The Opportunity of Fear (Blog 20)
THE OPPORTUNITY OF FEAR
#1: Fear Sponsors Anxiety
Since the dawn of humanity itself, we have all wrangled with a mysterious, invisible force called fear. But contrary to what most people believe, fear is one of humanity’s greatest opportunities. The majority of us desire a life of peace, prosperity, and happiness. But when we harbor fears, they become instant liabilities to our happiness (not to mention our peace of mind). If you closely examine your inner process around fear, you will notice a subtle, psychological trauma experienced every time an unconfronted fear crosses your mind. In most cases, the imagined event or circumstance hasn’t even happened. But when you think of the mere prospect of it happening - just for a split second - this emotionally simulates it happening in your life. These often subconscious micro anxiety events result in unhappiness by 1000 cuts, and most people normalize this experience instead of doing something about it. The thing is, unconfronted fears and subconscious anxieties don’t disappear by themselves. They demand that we make a choice. Either we try to ignore them (which is futile), or we face them. And I know what you might be thinking… “Well, I just won’t think about my fears.” Unfortunately for this theory, fear doesn’t work that way. Whether we like it or not, life’s intrinsic intelligence will routinely bring us what bothers, upsets, or frightens us until it no longer bothers, upsets, or frightens us. This mechanism isn’t meant to be torture; it’s meant to give us opportunities to expand and evolve into our higher selves. And that leads to a much greater capacity to be truly happy and at peace in life. Every time we let fear decide what we do or how we live, it changes the course of our lives. It limits us. It puts a glass ceiling on our happiness. But when we choose instead to uncover our fears, confront them, and then prudently act despite them, we seize a vast opportunity… and we embark upon an uncommonly fulfilling adventure.
#2: Semper Paratus – Always Ready
So, how do you do this? How do you advantageously exploit your own fears? It’s simple. Just ask yourself - on a regular basis - this two-part question: “What’s the worst thing that could happen today, and how would I handle that?” This inquiry immediately shines a spotlight into the dark, unexplored abyss of your fears, and it allows you to intentionally enter that abyss in the safety of your mental simulation. There, you can contemplate what you would do or how things could work out beyond the envelope of your hopeless fears. If you’ve never even asked yourself worst-case scenario questions like those, it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll be calm and collected when faced with a major crisis. It’s a paradox that deeper peace of mind results from spending time thinking about extreme chaos, but it’s true! Just ask any firefighter. Mentally preparing for worst-case scenarios is strength training for your soul. And the fruits of this training are the poise and confidence that come with a readiness and willingness to handle whatever life may bring.
#3: The Strength of Stoics
This concept of internally tracking down our deepest fears and then diving into them isn’t new. 2000 years ago, famous Stoic philosophers like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius understood that negative events are made exponentially worse when they are unanticipated. Which is to say, when they are not contemplated in advance. These Stoics also taught that it’s essential to one’s peace of mind to, first, accept that difficult events are an inescapable part of life, and second, to have faith in the higher, natural order of life. In other words, they felt that what is at first perceived to be a worst-case scenario usually has a higher, hidden purpose. They also observed that jumping to negative conclusions - especially under difficult circumstances - can lead to incapacitating despair. And so, through the wisdom of these ancient philosophers, we see that character traits like hope and courage aren’t just downloaded and embodied with the flip of a switch. We have to work for them. And that work starts by facing our fears and letting go of our preconceived notions about how life should show up. Even within our darkest hours, there is always the potential for life to surprise us in wonderfully unexpected ways. And staying humble enough to entertain that truth is the key to experiencing it. All we need to do is decide that we won’t be controlled or defined by our fears.
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