How I overcame my fears and made them benefit me.
The Beginning of Fear
In my last entry, I went over my beliefs and their effect on my writing. Today, we’ll be talking about fears and how to overcome them. Now, this entry is going to be a little unique: it’s going to be much more generalized instead of focusing on a certain goal like all of my previous ones and it’ll be split into two parts. This part will focus on being able to live a much more fulfilling life, and the other will focus on self-doubt. However, before we get into the exercises, I want to go over the origin of fears and the different types there are.
First off, there are two primal fears: death and not belonging, and they originate from our caveman ancestors. Imagine a small group of people, a tribe, that lived in a cave fifty thousand years ago. There were a multitude of dangers that ensured death, such as other tribes, predators, sickness, loss of mobility, loss of sight or hearing, being unable to take care of basic needs, and many more. As an individual, these were the main concerns, but as a child, pleasing your family was the more immediate priority. Your family was your primary source of protection and were responsible for providing you with nurturing and life’s necessities. You couldn’t survive without them, so it was important to belong to your family by pleasing them and following instructions. Essentially, if you weren’t part of a family, you would die. On the opposite side of things, being an adult meant you had the responsibility of taking care of and protecting your partner and children, since they helped you survive when you got old. Additionally, you had to teach your children the traditions and how to properly behave, because what they did reflected on you and could negatively impact your relationship with the tribe. And since the tribe helped you and your family survive, it was important for you and your family to follow the tribe’s traditions and social etiquette. Essentially, if you weren’t part of a tribe, you and your family would die.
At the end of the day, the tribe was the most important thing; everyone protected it, it took more precedence over an individual, and everyone helped it grow and stay alive. Everyone helped it physically by having more children, making sure everyone was healthy and safe, and keeping members from leaving. And helped it mentally by educating members on traditions. Everyone needed to respect the hierarchy, work hard, follow the rules, and get along with others. On top of that, everyone had to make sure the tribe had enough food, water, shelter, and protection from predators and hostile tribes. In the present day, we don’t face the same challenges cavemen did, but we inherited their fear information and formed those primal fears.
There are two levels of primal fear: death of self and not belonging. Both are considered existential fears because they lead to our death, imagined or real. The first level, or primary fear, and the one I’ll be covering today, consists of external things such as bad people, accidents, and venomous animals. Lack of basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and money. Getting injured or sick. And things we imagine can kill us but actually can’t, such as heights, clowns, and small spaces. They’re tied to stress and worry, and can come from significant events.
On top of primary fears, there are things called fear factors. Fear factors are something we rely on in order to improve our chances of survival. They’re inherent in our thinking, influence our behaviors without us knowing, have positive and negative side effects, and more are relied upon the stronger the fear is. There are eight in total, but I’ll only go over the ones that primarily affected me.
Consistency. We want to do things the same way we have always done them.
Beneficial: Being consistent means we’ll get the same good results we want.
Harmful: This doesn’t allow us to adapt and evolve, especially for the big changes coming.
Control. We try to control ourselves, others, and our environment.
Beneficial: When we are in control of what happens to us now and in the future, then we will survive.
Harmful: We often try to control things we can’t. Sometimes when we attempt to control another person, it actually has a negative effect on both parties.
Familiar Bias. We want to stay around things we are familiar with.
Beneficial: Being around familiar things makes us feel safe. Things we aren’t familiar with could be dangerous.
Harmful: We aren’t open to trying something new. We might stay in familiar situations that are bad for us.
Scarcity. We believe there are a limited number of resources or opportunities. We fear that, if we don’t get them, someone else will take them and then we will die.
Beneficial: We ensure our survival by fighting for whatever resources we find, keeping what we have, and never throwing anything away.
Harmful: We stop thinking about new ways of doing things that could eliminate scarcity. We end up destroying the very thing we all need.
