No…not that word. When it comes to “F words,” the socially naughty one really doesn’t pack much punch–a meaningless jumble of letters with a bad reputation.
But there’s another “F word” that can make a mind-blowing difference in your life. That word is “fear.”
Most of us assume fear is automatic and unavoidable. In some ways, that’s true. If a strange pit bull is standing guard over your mailbox and snarling, you’re going to be afraid—and maybe decide to wait to see what’s in the mail. A dangerous situation rightly engenders fear, which makes us focus on making a decision to act—to put up a fight or run.
But what if you spend your whole life being afraid of all dogs? That’s nowhere near as helpful as a cue. That’s not bonafide fear.
Fear that comes from danger in the immediate environment is essential to personal safety. Fear as an ongoing state? That’s a different thing. It’s this pervasive, ongoing state of fear that can make a mess of your life.
That kind of fear doesn’t even come from the same place. It’s not a reaction to cues from your surroundings. It is your mind trying to convince you that there’s danger simply to enjoy the drama of it. Let’s call this “ego fear.” Ego fear is built on the idea that you should be able to keep yourself safe at all times. That you can and must avoid all bad things.
Sorry, but that’s just silly. Life happens. You thrive when you deal with it as it does. Trying to stop life from happening just impoverishes your experience of it.
Ego fear steals the future—no matter what you’re afraid of. Fear of the unknown makes you unwilling to venture into it. Fear of not getting it all right makes you not try anything new. Fear of being rejected denies you the opportunity to feel accepted. Fear of a health problem makes the life you do let yourself live pretty boring. This kind of fear is not your friend.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous quote “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” is actually part of a longer statement that reads “So let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.
Yes. Unjustified. There is no sabre tooth tiger ready to pounce. The “danger” is manufactured in your mind. It’s a personally created bad dream—no more real than the monsters under the bed when you were a kid.
This fear is a choice–a really bad choice.
This kind of fear drains the fun out of life. It makes every waking moment one of vigilance, whether the fear you’ve manufactured is of germs, success, or economic Armageddon. Being afraid of whatever is going to happen next takes the delight out of what’s happening now.
Fear creates stress,too, so it’s hard on your heart, your immune system, and your overall health. Buying in on unnecessary fear is irresponsible. Yep. It’s no better for you than smoking or living on Coke and Doritos.
Saddest of all, fear keeps us from evolving as human beings. We don’t become the happy, satisfied people we’re meant to be if we’re too paralyzed by what might go wrong to get on with living. The great Roman philosopher Seneca put it well: “Our fears are more numerous than our dangers, and we suffer more in our imagination that in reality.”
We don’t need to suffer. We need to stop worrying and really live what each day brings. Some days might include a pit bull. Deal with it and then move on.