“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his greatest surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” – Henry Ford
Let’s talk about fear. Did you know fear is simply an emotion? The definition of fear is this: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
It wasn’t until, literally, yesterday that I realized fear is only an emotion. Silly me, right? Well, here’s why…
For so long, fear was this big ominous beast that seemed to dictate the majority of my decisions. It was a thing – an embodiment of a negative stream of consciousness that followed me around and told me “No.” or “Be careful.” or “That’s too risky.” or “They may not like you if you say that.”
And it’s funny, because I always knew it was there. The fear, that is. I knew sure well how I was living my life. How I was holding myself back. But, when you live by fear, being scared becomes the norm.
I started researching fear a bit, and came across this article on CNN. Did you know that we’re only born with two innate fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds?
Most fears we have are learned.
Most fear is learned. Spiders, snakes, the dark — these are called natural fears, developed at a young age, influenced by our environment and culture. So a young child isn’t automatically scared of spiders, but builds on cues from his parents. “You get evidence from your parents and your environment that you need to be scared of these things,” said Norrholm.
Interesting, I thought, as I stopped to ponder all of the things in life I was afraid of – failing, heights, imperfection, standing up for myself, standing up for what I believe in, challenging other’s beliefs, and the list goes on.
As I continued my research, I stumbled upon a fantastic podcast episode by Tim Ferriss, which can be found here. In this episode, he interviews Caroline Paul – a firefighter, luger, writer, and all around inspiration. A woman with an incredible story and an impeccable ability to tell stories, Caroline unraveled her tactics on how she overcame fear throughout the episode.
I remember one distinct point that she made (and I’m paraphrasing here). She was referencing someone who was afraid of insects and she asked them why they are so afraid of an insect. What’s the worst that could possibly happen? Is the insect going to kill you? Probably not, so why are you scared?
Easier said than done, right? A fear is a fear. But, again, it’s also an emotion.
Paul made another point that I don’t think I’ll ever forget the rest of my life (again, paraphrasing). She said fear is an emotion. So, why do we let it have more weight over any other emotion we’re feeling? Why does fear drive our actions? She told a story of the time she climbed the Golden Gate Bridge. She said she was feeling a mix of emotions – excitement, anticipation, confidence, fear, to name a few. Looking back, she thought when feeling a mix of emotions, why would fear be the emotion to drive her actions when she could chose to lead with confidence? (Major paraphrasing going on here, so I suggest you just listen to it. It’s worth it).
That clicked for me. I can lead my life with fear. I can give fear more weight because it’s easier. I can be more fearful because as a child I wasn’t pushed to face fears (see this article by Paul. Trust me. Again, worth it.). Or, I can challenge that fear, because it’s taken far too much time of my life.
Do you think I was scared to run my first half marathon? Uh, heck yes. I didn’t sleep the whole night before. Do you think I was scared to take the leap and start this blog despite the possibility of failure? Absolutely. We get caught up in the “what if’s” so much so that we stop ourselves from experiencing life. I love the quote below (also quoted by Tim Ferriss in his podcast mentioned above).
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.“ – Anais Nin
I like that a lot. Why? Because it’s easy and natural to flip the script and say, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s fear.” But, he doesn’t use the word “fear.” He uses the word “courage.” With courage, we’ll experience a world we would’ve never known otherwise.
When I’m running I feel courageous. I feel strong. I feel empowered.
Now, you fill in the blank. Think of a time you felt you displayed courage. When do you feel courageous? Strong? Empowered?
This week at ARC Running, we’re covering fear. We’re challenging each other to do one thing that’s courageous this week.
I’m excited, because I already know what fear I’m going to face.
And, I challenge you to do the same.