Fear is a powerful thing. It's a motivating force, a repellent, or a paralytic agent, all depending on your perspective. But how can we harness fear if we refuse to get close to the source?
You probably know it already, but it bares repeating before dive into the subject; we are only born with two fears. It's our birthright to be terrified of falling (we've all had those dreams) and loud noises. Everything else is a result of your upbringing and environment. It's experiential fear. We learn to fear certain things through the emotional or physical consequence. But pay mind to the power of your brain — even those things we haven't personally experienced can still become a fear through conditioning or context.
Your Storyteller Brain
The "trick" with fear is that much of it can be a mental exaggeration if you haven't experienced the thing you're scared of. Of course some fears are warranted by way of externally gained knowledge — I wouldn't want to be alone in the jungle with a tiger stalking me, though I've never been attacked by a tiger before. I just assume that, because they're strong carnivores who can't be controlled in the wild, I'd rather not go up against one. That brand of fear is the one that's gotten the human race this far.
But many fears — fear of failure, fear of rejection, even fear of heights — are effectively embellished upon by our imaginative minds. A person with a phobia of flying doesn't see a plane soaring through the air — they see a metal behemoth in a tailspin. A person looking for a date doesn't predict a positive reaction or a gentle rejection — they see abject embarassment.
We are incredible storytellers, but we're not using our minds to their potential most of the time because (as humans) we just love to focus on the negative. Of course there is risk in the things we want to do — life is full of risks if you go out searching for them. But it's also full of amazing experiences hidden behind those risks if we're brave enough to do things despite them.
A predictive attitude is the heart of fear. We take something small and imagine the worst case scenario. We spin self-inflicted tall tales that feel so powerful and real we feel the emotions like a memory. And whether it's a physical act like flying or a mental one like asking for a date, we begin to distance ourselves from these things without having any proof that our fear is warranted. Because we are so negatively biased (it's in our genetics), we're predisposed to assuming the worst unless we actively try to change our mindset. But the only way to make changes is by actually doing something.
If prediction is fear's greatest ally, then action is its greatest adversary.
Prediction Vs. Prescence
If you simply fear something and it has no bearing on your life, then there's nothing to worry about, right? You're not forbidden from fear, no matter what people say. Don't like spiders? That's fine. Unless you get paid to hold one, I wouldn't worry about it too much.
It's the degree of fear that matters. It's what the fear is holding you back from doing that's the thing you've got to solve. Fear isn't the enemy because it makes us scared; being scared saved the lives of our ancestors. But fear can be the insurmountable wall that keeps us from achieving what we really want out of life. It can be the barrier between elation and regret. So if fear is keeping you from doing something you really want to do, that's when it ought to be resolved.
Action is the most direct and effective way to disable fear. Action isn't predictive; it's present. Action requires you to do something and see the consequence for yourself instead of assuming what's going to happen. When you take action on your fears you prove to yourself, once and for all, whether it was worth being scared or not. Facing your fears is not easy, but neither is living a life where you're constantly being blocked from what you want by the fear of what you don't want. By staying present and knowing that you don't know how things will turn out, you're giving yourself a chance to do the damn thing.