“Fear is not real. It does not exist except in our thoughts about the future”
(Will Smith in After Earth)
The mind is a powerful thing. It has the power to think new thoughts, imagine new dreams, and motivate toward new heights. It runs the body’s basic functions, and protects from harm. Yet it can also cripple us with fear and keep us from reaching our full potential.
As I write this I have fear. I fear that I am wasting my time with a pointless exercise of blogging my thoughts. I fear worse things, like screwing up my marriage and getting divorced a second time. The voice in my head that I have called “I” tells me lots of things. It forecasts worst case scenarios in a well meaning attempt to protect myself. But what I know to be true is that every single time I have looked at that fear, and then found a way to move past it, and do the courageous thing, I have been glad I did. Because I have experienced new ways of living that are deeper and richer, and I have grown as a man.
So what can we do about this mind of ours? Here are some things that I do to use the best of what it can offer without being crippled by it’s constant caution tape.
1. Awareness Is Key
Awareness is the practice of what most spiritual teachers call, “non- judgmental seeing.” Buddhists call it the “beginners mind.” Awareness is raising a yellow flag in your mind that something is going on that you need to look at. It’s like the check engine light illuminates on your dashboard, and you need to take a moment to assess what is going on. The key here, is to do so without self abuse. Simply take a look under the hood and see what’s there without judging it as good or bad. If your car needs gas, you simply fill it up. You don’t kick the car for needing gas. But if I have fear and for some reason don’t want to deal with something, I have to fight against my mind which wants to berate myself for having the fear or not doing that thing I need to do. Instead, I try to bring awareness so I can simply address the situation and move forward.
2. The Voice Is Not “You”
It is amazing to me how much we beat on ourselves for not being “perfect”. It’s like the more we learn in life about how we’d like to do something or be something better than we once were, we immediately beat on ourselves for not being there already. Catholic priests hear it all the time in confession. I have been privileged enough to earn the trust of many friends who have shared their sacred inner thoughts and from this I have learned that I am just like them and just like you. My mind speaks all day, every day, in a voice that I have learned to call “me”, but hear me… THE VOICE IS NOT ME! That voice is something else, and we need to separate our concept of “me” from the voice. While the voice may be there, I am bigger than the voice. I am the one that lives and chooses to act in each moment, and get to feel the richness of life. So what is that voice all about?
3. The Mind Is A Survival Machine
The reason our minds work this way, is because it is a survival machine. It is all about self preservation at the most basic level. I just visited a guy in the hospital who is fighting for his life. Two machines are doing the work of his heart and his lungs for him, and he is still alive and his mind is fighting and healing and doing what it needs to do to survive, even when he is not visibly conscious.
Our minds constantly forecast worst case scenarios so that we can be as prepared as possible for adversity and will have the best chance of survival. This is great if a lion is chasing us, but problems arise when we govern our relationships by this. If we relate to people with a heavy emphasis on self preservation, we don’t take risks, we don’t let people in, and we severely limit our experience of true intimacy with other human beings.
4. Fear Is Not Real
I love the quote above. It’s worth another look here. “Fear is not real. It does not exist except in our thoughts about the future.” Fears are all about possible futures and possible outcomes. They are not real in the current moment. Think about that the next time fear is holding you back! True, they do serve a positive role in self preservation. For example, a healthy fear of heights will keep you from walking off of a cliff, thus preserving your life. So see them for what they are. Fears are warning flags. Look at them, and see what they are trying to tell you. But don’t govern your relationships by them.
The problem is that most often they are irrational fears, meaning that they are not connected to your current reality, and thus are hindering your progress forward. When these fears are present, bring awareness to what these fears are about, acknowledge them, and then put them in your pocket and walk forward on your journey.
5. Courage Is Acting In Spite Of Fear
Realize that anyone who ever does anything courageous does so with fear staring them in the face. In fact, if they didn’t have fear present with them, their act of bravery would not be courageous at all. By definition, courage is acting in spite of fear.
I encourage you to look at fear in a new way. See it as a sign pointing you down a path of growth. I have fears around things that I don’t really want to change. It’s my mind’s attempt to keep the status quo. In fact, fear of change is a universal human experience. It just means I am normal. But I don’t want to stop there. I also fear being insignificant. I fear not having the guts to do the things I need to do to actually change and move forward on my journey. What I try to do is use fear in my favor, by making the fear of missing out on good things bigger than the fear of moving forward and taking risks and making changes in my life. I focus on the goal of the change and how great it will be to accomplish that to build my courage to make the change.
So I encourage you to embrace this question. For behind it lies the key to your next step in growth! How exciting is that? Here’s the question: What are you afraid of? What is that voice in your head saying? Write it down. Take a close look at it. Ask yourself a lot of “why” questions to get to the bottom of exactly what that fear is trying to tell you. And then view it as a sign on a door that you need to walk through. It’s pointing the way to the next step in your growth. I’d wish you good luck but you don’t need it. You have all you need right now to face it and move forward. So go for it!
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Joel is a husband, father, musician, and lover of life; especially life that is shared with the wealth of amazing friends and family he is blessed to have near.