Paralyzed by Fear – The Fiction in your Brain

Fear is paralyzing. The fear of rejection. Fear of change. Fear of success and fear of failure. We're afraid of clowns. Ok, scratch that.

Fear is a necessary survival instinct. It leads our decisions and helps us survive. We depend on our ability to recognize danger.

But 15 – 20% of people develop a phobia that limits the quality of their life and the results they are getting at least once in their life. This amazingly high number does not include all the “undiagnosed” cases of fear that limit our success, keep us from achieving our potential, and spoil our relationships.

Fear also keeps us from being seen, seeing, growing, and from touching other people.

Typically, what we are afraid of is only in our heads. It's not real. What we're afraid of is not happening and if it is happening, it's not half as bad as we imagined.

If we're able to turn fear around, it turns from a barrier into a compass.

A simple trick to fight fear

A simple trick to fight fear that works well for me and clients, is owed to ancient stoics. It's about visualizing the worst-case scenario. The point isn't to fantasize about hell on earth, but to look at things in a pragmatic and realistic way.

What happens if everything goes wrong? What will it look like?

Fear is in your brain. Often, there is no real danger. The fear is fictional.

We expect and demand certain results from ourselves. Fear shows us what happens when we fail our expectations.

I adapted the wisdom of ancient stoics as follows:

I recommend starting a conversation with your brain. If I am afraid to start a new project, a conversation might look similar like this:

You: Ok, brain, why do you say I should not do it. Brain: It's too dangerous

You: Dangerous how? Brain: You'll fail

You: But you don't know if I will fail before I even started. Brain: You failed last time

You: Yes, last time I failed. But that does not mean I will fail this time. Brain: But you could

You: That's true. I could fail. Or I could succeed. Why would it be such a problem to fail? Brain: Remember how it hurt last time? It will hurt.

You: What exactly hurts about it? Brain: People will speak ill about you

… and so on. You will find that at the end of nearly every conversation, you are less afraid. By rationalizing fear and identifying the parts that are pure fiction or not worth, letting go of an opportunity.

Interestingly enough, a common source of stagnation and hesitation is the fear of judgement by others. At the end of a “brain talk”, you will find that:

a) You cannot be sure that the same people will not judge you, either way

b) The factual risk (minus the fiction) is worth taking for the potential win

c) People who are mischievous might not deserve the influence you voluntarily offer

Depending on your temperament, you might feel safer when you also think through how you can recover/repair as soon as possible should the worst-case happen.

Why it's important to face your demons

We're typically most afraid of the things we most urgently need to do. But they limit our life satisfaction or career success.

The brain, the very organ controlling your hormones, thoughts, physical sensations and even emotions, decides which parts of reality it will present us with. We can control that with our thoughts.

For that, we need to be self-aware and try to remove fictional, irrational fear as much as humanly possible.

It's all around us at all times. People who support us and indifferent people. Chances and hurdles. Problems and solutions. Red lights and green lights. Was there ever a bird on your balcony that woke you up on a Saturday morning? Perhaps you know the phenomena: As soon as you realize that the bird is annoying you, the noise takes up nearly all the room in your brain. The loudness of the noise didn't change. Just your perception.

Our brain is superb at creating self-fulfilling prophecies. It doesn't matter whether your doubtful negative thoughts are fiction or real. Your thoughts decide how your brain sets the filter. And which parts of the plethora of things around you, it will show you.

Have a look at this picture.

It will probably move when you first look at it. Reading this article reminded you of times when you've been afraid – or the current fiction in your brain.

While you look at the picture, calm your mind. Breathe slowly and deep and empty your brain. The picture is not moving anymore.

It's semi-related, but a great showcase. We don't see things how they are. Depending on our state of mind, we perceive things differently, and we see different things. Especially when we are paralyzed by fear.

When will you have the first conversation and turn your fear into your compass?