I’m about to say something a little radical about emotions we call fear.
Fear isn’t really a liar.
It’s not out to get you. It’s not the devil. It is not trying to destroy you.
Fear is actually your friend.
OK, OK. Before you run away. Let me explain.
See, I think some emotions get an unnecessarily bad rap. We want more happiness, more joy, more excitement. We want less sadness, less fear, less anxiety, less anger.
Don’t get me wrong. I think all of us, myself included, can come up with instances where emotions have held us back from taking action in line with our values.
Fear of failure, for instance, can drive us to skip out on important opportunities, play safe instead of taking calculated risks. Sadness can keep us inside and alone because we feel inadequate. Anxiety can make us feel too out of control to competently navigate our way towards our goals.
In our desire not to feel uncomfortable emotions we sometimes avoid the things that actually matter to us.
For this reason, I think a lot of people will jump to saying that we need to ignore fear. Charge through it because it’s full of BS and
knows nothing about you. We wish we could live in a world without it.
Of course, we know we can’t do that. Most of us are aware that most basic human emotions are part of our evolution and help us survive as a species, and so they are important for us to have. If we didn’t have fear, we couldn’t run away from a cheetah, or, to dive out of the way of a moving bus. Fear is helpful because it cues us to act. The same goes for all the other emotions.
Each emotion serves an evolutionary purpose.
At this point, if someone is still following what I’m saying, the conversation becomes, “OK, so you feel fear but as soon as you
realize there isn’t a cheetah then you need to stop feeling fear because you aren’t actually in danger.”
Hold on. I think there still is a cheetah in the room. Sort of.
Stay with me here.
See, we are social creatures. We aren’t particularly strong compared to cheetahs, but if we come together, we can protect ourselves from all sorts of dangers as a collective unit working together. So when we were hunter gatherers and you could thrown out of the tribe for pissing everyone off with your dad jokes, it literally was a life or death thing.
Since we survive as a species through living together in community, when you are rejected socially, there is a part of the fear response that is real and valid.
You cannot survive in true isolation. So it actually makes perfect sense to feel afraid in situations where there is higher probability of rejection.
So, is this the blog where I tell you all to play safe?
Um, no. No no no no.
What I’m suggesting is that with our fancy evolved brains, we can actually use emotions like fear to remind us what is deeply, at our core, most important to us.
So let’s take an example of giving a talk on a big stage for the first time.
You feel a pang of fear when you are preparing for your talk. What does it mean? You are probably afraid that everyone will hate your talk and say awful things about it and you’ll lose your reputation.
So what do you do?
Option one, the “play small” method, would lead you to protect yourself by cancelling the talk.
Option two, the “fear is a liar” method, would entail you telling your fear to EFF OFF and plowing through your emotion to get to the stage.
But what about option three? What if you listened to your fear?
What if you actually took a moment to gain clarity on why you are actually afraid?
In this case, you may find that the fear of the talk does have to do with losing reputation. But what is underlying that?
This is deep work, the kind of work best done in collaboration with a trusted coach, therapist, or friend, but we can play with an example of where this type of inquiry might go if you spend a couple days reflecting and journaling about it.
Fear of losing my reputation. Which means fear of losing connection. Which means I value connection.
Now you’ve used your fear to identify a deep value. So you can make some value-based decisions based on that.
I will practice my speech in front of a few friends and really look them in the eye as I speak. I’ll think not about their response to
me but rather visualize how their lives will be improved based on what they hear. Maybe I’ll even make the talk interaction, ask for a show of hands, put myself on their level, develop a communal sense of connection and togetherness.
So, was fear really a liar in this situation? Or was it your speaking coach?
It’s more of a matter of whether you are using your emotions or being used by them.
I realize this topic runs deep and can’t be fleshed out in a single blog post. That’s why I put together the Ultimate Emotional Strategy Toolkit, which will take you through the full process of identifying emotions, understanding the message they are offering to you, and explore how to utilize this message to move towards your goals in a more refined and intentional way.