I’ve been noticing lately just how much fear seems to be in the air.
It’s in my clients.
It’s in my friends.
It’s in my family.
And lord is it all over social media.
It takes so many forms. It comes out swinging. It pulls in tight, withdrawing from all. It spurs on endless chains of logic in hopes of thinking our way out. It fuels our outrage. It paralyzes us. It keeps us awake as it analyzes all of the potential risks.
I’ve noticed too that people seem to think of fear as being of two different kinds. There’s the internal kind, the nattering voice that says: “You can’t do that. You’ll fail. Nobody will like you.”
Maybe yours sounds more like this:
It seems to me that most adults acknowledge that THAT kind of fear is internal. We generate it ourselves, maybe based on past experience, but almost certainly based on genetic programming that requires us to STAY SAFE at all costs. As fellow coach Brooke Castillo says, our most primitive brain thinks we should “get in bed, get some snacks, and watch Netflix. The world is dangerous.” Our prehistoric brain wants to protect us from the saber tooth tigers and the neighboring clan. So, fear tries to keep us safe, keep us small, limit our risks.
A lot of the fear I’m seeing lately, however, gets attributed to external sources. “I’m scared of what he’s doing.” “I’m afraid things are changing.” The thing is that we forget that there’s a step between what someone is doing or the other circumstances of the world and how we feel about it. We forget that there is a thought we’re having that’s making us afraid. We think something about those circumstances and that thought causes us fear.
An example. Many of you know that my father recently passed, and in addition to my enormous grief and sadness over that loss, I’ve realized recently that there is a little fear brewing. Why would I feel afraid of my Dad’s death? It’s a good example because the connection between the circumstance and the feeling is not as clear as it might be at other times, so it’s obvious that there’s a thought in there stirring things up. After chatting with a coach pal, I realized that my estimation of my level of responsibility in the world somehow got ratcheted up, at least in my mind, when my Dad passed. Somehow I was now going to have to be the adult that I maybe didn’t acknowledge I was just a few short months ago, at the childlike age of 47… It wasn’t his death that caused the fear. It was something that was impacting me directly, my perception of my role and how it was changing (which was all invented by yours truly, by the way) that had my hackles up.
So what then? I noticed it. I cried a little, for my Dad and for me. And then I chuckled a little at the idea that NOW I’m an adult as it really is absurd, no matter how I think about it. Then I told that little fearful voice that I’m okay. That I’m just going to keep doing what I need and want to do to be myself in this world, to follow my heart, my wisdom, my judgment, my internal compass, and that’s probably adult enough no matter who else is around. And you know what? That fear, that had been riding shotgun for about a week without announcing its arrival, went away. I realize it may re-emerge, but right now, I’m more relaxed than I’ve been all week, even though there are still plenty of things I could justifiably get worked up about. I found the thought that was causing me to suffer.
So what are the thoughts that get you going, that make your thoughts and actions speed up, that maybe even make you feel breathless? What is going on between the circumstance and your feeling? Can you get still enough to see it, to hear it, to notice it? Can you take enough deep breaths to let your internal compass tell you whether that thought is actually true? Even if the thought you’re having IS true, can you compassionately tell your fear that you hear it and you will do what’s necessary to stay alive and protect your values, but that this level of agitation is not a good long-term plan? Can you ask the fear to sit down in a cozy chair near you while you drive for a while (see Liz Gilbert’s book Big Magic for more talk about how letting fear drive gets in the way of creativity)?
I sense some saying that fear may be a necessary motivator, that there are things in the world that require their action and participation. And I HEAR you. I FEEL that. I don’t disagree. What I do know, however, is that marathons are run in the zone, a meditative space where body and mind work together to achieve a significant goal, and where fear is asked to step aside so that the runner can get started and keep going. Fear as a motivator is a strategy for sprinters (and people running from saber tooth tigers), and my loves, whatever race you’re running, I’m guessing it’s a long haul.
Take a breath. Take 10 more. Listen. Act. Rest. Repeat.
If you need a little musical help with that, give this a go:
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