What Is Fear And How Is It Holding You Back?

Woman scared of the dark

If there is one thing that holds most people back from chasing their dreams it is fear. Fear is the great immobilizer. It can paralyze the greatest of minds, the sharpest of wits, and the most skilled of hands. No matter what your talent, or what your hopes and dreams, it takes a certain amount of courage to accomplish them. You have to overcome your fear.

The truth is, anyone who isn’t a complete nutter feels fear. Most people feel it everyday. People get anxious about transport, scared of the dark, or terrified of walking alone. If the fear is rational then it serves a clear purpose. Fear is supposed to detract you from life threatening situations, and is a crucial survival mechanism.

Instinctual Fear

Unfortunately, the nervous system and its functions have taken longer to evolve than society. With the need to survive so strongly imprinted in your genetic code, it is no wonder that fear is so hard to conquer; you are going against your very survival instincts.

The most obvious instinctual fears are the fear of animals, of strangers, and of the dark. In wild times long past you would have had to have been extremely alert and aware of predators. Other fears can be explained this way. Take for example small spaces; if you were trapped in a small space with a predator you would have no where to run. If you were trapped there too long you would have no air to breath.

You need to overcome these animal instincts. You are no longer prey. The world (despite what you see on the news every day) is considerably safer than is was in the wild, when all our fear mechanisms served a greater purpose. Not every cat, dog, human, and shadow in the dark is out to get you.

When you experience the initial shock reaction of fear in these situations, accept the primal origin of them, and then think your way around them. Reassure yourself that this is not a survival situation, and that there is nothing to fear. If the experience goes well, and you did indeed have nothing to fear, then this will reinforce a change in your brain. Over time your brain will learn not to associate that particular situation with an instinctual fear. As you reinforce it, your brain will learn the difference between real danger, and an evolutionary hangover.

The Fear Of Change And The Unknown

Any amount of change involves some degree of dealing with the unknown. That is why people resist it. Comfort is a strong force, and one that is much appreciated for the role it plays in living a settled life. But when fear is masked as comfort that is a different matter. Real comfort is contentment. Being stuck in your comfort zone is different.

Fear of the unknown also makes complete sense from a survival perspective. There would have been a time, both in your tribal origins and even in recent societies, where it would have been unheard of to leave the community. Exile would be the only time when this would happen, and that would be a scary time indeed.

To be in a new situation, with no tribe, and no metaphorical map of where you are is also scary. This is the fear of the unknown.

Again, it is a matter of understanding the context. Your brain is still sending signals to encourage a fear of the unknown, and a need to stay in physical proximity with your tribe. But nowadays it can be a great experience to move cities or countries, or to take a new job every few years, or do some traveling, or take up a new hobby. That is why it is important that you overcome the fear that is holding you back.

Fear is not always a snarling beast with razor sharp teeth. Sometimes it is a creepy shadow, barely visible but always there. It hides itself even from you. So how is it that fear can be overcome? The only way, unfortunately for anyone who wants a quick-hit method, is to retrain your brain to embrace new experiences, and to enjoy the feeling of overcoming fear. You can train yourself to thrive of it, or at least to recognize and push through it.

Once you have spent a little time in your new situation you will form something of a tribe (or comfort zone) and the feelings of fear will recede. You will settle into your new job, or house, or life, and you will feel at home again. Then your brain will realize that it had nothing to fear all along. You will have overcome the fear and captured your dreams.

The fear will return next time, because it is natural… all you can do is fight it, so that it does not hold you back.

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