Fear is the one of the most powerful emotions that we experience as human beings. It’s undoubtedly responsible for many people living an unfulfilling life, but it’s also responsible for some of the greatest feats in human history.
Many people let fear of failure stop them from ever chasing their dreams, while countless others have to learned to use fear as an asset to achieve extraordinary things.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at what happens inside our brain when we feel fear, as well as how to let fear guide you towards self-mastery as opposed to keeping you stuck in limbo.
Why Do We Feel Fear?
The first thing to understand about fear is that we wouldn’t survive without it. If we couldn’t feel afraid, we’d do all sorts of dangerous things like jump out of airplanes with no parachute, walk off bridges, approach lions in the wild, etc.
Fear is a basic human instinct that exists to promote survival. In the history of human evolution, the people who feared the right things were the ones who lived long enough to pass on their genes. If you didn’t feel afraid when you were walking around in the forest and heard rustling in the trees, chances are you wouldn’t live a very long life.
Today, there aren’t apex predators rummaging through neighborhoods that we need to be afraid of, but that natural survival instinct which protects us from danger is still alive and well in our fairly primitive brains. You feel fear because your brain senses danger and wants to keep you alive, but that doesn’t mean the potential dangers have to be life threatening to trigger a fear response.
A man who is socially anxious feels fear when they see an attractive girl that they want to approach. Someone who is terrified of public speaking feels a giant lump in their throat when they are first informed that they will be giving a presentation in front of 20 people. Someone who has arachnophobia feels a shiver down their spine when they are shown a photo of a large spider.
Although the external stimuli that trigger fear are mostly harmless in today’s world, our fear response is so deeply wired into our brains that rational thinking takes a back seat when it comes to our automatic response to our environment.
How Avoidance Leads to Self-Sabotage
When it comes to the things that you are afraid of, you really only have two options — You either face it or you avoid it. The first option fortifies you, and turns you into a self-confident person that is able to handle stress, achieve abundance, and live a happier life. The second option makes you weak, and turns you into a person who always feels like there is something missing from their life.
Most people choose the option two and spend their final years wishing they chose option one. When you avoid putting yourself in situations that make you feel fear, you give those situations power over you. And even worse, your fear of that particular situation grows each time you avoid it. Now here’s the cherry on top. Each time we choose avoidance instead of courage, we slowly build up evidence in our brain that we are the kind person who runs from their fears. Once our brain has accumulated this evidence, we form beliefs about the kind of person we are, and we start to act in accordance with those beliefs.
This means that our fear of talking to strangers eventually turns into fear of speaking up in a meeting, which turns into fear of rejection and failure. Everything we do in life has a ripple effect. Choices are not one-and-done events. Avoiding fear has a ripple effect on our lives that causes us to play small when deep down we know we were meant to play a bigger game. We develop a habit of watching our life unfold from the bleachers instead of having the courage to get on the fucking field and be an active participant in our lives.
How to Let Fear Guide You
If you ever watch interviews with people who are 80 or 90 years old, they almost always get asked the question, “What are your biggest regrets in life?” When asked this question, people don’t usually talk about the mistakes they’ve made. Instead, most of the regrets old people have are a result of the things they didn’t do because they were afraid.
- The business they didn’t start.
- The giant career switch they never made.
- The girl/boy they never revealed their feelings to.
- The child they should have spent more time with
Why did they not do those things? Because of fear. If you don’t want to get to the end of your life feeling bitter about the chances you didn’t take, you need to start thinking about fear in a different way.
You know that feeling you get when you’re about to do something uncomfortable? Your heart beats faster, your muscles clench up, and you feel as if you’re a statue that’s frozen in place. That’s our body’s fear response, and it signifies that you are right where you need to be.
As a general rule of thumb, the more scared you are of something, the greater the likelihood that it’s something you must do.
Starting a business after working a 9-5 for twelve years is scary. Telling someone that you’ve been friends with since childhood that you need to spend less time around them is scary. Getting on the phone with your parents and telling them that you are going to drop out of college is scary.
Being afraid to do something is natural and unavoidable. It signifies that whatever you are about to do has meaning. When you start letting fear be your guide instead of your enemy, that’s when you’ll start living up to your potential and become the absolute best version of themselves.