Last week I did a Facebook LIVE! on fear. I did it spontaneously because I was so afraid of letting people down due to technical difficulties. If you’ve perused my site or follow me then you know that the first two didn’t go smoothly, the second one was pretty disastrous. Luckily, last week’s went well. I like to follow up my videos with writing on the topic for two reasons: 1) people absorb and are interested in receiving information in different ways and 2) sometimes it allows me to share more details. If you haven’t experienced it yet, typically the video/live is more personable & entertaining but obviously requires more time to watch.
Before I dive into fear I want to share the way I think about feelings. I visualize myself experiencing feelings as if there is a door somewhere between my heart and my head that they all have to pass through. Unfortunately, there is only one door and all the feelings must go through it. It’s not like a hotel hallway where happiness comes in through one door, excitement through another and anger through the third door on the left. Nope. They all have to come in through the one door. Also, there is no bouncer and velvet rope policy at this door. I wasn’t allowed to find some real tough thing to put out front to guard the door. I’m not able to put love, frustration and boredom on some list and have the bouncer tell grief to try its luck tomorrow. They all get access to the door.
The fact that all my emotions share this same door creates what can feel like a problem sometimes. If I try or actually do shut the door on my emotions because, say I don’t want to feel grief, well I end up shutting the door on all of my emotions. This means I don’t get to feel excitement or humor or love. If I try to not close the door all the way but just part of the way to narrow its opening, then yes, I experience less grief or frustration or hurt, but I also experience a lower grade of joy, passion and gratitude.
This is important because when it comes to fear, many people don’t want to experience it. They ask me how to stop feeling the fear. And it’s actually impossible to do that. As I’ll go into here, and as you’ve already experienced in your life, it is possible to move through the fear and do things in spite of the fear, but it’s near impossible to eliminate fear. But here is the kicker: you actually don’t want to eliminate fear; you actually want to feel it.
Why would you want to feel fear? Well, stay with me.
My first work with new clients typically revolves around understanding and getting familiar with our comfort zones and survival mechanisms. The way I describe all this to my clients is:
Your comfort zone is like a circle or a bubble that you are inside of. Right smack in the middle of this bubble is where your fear sits. Safe and sound, deep in the center. Around your fear is this protective layer, like a wall or fence. I call this wall your self-defense and its job is to keep your fear safe, to keep you from feeling it. Everything you know, are familiar and comfortable with, is inside this comfort zone bubble. Everything you don’t know or aren’t entirely familiar with is outside your bubble. When you experience something new and unfamiliar, you have to step outside or at least expand your comfort zone.
One important thing to remember about comfort zones is that no two are the same. Every single one of us has something that is inside our comfort zone but is outside someone else’s comfort zone. Some people love public speaking, talking to strangers, sky diving, hanging out with kids; some of us fear these same activities. So, when you see someone else doing something that is outside your comfort zone it’s important not to immediately assume that person is incredibly brave and better at conquering their fear than you. What you see them doing is likely inside their comfort zone and it’s the thing you don’t see them doing that’s outside their comfort zone. You can’t compare comfort zones because they are too unique and different. And that is perfect! If we were all afraid of the same things, certain things would never get done, discovered or experienced! It’s these differences that help us all move forward and learn more about our world and ourselves.
Back to comfort zones and how they work. Let’s use the example of traveling internationally where you don’t speak the language and let’s say Japan. You want to go to Japan because you are excited about the food, the cherry blossoms, the skiing and the overall cultural experience. However, you don’t know Japanese and you have never been to the country. This experience is outside your comfort zone.
Your excitement and passion for the trip are trying to pull you and your fear from the center of your comfort zone towards its edge, with the goal of pulling you to Japan and outside your comfort zone. It's as if you're in a game of tug of war between your fear & excitement, wondering who will win. As you let yourself bask in the excitement, you move closer to the edge of your comfort zone. As you move closer to the edge of your comfort zone, your self-defense, that protective wall around your fear starts to awaken. I like to envision knights or warriors acting as the protectors. As your fear grows because you’re moving closer to the edge of your comfort zone, these knights act as your self-defense and try to push your fear away from the edge and back into the center of your comfort zone. They do this by setting off some unconscious and automatic behaviors. For me, when I’m about to do something I’m afraid of I go into planning overdrive. I call this part of me, Lazy Locomotive. I will create the best looking, automated spreadsheet or system for tracking the thing or the results of thing…instead of just doing the thing. That’s my self-defense warrior trying to keep me inside my comfort zone and from doing the scary thing.
Through work with my own coach, I’ve gotten good at spotting Lazy Locomotive and some of my other automatic defenses. When I notice them, I am more able to make a conscious decision about how to move forward. Sometimes I really am afraid and I let Lazy Locomotive do her thing. Sometimes, I tell her she’s being ridiculous and she needs to go back in her box; I can do this thing, I’m not that afraid of it.
This is why you actually want to feel or experience fear. Fear is a clear sign that you are attempting or thinking about attempting to grow or do something new or unfamiliar. Isn’t that awesome? When you see someone else doing something they themselves or you are afraid of, don’t you get inspired? How do you feel after you’ve grown and done something unfamiliar? Even if it didn’t go as well as you may have liked, you still kinda feel like a rock star, don’t you? This is why fear could be an asset. I want to call it a superpower, but that doesn’t feel entirely right.
Instead of pulling back or dreading that fear feeling, what if you focused on what it was leading you towards?
If you focused and celebrated the fact that it meant you were doing or thinking of doing something new or unfamiliar, what would that be like? Would you be able to let the excitement guide you through the fear to do the thing?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this perspective, whether you agree or think it’s not that helpful.