Allow me to illustrate a scene: You’re trying to sleep on a plane that’s currently flying across the Atlantic ocean. No land in sight, just water. Did I mention it’s a turbulent plane? Oh yeah, the plane is shaking like a maraca and all you’re trying not to think about is your impending doom when the plane falls and you die. So you close your eyes and attempt to do the impossible.
Whoever says they’ve never felt fear is straight-up lying. Fear is a universal feeling and I guarantee you we’ve all been afraid at least once. Or, in my case, at least a hundred times.
Fear is a very powerful feeling but it’s very limiting in its nature. If we trace back fear hundreds of years we come across survival instincts that our ancestors used to stay alive. Very powerful indeed. And, according to our ancestors, very useful. So when did it become limiting?
Perhaps when modern life became less dangerous. Or perhaps because we let it.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe fear has its function in our lives. We still use it as an indicator of danger and for that I’m thankful. In her book Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear, Eva Holland states that “Fear, generally speaking, is regarded as being prompted by a clear and present threat: you sense danger and you feel afraid. Anxiety, on the other hand, is born from less tangible concerns: it can feel like fear but without a clear cause. Simple enough, at least in theory.”
Fear and anxiety have morphed into one and the combination has evolved into this nagging feeling in the back of my mind, even when there is no imminent danger present. It’s almost like I create danger in my mind. So my fight or flight mode is on most of the time.
When I was still in high school I came across a clip of Will Smith explaining fear in the movie After Earth. I couldn’t tell you what the movie is about, but this one minute clip changed my perspective on fear forever. Check it out.
Don’t tell me you didn’t get chills after watching that.
The mere idea that fear only exists in our thoughts of the future blew my mind. Because it is true. Danger is real and we need to know how to perceive it. But fear? It only exists in our minds.
After watching this clip, I made it my life goal to remove fear from my life. Imagine a 17-year-old Isa about to graduate high school, with no knowledge of what the future holds, trying to avoid fear. It was indeed a total disaster. My anxiety and the fact that I’m well, human were not having it.
I went on a research kick and I asked every mentor I’ve ever had how to get rid of fear and their answer was always more or less the same. “Ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen? And you’ll realize your fear is irrational.”
Yeah, I tried that, and guess what? Still feeling the fear.
It’s great advice and it helps me digest what’s going on inside my mind but questioning myself is not the cure for fear. And it wasn’t until after many failed attempts like this one that I realized my fear will never go away.
I will always be scared of trying something new, of how people perceive my work, of my loved ones dying. There will always be something to be afraid of. And I can’t run away from that fear, but I can learn to run with it.
Upon this realization, my mind was blown. Even more so than after watching Will Smith’s empowering speech. Fear is only a fragment of my imagination and that makes it real to me. Even though it’s not reality, it will always live within me. I can’t escape it.
So then what’s there to do? If there is no cure for fear, how can we stop it from limiting us? What is the secret formula?
Be afraid and do it anyway. Analyze actual danger, acknowledge your fear, and do it anyway.
That’s it. Fear is only limiting because we give it the power to be. And the answer isn’t kicking that fear to the curb or throwing caution to the wind. The answer is learning to live with it and taking the power away from it.
I am by no means a professional in not letting fear stop me. I still struggle with my mind whenever I feel afraid of doing or not doing something. But I’m working on it, and learning how to live with my fear has proven much more useful than trying to avoid it or asking myself questions.
Like most things in life, this requires practice. The more you challenge yourself to do things that scare you, the easier it will become over time. Things like journaling, meditating, and therapy are a good way to start the process of learning to live with your fear. They help you reflect and compartmentalize your fear so it becomes easier to understand. And when it’s easier to understand, it becomes easier to live with.
Try incorporating one or more of these practices the next time you’re feeling severe fear over something, and see for yourself how effective they can be.
Remember, this is a process. You’re not gonna learn how to live with your fear overnight. But the earlier you start, the quicker you’ll stop letting it control your life.
Fear is not ideal, and it would be much nicer if I wasn’t constantly afraid. But I’m not wired that way. And I’m willing to bet most of us aren’t. So let’s stop running away and instead learn to coexist with our fear.
I challenge you to stop running away from your fear. Embrace it. Feel it. And don’t let it stop you from doing the things you wanna do. Be afraid and do it anyway.