When we fear things I think that we wish for them . . . every fear hides a wish.
– David Mamet (from the play, Edmond)
Often, when I refer to the magical motto, Just Get Over It, I receive questions about how to do that in the real world – especially when the that involves getting over . . . fear! Some people, as you know, are so immobilized by their summoned anxiety and imagined horrors that they can’t move past their worst-case thinking patterns; the stories that they tell themselves that are believable, and so become easily possible, and soon turn into their naturally preferred dreads-of-the-month.
Fear, however, is all about something that doesn’t exist in the now. You aren’t scared of what is happening now. People become terror-struck by what might happen in the future. It is this dreadful wishing – this focus on fictional (at present) harm – you need to banish early and often.
Now, for those of you reading this who have become experts at finding horror-filled problems, devil-laden worries, and other things that bring you the willies, I know your fears all revolve around happenings that are plausible to you (if they weren’t emotionally reconcilable you wouldn’t think that way). But . . . in most cases . . . your fears actually defy your real-world experience. Or to put it another way, most of the time, your fears don’t accurately represent what will happen. While you are attempting to avoid future pain and unpleasantness, you stop living the empowering life that you could just as easily have.
To be clear: I want you to continue to be on the lookout for hidden dangers and foreseeable misfortunes. But, I don’t want your life to be lived as one anticipated emergency after another, either.
So what’s the solution?
Be honest with yourself. It’s that simple.
Start by imagining each one of your fears as if it was coming true in the present and start dividing those horrors into two realms: (1) the things that – as they are happening (remember, you are imagining your fears in the present tense) – you can deal with their circumstances at that time, and (2) the things that you cannot deal with at any time no matter what. When you really consider the first item, you begin to see that, in most cases, you can indeed manage and attend to anything in the present. It is your fear of the future – your imagining of things that haven’t even happened – that tricks you and gains unnecessary power over you.
The skill in banishing unempowering fears, then, lies in learning to recognize those threats that really deserve your attention and those that are nothing more than a treacherous blend and inaccurate reimagining of the known and the unknown (a fanciful story you’ve told yourself that might be internally consistent but is externally unreliable).
Once you take the step of broadly categorizing your fears into those that can be handled and those which cannot be, you start to see the flawed assumptions you have made. Most of the fears that you experience stop having the same power over you because you now realize you can handle nearly anything.
But, what about those fears that still present themselves as a challenge? Give the following 4-Step process your focus and watch what happens:
STEP 1: ACCEPT
Recognize your fear. Give it a name. Give it a character, a persona, a personality. Notice what color it is. Whatever works for you to make your fear something distinct as opposed to a distorted menace. You want to be able to look your fear in the eye and know it as personally as you would a lover.
Proceed to Step 2.
STEP 2: CLARIFY
Yes, you’re going to separate fact from fiction, again. Determine if your persistent fear is serving you well or not. Some fear is good for you. It protects you and helps you to survive. Most fear, however, is bad for you because it is nothing more than a learned response and may not have anything at all to do with real threats or perils to your way of living.
STEP 3: IDENTIFY
If the fear is serving you well, then use it as a reason to re-evaluate your situation. Change direction if need be or stop doing what is a real threat. Stop here and do not proceed on.
On the other hand, if the fear is not serving you well, then re-read the technique I noted, above, and create the worst-case scenario, again. You will start realizing that you can handle that worst-case situation.
Proceed to Step 4.
STEP 4: HANDLE
Use your imagination to really see yourself, in the present, handling the fear that used to paralyze you or used to keep you up at night. That’s all in the past now as you see yourself controlling the situation and crippling any former horror. Once you face your fears, it starts to register that you have, in the past, been alarmed about uncertainties. In its place, you have explored and learned how you can handle nearly any unknown once it shows its ugly face.
The interesting thing with these exercises is that you soon begin to realize that, usually, you can’t really imagine an accurate worst-case scenario. So, enough of creating all kinds of nightmarish plots for your life. Enough with the hand-wringing over muddled thoughts about terrors that aren’t real. Let’s all get on with paying attention to the really important and pleasurable things in life!
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