A Mind-Made Illusion
“Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” — Jim Morrison
In his book Influence: Science and Practice, author Robert Cialdini shares a story capturing the life-changing effects of fear.
In a tribe in southern Africa, the Thonga people hold an annual initiation for the young boys in the village. A young Thonga boy must endure a series of intense physical challenges before being admitted to adulthood.
The three-month ritual comprises six major trials: beatings, exposure to cold, thirst, eating unsavoury foods, punishment and the threat of death. These strange rituals are designed to turn a young boy into a man, while silencing his inner demons.
Spending three months subjected to mental, emotional and physical hardship is extreme. However, many of these young boys go on to become strong and powerful leaders in their tribes.
Despite the cruelty of the ritual, the story highlights how we can transform our fears from weakness into courage.
“Fear rips up from freedom. It is the destroyer of greatness. We know this, and we know we should tame our minds in order to defeat fear. Yet look at all the adults who act like powerless children and avoid the life they want because of fear,” writes Brendon Burchard in The Motivation Manifesto.
In society, fear impairs the lives of those who buy into its false existence. It was the French philosopher René Descartes who declared: “I think therefore I am.”
The fact that I’m aware of my thoughts means there’s a thinker behind the thoughts. Many people unwittingly believe: “If I think fearful thoughts, they must be true.”
Yet fear is no more than an illusion created by the mind. A great deal of what we fear rarely eventuates, yet fear predominates our thought landscape.
Since fear is a survival instinct alerting us to impending danger, it becomes a threat when our thoughts are stuck in a repetitive cycle.
When fear rules your life, you are at the mercy of the emotion.
Psychotherapist David Richo explains in The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them: “When we look deeply into our fears, we see that, at base, every fear is a fear of not having control.”
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. ” — Nelson Mandela
How can we transform fear so it doesn’t impair our lives?
Firstly, appreciate that fear is feedback alerting you to forward progress. It signifies you are stepping out of your comfort zone and moving into uncharted territory.
Rather than oppose your fears, see it as an opportunity to gain new insights. Embrace fear as part of your personal evolution. Many people see it as a brick wall while others regard it as an opportunity to overcome.
“Fear reduces resilience and the ability to grow from trauma, and purposeful living reduces fear,” avows author Victor J. Strecher in Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything.
Fear inspires a call to action. It advises us to avoid what is harmful to our lives and take affirmative action.
Take for example the fear of public speaking, widely considered one of people’s greatest fears.
The American comedian Jerry Seinfeld states: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
It is apparent in this instance that fear forces us to brush up on our speaking skills through rehearsal. Rather than being unprepared, fear forces us to show up ready or risk being humiliated in front of an audience.
As we overcome fear, we build strength of character and rise above any obstacles towards victory. Therefore, fear is a teacher providing you with the vital experience before the lesson.
The Present Moment
“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgement of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgement now.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Since fear is a future occurrence, it allows us to reconnect to the present moment when our minds wander. We are reminded of the fact that all we have is contained within this moment.
There’s no need to worry or fear a future which seldom arrives as we hope, since fear reminds us to let go of the incessant thoughts of an expected tomorrow.
Colette Baron Reid states in Uncharted: The Journey Through Uncertainty to Infinite Possibility: “One of the biggest challenges in overcoming self-centered fears is that when we’re afraid, we’re likely not in the present.”
It must be repeated, we cannot drop fear from our lives, not in the way many people believe. We can turn down the volume on fear by not becoming a slave to it. Susan Jeffers’ acclaimed self-help book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is a suitable axiom for learning to befriend fear.
Take inspired action in spite of your fears and don’t cower from them in resignation. Many people are helpless in the face of their fears, because they buy into the narrative associated with it.
Fear is a signal, calling you to recognise something within that needs to be addressed.
We must remind ourselves that fear helps us make better decisions in light of perceived danger. We must have our wits about us, instead of throwing ourselves unknowingly at a task.
Your response to fear provides a glimpse into your psyche. Are you constantly running away from fear or facing it head on?
What are you afraid of?
Who would you be without your fears?
What would life look like?
Try to imagine a world where you are not dictated by your fears. This is the state you want to create if you are to transform your life to be bigger and bolder.
Colette Baron Reid affirms that: “If you want your fear to fade away and myriad possibilities you never considered to start revealing themselves, you need a different map, one that shows the unknown, unexplored places. Those are the places your soul wants to go.”
Fear is a call towards inner growth and freedom because running away from fear makes it grow in intensity. Approach it with compassion and an open heart by forgiving yourself and others who contributed towards your fears.
You might be surprised to know that our fears can be passed down through generations. Wars and hatred stem from the paralysis of fear. We fear what we don’t understand, then we ultimately go to war with it.
Invariably, if we dislike parts of ourselves, this is a call to make peace within. As you know, what you feed and nurture inside you grows stronger.
David Richo reminds us that love is the antidote to fear: “The reason love casts out fear is that love creates the feeling of safety. When we act with love, we feel so good about ourselves that courage blooms. We find the poise to be at home with givens that scared us before.”
Ultimately, you have a choice: make peace with fear or allow it to control your life.
Hopefully you will be motivated to choose the former. Transcending fear is liberating since it frees you from the self-imposed fortress it creates.
Fear cannot dwell inside a heart filled with love. For love is the essence of your authentic nature and fear is a nothing more than a shadow cast by the ego to protect you, not serve you.