Most of us long to conquer fear, yet few ever take the time to understand what fear is, much less make an effort to defeat it. In this article, I will tell you how to do just that because ‘fear’ is primarily a state of mind. And fortunately, the mind is the one (and only) thing over which we truly have control.
The Different Kinds of Fear
In short, there are two primary kinds of fear: the kind you experience when your nervous system reacts to an immediate threat – like when a dog lurches at you from behind in hopes of sinking its teeth into your ‘dignity’.
However, that kind of fear happens far less often than the second kind – the one we’ll discuss today. This fear has a far more significant effect on the quality of your life and is mostly avoidable.
This second kind of fear is that insidious, sinking feeling that keeps you up at night. It triggers anxiety, holds you back, keeps you from taking risks, and generally eats away at your peace of mind. However, as real as it may feel, this kind of fear is little more than a state of mind.
The thing you’re afraid of can be almost anything: from losing your job to getting sick to the fear of missing out. And yet, the fear itself is still, entirely ‘in your mind’.
Causes of the Second Type of Fear
However, in the end, it doesn’t matter what you’re afraid of because that’s not why you’re afraid. You’re frightened or anxious because of these two things:
- You’re not ‘living in the moment.’
Fear is about the future – you can’t be afraid of something that has already happened. So aside from having a snake jump out at you, nearly every time you experience fear, it’s because you’re focusing on something that may (or may not) happen in the future.
In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, we call this ‘Fortune Telling.’ We remind our clients that no one can ‘tell the future’, so worrying about a future that you can’t predict or entirely control makes little sense, which leads us to the second cause of fear.
- You imagine the ‘worst case scenario.’
We also have a term for that in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; it’s called ‘Catastrophizing’. As the word suggests, it’s about imagining a catastrophic outcome.
The problem with catastrophizing is that things typically don’t turn out all that badly, and even when they do, we usually overcome them and benefit from them. So most of our suffering isn’t from what we’re afraid of actually happening; it’s from the fear of them happening.
Solutions for the Second Type of Fear
The solutions, of course, are simple. I won’t say they are ‘easy’, but they ARE ‘simple.’ With practice, you can master this simple process, which is guaranteed to reduce your anxiety and fear, and lead to a more peaceful and fulfilling life.
Step 1: Stay in the moment. Whenever you feel yourself slipping into fear, shift your focus to the present, and think about the things in your life that bring you joy and peace of mind.
Step 2: Remind yourself that fear is a state of mind. It can therefore be controlled by controlling what you think about and focus on. While doing so, replace your catastrophic, worst-case-scenario thoughts with the exact opposite.
When you simply cannot keep from thinking about the future, at the very least, think about the ‘best case scenario’ of whatever is bothering you. It seems only fair that you would at least give the Best Case Scenario as much attention as the worst-case scenario.
Remember this: the vast majority of our most significant gains in life – which we are most proud of – are the result of something that started out seeming ‘bad’ or too complicated… but eventually turned out to be blessings. What would your life look like for example, if you had married the very first person you ever went on a date with?
In other words, ‘Everything Always Works Out’. Not only because most of our most significant gains in life result from overcoming something we were once afraid of but also because you always have the final say. It’s always your next move, and so long as you keep moving, you can turn virtually everything you’re afraid of into an advantage.
Just knowing this can make it easier to move beyond fear. Remind yourself that even if this thing you’re afraid of does happen, chances are, you will eventually overcome it and use it to your advantage. You could end up even better off than you were before it happened.
In other words, there is no such thing as a ‘worst-case scenario’ because even the worst-case scenario is only temporary. It’s only the worst case until you turn it into something better!
By Mark Fournier, The LIMITLESS Coach