Fear Isn’t Useful

Fear isn’t useful in modern society. It helped our ancestors survive tiger attacks and that’s why we have it. Non-fearful people got eaten. But now tigers are in the zoo, and we are afraid of ghosts.

inside-out-fear
That little purple guy is an asshole. Kick him out of the group. (Inside Out, Pixar, Disney Pictures)

What is fear?

Fear is a tiny chemical reaction in your brain. It’s gone in a few seconds. You can’t even prove your fear is real. No one can touch it, see it, or hear it. To other people, your fear is literally imaginary.

Yet this thing that doesn’t even exist stops people from living the lives they want.

I can destroy your fear from across the internet

Think of the thing you fear the most. It could be death of you or a loved one, embarrassment, not living up to your potential, whatever. Concentrate on it for a moment and feel it.

Got it? Feel the fear?

Now spend 2 minutes here and come back.

Your fear is gone. Sure you can summon that fear again by concentrating on it, but why would you do that? Any time you feel the triggers of fear, steer your brain to something else. Wallowing in your fear doesn’t help anything.

How to solve your fear: plan for the worst case scenario

Our brains like to fantasize about what COULD happen. But reality is actually quite boring. If we plan for the worst case scenario, we can stop our brains from creating horror movies in our minds.

Example: Ask that guy/girl out on a date.

Our brain starts the horror movie:

  • I’ll get turned down
  • He/she will laugh at me
  • He/she will laugh at me with all their friends and co-workers
  • He/she will tell my boss and I’ll get fired
  • I’ll be depressed forever
  • Can’t get a job because of depression
  • Cats, lots of cats to comfort sorrows
  • Die

Here’s what will actually happen if you get turned down: small chemical reaction in the brain makes you blush and feel like a dumbshit for 2 minutes and a few future conversions with this person will be slightly awkward. The End.

See? Reality is so fucking boring. That’s why your brain tries to liven it up with make-believe of how your life will be destroyed forever because you think someone is attractive.

But what about the upside? What if that person said Yes and you spend the rest of your life with them? Alicia turned me down the first time I asked her out. I would have missed out on my life partner because of a tiny chemical imbalance in my head.

What are you missing out on because of something that doesn’t even exist?

Inside Out memory balls
Here, Joy is looking at all of the thousands of chemical reactions that happened THAT DAY. Chemical imbalances happen when you eat, sleep, talk with someone, or actually do anything. And one of these little things is stopping you? (Inside Out, Pixar, Disney Pictures)

Here’s another one where you quit your job to pursue another job/career/company.

The horror movie starts in your head:

  • New job doesn’t work out
  • Never find employment again
  • Spouse leaves you
  • Children disown you
  • Heroin addiction
  • Cats, lots of cats to comfort sorrows
  • Die

The boring reality of the situation is that if the new job fails, maybe you’ll have to move in with your parents for a few months while things get sorted out. There’s literally billions of jobs out there and you need ONE. But our brains prefer to dream up ridiculous nonsense.

And consider the upside: what if things work out and your dreams come true? Our brains frequently leave out this part.

Baby steps

Another way to kill fear is to expose yourself to it. Slowly.

I had really bad social anxiety when I was a teen and early 20’s. Like I would wait to walk 50 feet to the bathroom until the hall was empty because making eye contact with people in the hall was too much for me. A few years later, I’d be able to meet people anytime, anywhere. There were a few steps in between.

I started small. I’d walk around the Mall of America making eye contact with women. At work I’d speak up in small groups to get practice speaking in front of an audience. When I first started, I’d blush so hard I could feel the heat radiating from my face. But every time got easier because my mind couldn’t keep making up horror movies. There was too much evidence that everything would turn out fine and my mind was overreacting. The blushing stopped. The fear went away.

Do something tiny every day to whittle away at your fears.

On the other side of fear lies everything you want in life

What you’ll eventually come to realize is that fear is a spice. Roller coasters wouldn’t be fun if they didn’t feel dangerous. Some of the best memories you have right now are when you felt the fear and did it anyway.

Now I chase fear, risk, and pain because I know fear is an indicator of where the good stuff is. We got rid of our house, rental property, and stable lives. Do I know what is going to happen in the next few years? Not even remotely… and that’s why it’s fun.

Fear kept early humans alive from tiger attacks. But today’s tigers are Paper Tigers. It’s an ancient Chinese saying that implies something is scary on the surface, but in reality is completely harmless.

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