How to Be Afraid

My heart is beating so fast it feels like it might burst right out of my chest. My hands are clammy and there are beads of sweat under my eyebrows and across my forehead. I find myself holding my breath and have to remind myself to breathe. I’m ok. I’m ok. I’m ok. I just keep repeating it to myself.

I’m at a reptile place called Scales & Tails with my kids. And I’m holding a freaking snake.

I grew up in Utah where most of the snakes are completely harmless. Sure, we have some rattlesnakes but we rarely come across them. The snakes in the neighborhoods are just water snakes and garter snakes and when kids find them, they play with them.

Every year for my entire life we visited my grandparents down in East Texas. The snakes down there aren’t harmless. They could kill you. So my parents, not wanting us to act like Utah kids and play with the snakes, pounded the danger of snakes into our heads from the time we were born.

Fear is a natural part of the human experience. Our primitive brains are designed to protect us from danger and they like to pretend that fear is helpful. But in today’s world, there aren’t very many things we actually need to fear. In most cases, the things we fear aren’t dangerous at all.

We fear being embarrassed or humiliated. We fear failure. We feel being vulnerable and showing people who we are. We fear asking for a promotion. We fear our partner leaving us. We fear spiders, snakes, mice, needles, heights, etc. Even these things aren’t usually dangerous.

The definition of Fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.” Fear is just an emotion y’all. And an emotion is just a vibration in your body.

I’d like you to find a comfortable place to sit. Close your eyes and think about something that terrifies you. Really imagine it so you can conjure up some fear. Now find the fear in your body. Describe it to me.

  • What does it look like?
  • What does it feel like?
  • Does it move?
  • What color is it?
  • What shape is it?
  • Is it hot or cold?

Describe to me what fear actually feels like.

When you do this exercise, you’ll find that fear isn’t nearly as big a deal as we all make it out to be. It’s just a vibration in your body. That’s it.

It’s ok that you’re afraid. Congratulations, you’re a human. Your brain is doing exactly what it’s supposed to. But that doesn’t mean you should let that fear stop you.

This is how I found myself at the reptile place. My kids aren’t afraid of snakes; I was careful not to pass on that particular phobia. And they’re boys. Of course they want to go play with snakes. I took them because I don’t let fear stop me from living my life. I held the snake just to show myself I could. No one dared me. No one forced me. I just did it. Because I could.

And guess what happened? The fear went down a notch. How is that possible? Because I gave my brain evidence that it really wasn’t dangerous. That everything was fine.

COURAGE doesn’t exist without FEAR.

When you feel fear…

  1. Remember that fear is just a vibration in your body. The fear itself can’t actually harm you
  2. Relax into the fear. Allow it to be there. Don’t try to resist it.
  3. Find your courage and TAKE ACTION even though you’re afraid

The more you practice this, the more confident you will become. You will know that you can feel fear and be just fine. You can feel fear and take action. You can feel fear but act from courage.

EXERCISE: If you really want to make progress in this area, have someone close to you start daring you to do things. For example, they might dare you to stand up on your chair in a restaurant and sing a song. Sound terrifying? After you do it, you’ll have given your brain evidence that it wasn’t dangerous, and therefore, that there wasn’t really a reason to be afraid. The more you do this, the more confident you will become.

More on fear tomorrow, stay tuned.

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