Fear Is a Friend
Fear is a normal human emotion, and it serves a good purpose. When fear is reasonable it equips us to fight or run, depending on how we perceive the situation. If, for example, a hiker meets a hungry bear on the trail, fear is a reasonable emotion, and the behavior it elicits in the hiker has the potential to save his or her life. On the other hand, unreasonable fear acts to paralyze a person from taking appropriate action and becomes an obstacle in the path of successful living.
Fear has sometimes been used as an acronym for “False Expectations Appearing Real,” and this tends to be true in many cases. When a person fears change, fears rejection, fears the unknown or fears a consequence that may be painful but not lethal, those fears are based on the assumption that whatever lurks ahead can’t possibly be beneficial. Further, the person tends to exaggerate the “pain” side of the equation, imagining the most extreme negative consequence will be the most likely outcome of any changes. For instance, when a department manager proposes some changes to the workplace, the immediate reaction on the part of many employees will be thoughts of job loss and extended unemployment that eventually lead to homelessness and destitution. Unreasonable fear is at the root of procrastination, self-sabotage, phobias such as test anxiety and other habitual behaviors that hold a person back from reaching their greatest potential.
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A change in attitude with regard to a new situation won’t completely eradicate fear, but it will serve to stop wholesale panic from setting in. Using the previous example, the employees could change their thought pattern from “These changes will make me lose my job,” to “These changes might make my job easier,” or “If these changes make the company more profitable, and I work with them rather than against them, I will stand a good chance of getting a raise.” In most situations, the probability of positive outcomes is just as strong as the probability of negative outcomes. The difference in results may well have to do with the individual’s attitude and willingness to work through the rough patches.
Fear is the global response humans experience when confronting new or unknown situations. To embrace fear and use it as a motivator rather than accepting it as an obstacle turns what normally is a negative emotion into something positive. According to Susan Jeffers in her book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” fear will only go away when the issue causing the fear is confronted. In Ms. Jeffers words, “…the ‘doing it’ comes before the fear goes away.”
One final note: confronting challenges and working through fear boosts self-esteem. When a challenging situation is overcome, a person develops a greater sense of competence and becomes more resourceful. Conversely, avoiding new situations and ignoring challenges stifles personal growth and reinforces a sense of helplessness. Experiencing fear is unpleasant, but an absence of fear in a person’s life may indicate an absence of growth.