The Effects of My Fears
In addition to primary and secondary fears, there are two sides to fears: healthy and unhealthy. A misconception that a lot of people have is that all fears are bad, but that’s not the case. Healthy fears, for instance, can empower and benefit us. Let’s say I haven’t worked on my novel in a few hours, or even a day. My worry and built-up stress from not making any recent progress empowers me to work more on my novel and complete my goal. As you can tell, this healthy fear has a positive effect.
Unhealthy fears, on the other hand, don’t; they can cause mental and physical problems through migraines, rashes, falling sick, and more. They can keep us from doing things we need to do, prevent us from participating in activities that others regard as safe or normal, or disempower us.
With this information and examples, I formed a list of my fears. I’m afraid of:
Not being able to have as much fun in the future as I am now
People I care about dying
My novels not being well received
Having to give up writing
Contracting an incurable disease
Breaking a bone
Not meeting my expectations from high school
So, how did my fears affect me?
Becoming homeless and Not being able to have as much fun as I am now. Mentally and emotionally, I stayed as a careless teenager who cared about the present moment the most. My unconscious thinking was that I’d always have a home and fun if I stayed the same, since I thought they were connected. Additionally, I thought my teenage years were the only time I would have fun and being an adult would be nothing but boredom and sorrow.
Getting older. Similar to many people, I’m afraid of the unknown, and becoming and living as an adult was my unknown. At the time of writing this belief, I was a few months shy of nineteen and didn’t feel like I was living like an adult. There were responsibilities that I wasn't even aware of, and for the ones that I was aware of, I didn’t have confidence that I could properly take them on. And I feel like I can attribute this to not wanting to grow up, something that aligns with my previous fear’s effect.
People I care about dying. I prioritize enjoying my time with the people I care about and try to spend as much time with them as possible. However, this can actually keep me from working on projects I should be working on, which denies me any feelings of fulfillment tied to said projects. This fear is also on the forefront of my brain, causing me to worry too much about my family and friends’ safety.
My novels not being well received and Having to give up writing. If I’m not spending my time worried about the people around me, I spend it worrying about my novels. I want my novels to be the best quality possible, meaning my characters and writing and planning need to be beyond amazing. And because I don’t have much experience, I wasn’t sure if I could provide that quality.
Contracting an incurable disease and Breaking a bone. I stopped myself from partaking in activities with my friends that I deemed dangerous and started wearing a jacket nearly every day for years. It didn’t matter the weather, the temperature, if I was running a mile in three layers, or if I was teetering on the edge of heatstroke; I would wear a jacket anytime I could outside. This excessive dedication stemmed from a presentation on skin cancer. I thought of ways to keep myself safe from it, and the easiest solution I thought of was to add a jacket to my wardrobe.
Not meeting my expectations from high school. This fear caused me to form a negative opinion of myself since I haven’t been able to meet any of my own expectations. I’ve questioned myself, and thought that I was a better writer in high school and that I’ll never be good enough.
Fears can have a tremendous effect on a person. Going back to what I said in my last two blog entries, unhealthy fears form limiting habits and beliefs that are difficult to free yourself from. It’s like a chain reaction where fears create beliefs that something can and will kill you, which create habits to keep you alive. And as you already know, limiting habits or beliefs can be the reason why someone’s unable to fulfill their dreams. Now, a question stands: How do you get over your fears?
How I Reduced My Fear
In order to get over fears, the usage of fear elimination strategies is required. These twenty-four strategies have their own distinct method of dealing with fears, and they’re specific enough that usually one is needed for any given fear. Of course, there are cases where multiple strategies are needed, since the amount needed is proportional to the strength and complexity of the fear, but I think it’s important to point out that it isn’t always necessary to use multiple. With that being said, I’ll only be explaining the strategies that I used.
Ask an Expert. Work with an expert who can help you better understand, reduce, and eliminate your fear. Experts are a credible source, and they can actually be eager to share their experiences so others don’t go through what they did.
