challenging, well-traveled road, completely ignoring the reward at the end of the difficult road, merely because we haven’t developed the will to meet the challenge.
The true beauty of learning to develop your will within that raw state of hardship is that when faced with a task that challenges your will to reach your dreams, passions, and things you love, you can tell yourself: I’ve been here before.
The true benefit of shadowboxing my demons until my arms fall off or immersing myself in cold water isn’t to achieve a certain heart rate or to test my core temperature, it’s to bring myself to that raw, vulnerable, honest state of mind where I’m faced with two doors:
One door has the word “fear” written on it. It is a beautifully decorated door which opens quite easily. This door represents the fear of continuing, the fear of pain and struggle, the fear of injury, the fear of hardship and difficulty, the fear of being uncomfortable, the fear of what others will think, the fear of whatever scares you most. If I want to escape the struggle, all I need to do is give in to fear and walk through the door.
The other door has the word “love” written on it. This door isn’t as pretty. In fact, it’s rusty, heavy, and it makes a loud squeaking noise when you try to open it. It’s a much more difficult door to open, but the reward on the other side is much greater.
When I’ve shadowboxed to the point where the fear of feeling too tired overwhelms me, it’s the love of the feeling of victory which convinces me to keep going.
When the fear of cold water prevents me from entering the shower, the love of the euphoria, energy, and wellbeing which I experience afterward motivates me to jump in.
When the fear of inadequacy at a new job offer challenges my will to take it, the desire for the prestige, compensation, and satisfaction gives me the will to tackle it.
When the fear of the challenges involved with developing a new business idea cripples my decision to start, the desire for the freedom and potential for success fuel my will to pursue it.
When the fear of speaking in front of others prevents me from accepting a speaking engagement, the desire for the exposure I can gain provides me the courage to do it.
When social anxiety stifles me from approaching a prominent figure I’d like to network with, the desire for the opportunities which can manifest makes it well worth it.
Every action we take starts with a choice. Despite how fear may cause us to feel, we’re free to make that choice independently of these anxieties, lies, and falsehoods that distort our decision-making process. As in my shadowboxing example, it is my will that decides whether or not I continue punching, not my muscles.
It is important to feel the power in decision-making. It’s your will, your power. The fear, struggle, uneasiness, and whatever else comes with it are just ephemeral distractions. The power to choose is still yours, regardless. Get comfortable with that and own it.
Finally, remember, every reason to fear will have an equally powerful reason to love. It’s a duality that seems to exist throughout our world. Our tendency is to choose fear, perhaps because of poor conditioning, but with enough clarity, we can always find the reason to choose love. As overwhelming and convincing as the fear may seem, love is more powerful. Find love and choose it.