One thing I don’t see a lot of in either philosophy or personal development manuals is a lot of discussion about how fear drives human beings.
I think this is for a couple of reasons. Culturally, fear and cowardice are universally reviled, and secondly, our fears, and the actions and beliefs connected to these fears, are as unique as retinal scans. So it’s very hard for a guru to generalize and give specific advice–because it won’t apply to some, and the rest will just be miffed about being lumped in with everybody else and simply ignore it. Everyone wants to feel that their situation is somehow different.
And it is. Just like no specific time management advice works across the board, thus, no advice on conquering you fear is going to work either.
But for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve come up with.
Bad Advice: “Conquer your fear!” Rarely do you see tangible steps to take to follow this advice, and you’re made to feel like kind of a wimp for even asking.
Here’s what I’ve found: Stomping on your fears like a pillaging Hun simply drives the fear underground. And as we all know from a lifetime of action movies, guerrilla resistance is hard to fight.
Instead, make friends with your fear. Seek to understand it. After all, fear evolves as a survival mechanism; it’s trying to protect you from threat you may not even understand. Make a friend of your fears, and you’ll find that when it whispers in your head, it will be more like cautious advice from a trusted friend, and less like conscious sabotage.
Mediocre Advice: Ignore your fear and succeed in spite of it.
Ok, there’s a certain amount of validity to this statement, but ultimately, I think you’re further ahead to dismantle the fear and resolve whatever issues caused it in the first place. The thing about fear is that you wouldn’t be afraid if there weren’t a chance that the voices in your head were right, and all the dire things you fear will come to pass after all.
The problem with these fears is, even if they’re not paralyzing, is that granting them a place in your conciousness grants these possible events a power totally outside themselves; the power to focus your consciousness.
I recently had a client whose most limiting fear was of losing her children. This is a really tough one to combat–because she will eventually lose her children to a place or circumstance where she cannot protect them. It’s a fact of life. But by “protecting” her kids for as long as she could from that eventuality, the more likely that the loss would come sooner and be more traumatic.
And sure, there are tons of stories of parents with clenched guts, all allowing their children to walk the path of independence–but every parent is not fearful. This is not a prerequisite. It’s not as if you “don’t care what happens to them.” You can release that fear, worry only slightly, obsess not at all, and inevitably, hurt when they’re in pain. But you don’t have to fear it.
Good Advice: You have nothing to fear but fear itself.
This is one of the hoary old chestnuts I actually like–even though the linguist in me doesn’t agree with the use of “fear” as a verb in this context. Once you’ve dealt with your fears, you actually don’t “fear” anything– not even a return to the state of fear, because you know that you pulled yourself out once, and you could do it again if you had to.
So do it.