Baby Steps. Take small steps toward resolving your fear by gradually exposing yourself to what you fear until you become comfortable with it.
Fear is Your Friend. Fear can actually be very helpful. For example, death is your friend. People who think negatively of death tend to live safer and smaller lives. On the other hand, people who embrace death as a friend tend to live more exciting and fulfilling lives because they realize that life is short, everyone dies, and they could die at any point. With that realization, they live the best life they can before it’s too late.
Invitation. Fear is an invitation to try something new and receive a great reward in return.
Prepare. Take action now to minimize the chances of the fearful event happening and mitigate any potential problems that could occur.
Using Ask an Expert, I can reduce the fear of My novels not being well received by asking a well-known author about their experiences getting to where they are and any tips they might have. I can also find answers to my questions by reading books or interviews from them on the same topic. Additionally, I can reduce my fear of Getting older and Not being able to have as much fun as I am now by asking adults I know to teach me how to handle more responsibilities and maintain enjoyment. I’ve actually talked to an expert about enjoying life as an adult, and they’ve disproven my earlier theory on adult life, stating that I’ll actually have more fun and be able to experience so many different kinds of fun and new activities.
Using Baby Steps, I can reduce my fear of Getting older. By slowly exposing myself to the mannerisms, responsibilities, and knowledge of an adult, I can learn and make changes to myself until everything I feared about being an adult becomes second nature.
With Fear is Your Friend, I can take on a new perspective and approach toward my fears of Breaking a Bone, My novels not being well received, and Contracting an incurable disease. I realize that my fear of Breaking a bone is just trying to keep me safe. However, it’s a completely normal thing to have happen and I won’t die from it. Similar to not working on my novel, my fear of My novels not being well received is helping me ensure that my novel is of good quality. And for Contracting an incurable disease, this fear helps me realize that I could die at any moment and I should enjoy my life.
With Invitation, I can use my fears from Fear is Your Friend as an invitation to do new activities. I think these two strategies are closely related and form a two-step process with Fear is Your Friend being the mental half and Invitation being the physical half. For Breaking a bone, I can use the fear as an invitation to be more adventurous and take more risks to have enjoyment. For My novels not being well received, I can use the fear as an invitation to work harder and ensure that they meet my standards of quality. And for Contracting an incurable disease, if I’m going to get this disease and die, I might as well live my life the best I can and make good memories.
And using Prepare, I can minimize the chances of Becoming homeless, Having to give up writing, Breaking a bone, and Contracting an incurable disease. To reduce my chances of Becoming homeless, I can learn new skills to ensure that I can get another job, learn financial management skills, save ten percent of my income, make sure I have no debt, and live within my means. I can also stay at homeless shelters or with friends. For Having to give up writing, I can do one of two things: create a writing career through hard work now or never truly stop writing. By creating a career now with quality novels, I can’t give it up since my vision is being realized and it’d be illogical to stop. For my second option, it’d be difficult to truly give up writing since I can always write while I have another job or under different circumstances. In order to reduce my chances of Breaking a bone, I can start wearing protective gear when I bike. Right now, I don’t wear a helmet, and if I did, I’d certainly reduce any potential injuries. And for Contracting an incurable disease, if I’m going to get this disease, I should get annual checkups to know when or if I’ll die, get my affairs in order, try to reconcile with the people I want to, and make sure that everything is ready and perfectly fine after I’m gone.
Turning My Fears into Strengths
While the fear elimination strategies are great for dealing with and reducing primary fears, they’re even better at turning them into strengths. However, on top of the usual two aspects needed to reduce fears, the mindset and the willingness to take action, there’s a third called imagination. Before I get into imagination, what do I mean by mindset? Well, if we look at fears through a different lens, we can see that they’re actually helpful. In my case, if I didn't have the fear of My novels not being well received, I wouldn’t be concerned about their quality. That seems obvious and not necessarily helpful when you first hear it, but this fear does pose some questions: What would’ve happened if I didn’t have this fear? Would I spend the same amount of time as I am now, or would it be less? And the answer is that I would be worse off; I’d spend less time and the quality would be so much worse.
