We all have at one point in our lives experienced fear. Maybe you were in a job you didn’t enjoy, but were too afraid to leave. Perhaps you always longed to live in another country but too afraid to make that step. I had all kinds of fears over the course of my life. I used to be afraid of heights. I was afraid to start my first venture, back when I was 19. And then there was the difficult choice of leaving an unhealthy relationship. But where does fear come from and how does it serve a purpose in our lives?
Fear as an Evolutionary Survival Tool
From an evolutionary perspective, the emotion of fear is what protected humans and animals from predators. It made you alert and therefore ensured the survival of the species. In that sense, fear is a necessary emotion.
But what about the perceived threats that are created in our mind? Or the fears that are conditioned by past experiences but not based on current realities? How do they serve our need to flourish beyond just surviving?
Face your Fears
There’s a general consensus that we should face our fears. To not let fear rule our lives. But this is so much easier said than done. Especially, when there are real consequences to the decisions you make that affect not just yourself but also the people you love. How does one navigate these emotions of fears, even when you know in your heart that you must not be led by them?
Afraid of the Unknown
Often, when we are afraid to make a decision about something it is because we don’t know what lies on the other side of that decision. Choosing to do something that is unknown and uncertain is counter-intuitive to our survival instincts. It makes sense that we have difficulty in overcoming our fears. It’s not natural. So, how can we then still make important decisions despite not knowing their outcome?
“ Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood” ― Marie Curie
Discovering Your Inner Strength
Before we talk about how we can overcome our fears, it is important to acknowledge that fear can be a powerful tool. Not only to ensure your immediate survival, but also to challenge you to a deeper exploration of what is inside you.
How can we discover the inner strength we have, the capacity to endure life’s challenges and the gift of courage if we never had fear to confront us?
You may be surprised and encouraged to learn that while inability to deal with fear may look and feel like a psychological problem, in most cases it isn’t. I believe it is primarily an educational problem, and that by reeducating the mind, you can accept fear as simply a fact of life rather than a barrier to success.” ― Susan Jeffers
Fear as a Catalyst for Personal Growth
While fear is an unpleasant emotion we wish to avoid, it can also serve as a great catalyst to personal growth. So often we don’t ask ourselves, why do I fear what I fear? Or why am I anxious for what might happen?
It’s uncomfortable, especially when you have to be truly honest with oneself. And yet, the answers to these questions are often universal. We are afraid to be misunderstood. That we will be seen as a failure. That we are not good enough. That we will be judged. That we won’t be loved.
The Cost of Inaction
Rather than focussing on what will happen if we act upon our fears, we can also turn the question around and ask ourselves what is the price we pay for inaction?
Are my fears and anxiety preventing me from living in alignment with my true values?
Do they prohibit me from being the person I want to be?
What will it cost me or my loved ones, if I don’t act?
In this video Tim Ferris gives a short explanation of how he lives his life not through goal setting but through fear setting.
What Fear Means to You
It is important to remember that everyone’s outcome is different. Just as everyone’s fears are different. Something that might seem daunting for one person, would be a breeze for another. Only you can decide what facing your fears means. Whether you will let it help you live in closer alignment to who you are or let it remain an evolutionary survival mechanism.
I will leave you with an inspiring and soul touching talk by Columbian-French politician, Ingrid Betancourt, on what being captive for six years taught her about fear and faith.