How much attention do you pay to the influence of your emotions on your actions? You may see your actions as the result of logic and/or careful reasoning in a given situation. You might be surprised to realize that even with a logically based choice, your emotions play a part, to a minor or major degree. The more important the relationship, or the more invested you are in the outcome of any given interaction, the more likely there will be an element of fear.
Fear is a powerful driver of our actions, perhaps more so than any other emotion. One of the reasons is fear releases endorphins into our system, creating a level of anxiety that compels us to action in an effort to quiet down the power of the emotion–it’s a sense of “anything would be better than this feeling.” It stems from a biological response to the threat of danger, going back to early days of human life, when fear helped people survive. It produced a fight or flight response–where actions meant survival, as when coming face to face with a bear.
Today, we usually don’t have to be concerned about coming face to face with a bear -so we now have our “virtual” bears that generate a similar response. There still are real fears–like when you are in a situation of physical danger. Our “virtual” bears are unreal fears–we are not in any actual danger, but our system reacts as if we were. These “bears” might include: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of rejection, fear of not being good enough, fear of not being smart enough, fear of being imperfect, fear of not being attractive enough, or fear of being unlovable.
What are some of your “virtual bears?” Think of a time when you experienced the fight or flight response–or even a sensation of freezing or fainting. What were the other person’s words or actions that generated fear in you? Looking back, how realistic was the threat? How might you have responded differently if you weren’t gripped by fear?
It’s helpful to identify the triggers that come in the form of words, actions, or personality traits in others. With time and distance, it’s easier to see things more objectively–using your logical rather than your emotional brain. Start a log of situations, words, people, or personality traits that set off a fear response. As you develop the list, you will begin to see some patterns and you can decide to formulate alternative responses.
Can you trace the fear back to its origin? Was it an event from early life, and/or words from someone you admired or depended on? When your fears come from a young age, they are more powerful because you had not yet developed the mental capacity to think things through and devise other reactions. It’s as if the stimulus was an elephant and you were an ant. You often carry that same response into adulthood, not taking into account you now have more reasoning power and ability to broaden your perspective.
You can also choose to discuss your fears with a trusted friend or relative and learn what their response would be. You will often find that other people don’t have the same triggers. Learning what their fears are can also add to a broader perspective on what sets off a reaction in others, and in many instances, illustrates a personal response based on individual experience. Even if you share some of the same fears, talking about them can reduce the intensity and help you explore options on how to respond.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. What is the worst that can happen?
2. How likely is it that the worst will happen?
3. What is the best action I can take: what would I do if I weren’t fearful?
Just imagine how much better your life can be when you challenge your fears rather than giving in to them!
“Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.” –Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code
Send me an e-mail if you’d like me to send you a worksheet on Mastering and Minimizing Your Fears.