Now, what do I mean by imagination? Imagination is what’s needed after reducing our fears with the elimination strategies. The strategies are there to reduce and help us take action since it’s given us an idea of how to deal with the fear, but that’s it: it only reduces the fear. If we want to turn a fear into a strength, we need to go beyond that initial idea. Let’s look at the same fear of My novels not being well received. In order to turn it into a strength, I need to go beyond just realizing that it’s beneficial to me and an invitation to work harder. So, what can I do to make my fear benefit me even more? I can take classes, study, get an editor, and have people review my writing frequently. This is the difference between reducing the fear and turning it into a strength: I’m making a plan that is more than just working harder; I’m investing in the fear.
As you can see, the exercise is able to cover a variety of different fears and help form a plan to deal with them. However, you may have noticed that some of the fears I listed before weren’t included in the exercise, specifically Not meeting my expectations from high school and People I care about dying. Both of these can easily be affected by Fear is Your Friend, but I wanted to give them their own section because they affect me the most. For the fear on Not meeting my expectations from high school, I realized that it is literally impossible to meet those expectations since they were made when I was young, naive, and unrealistic. And for the fear of People I care about dying, I don’t think I should part with it. It’s normal to be afraid of loved ones leaving us, and this fear actually benefits me. This fear reminds me of the most unforgiving currency that is time and makes me realize that I should spend it making good memories and reconciling with people from my past, so I can die with as little regrets as possible. To me, there’s nothing wrong with having this fear.
Why I Like the Exercise
Primary fears can plague us for a lifetime, influencing our actions like puppet strings. Similar to the rest of the Big Five Concepts, if left untouched, they’ll control how we live our lives without us fully understanding them. And it’s hard to deal with them since there are such strong emotions involved that can easily prevent anyone from trying, which is where this exercise comes in.
Fear factors on paper sound like a bad thing; they prevent us from getting over our fears and influence us to become this version of ourselves that we end up hating. However, they’re actually neither good nor bad, they just are. An example is the side effects; on one hand, they keep us alive and safe, and on the other hand, they hurt us. In my opinion, these effects cancel each other out, but to some they don’t and that’s fine. If we were to go beyond what’s on the surface, we can see their true worth. Not only can they show us why we’re afraid of a certain fear, they can help us find more fears and show us a grander fear and a reason for our thinking or behaviors. Let’s say that Control is a fear factor that someone has and it’s rather prominent. Someone could see that and realize that they hate not being in control of things, which can lead to them growing even more as a person.
Creating a list of our fears is great for awareness. I know that I bring up awareness and its importance a lot, but it really is that important, and I’m trying to instill this into your minds as much as I can. Regardless of the awareness, a list is just helpful. As we’re writing the list, we’re in a state of mind that helps us find more fears. And having a list helps keep track of what we need to work on.
After creating a list of how our fears affect us, which helps to explain our actions and find which ones are healthy or unhealthy, the rest of the exercise creates a plan to reduce them. Creating this plan is what a lot of people struggle to do on their own, and having those fear elimination strategies create the foundation for growth is helpful in a positive way. Getting help from something that does all of the work for you isn’t helpful since you learn nothing. A perfect example is teaching a man to fish. If you give a man a fish, he becomes reliant on people to give him food. But if you give him a foundation by teaching him the skill of fishing, he’s able to take it and keep himself from going hungry. It’s the same thing: the strategies give an idea, but it’s our job to take that idea and turn it into something significant.
It’s safe to say that primary fears are pretty scary. However, I don’t think they come close to the other half of primal fears. Now, my thinking could be because my secondary fears were worse than my primary fears or other factors, but I’ll save it for my next entry.