“Fear is your friend. It is an indicator. Sometimes it shows you what you shouldn’t do, more often than not it shows you what you should do”
The origins of fear
Fear is an evolutionary response that ensured human survival in nature. If the tribesman was not afraid of large predators or members of rival tribes, he may have never had the opportunity to survive and reproduce. Fear kept him alive.
Nature forced man overcome his fear by continually testing him. If the Native American tribesman never overcome his fear of riding a horse and pursuing large game (the buffalo), him and his tribe would have went hungry. This was an extremely dangerous endeavour, but this obstacle and many others had to be overcome for survival.
Fear also protected the tribesman. Fear kept his senses sharp. If it wasn’t for fear, natural hazards such as large boulders or strong water currents may have got the better of him. Fear was his friend.
Fear and modern society
In modern society fear can still be our friend. However many of us turn fear into the enemy and try to avoid situations that frighten us at all cost. As the so-called modern world lives in a time of security and abundance it is much easier to avoid fear, or at least avoid endeavours that frighten us.
We are no longer forced to face life or death situations such as fighting rival tribes, or falling sick without someone to look after us. We no longer live within vicinity of any dangerous predators, although I should point out many so-called dangerous predators are only dangerous in our own minds. For the most part wild animals are usually more afraid of us than we are of them. No wonder, we have hunted many of them to extinction. Perhaps if people were not so afraid of wild animals such as the wolf or the lynx, their reintroduction’s throughout the UK would see more success. Hopefully one day they will.
The fears of modern society however are much more trivial. The fear of not measuring up to some social economic status, fear of being alone, fear of being different, fear of discomfort (both physical and mental), so on and so forth. Although our fears are real, most of them point us towards areas of our lives in which we need to grow rather than an actual threat.
Distinguishing between a real fear response and an illusionary fear response
Fear is your friend, but I also believe it is essential to be able to differentiate between a real fear response and an illusionary fear response. The fear response can induce psychological and physiological reactions such as: anticipation, anxiety, adrenaline dump, and sweaty palms to name a few.
The main function of fear is to indicate danger. The only issue is we still have exactly the same response when there is no danger present, that little voice saying “get out of here”, or “attack”. This is known as the passive or active behavioural response (Study), aka “flight” or “fight”.
Even in a situation when there is no real danger present you may still feel the fear response. One of the most common fears is the fear of public speaking. Obviously there is no real danger of speaking in public (unless you are Donald Trump ;), but that doesn’t stop this venture inducing the fear response in many individuals.
It is important to be able to distinguish between a genuine threat and an illusionary threat. I don’t want to encourage anyone to go and swim with sharks, unless they want to? There are situations we need be afraid of and take appropriate measures to “get out of there”, and there are other situations where it is healthier to overcome our fear and face the obstacle that is put in front of us.
If you see gang with gritted teeth, packing heavy, heading towards your direction “run”. Remember fear is your friend and is helping you avoid danger. If you’re involved in an awkward social situation that your fear is telling you to avoid “Overcome”. Again fear is your friend but this time it is showing you an area of your life that you need to improve.
“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
Fear is your friend, don’t avoid your friend.
Every time you avoid something you are afraid of you are rewarded with a feeling of relief, a hormonal response that tells you well done. This was great from an evolutionary perspective.
If the tribesman was afraid of a storm he wouldn’t go out to fish, or if he did and nearly drowned he would be afraid of fishing during a storm in the future. Fear taught him not to go and fish during a storm. Fear was his friend and it kept him alive. A wise tribesman would have known this so he would have respected fear but not allowed it to overpower him. It simply stood as a warning that he could choose or choose not to obey.
The more you avoid doing something you are afraid of the more you are attracting fear in that area of your life. Your inaction is receiving positive feedback. Fear is your friend but if you don’t listen or listen too much it can become an over protective parent.
In a survival scenario the best course of action may be to avoid the obstacle completely. In modern society however few of our fear responses will constitute an actual threat. By avoiding illusionary fears we strengthen them.
Fear is your friend so it will always be around. It can be a good friend or a bad friend depending on how you view it, but because it is a friend it will never let you go. You can either use it to help sharpen your senses and show you what areas you need to improve in your life or you can try to avoid it.
The only issue being if you continually try to avoid a good friend they will show up more often to find out what’s wrong. What once may have been an infrequent visit in one part of your life may progress to an habitual rendezvous spilling into more and more areas of your life.
The great thing about accepting that fear is your friend and overcoming any obstacle it puts in front of you is that you begin to feel empowered. You are no longer helpless and at the mercy of fear, you become a truer version of yourself.
Fightclub is one of my favourite books. One of the greatest quotes from Tyler Durden is:
“I don’t want to die without any scars”.
I interpret this as “I don’t want to die without trying, without really living”.
How to become good friends with fear?
I don’t like to look as fear as an enemy. Instead I try to look at it is a friend that warns me of a threat or guides me towards my weaknesses. By seeing fear as a friend and accepting its presence allows me to change my perspective of it. You begin to stop becoming afraid of fear and instead start to use it as a tool.
The best thing to do when fear is warning you of an illusionary treat is do it anyway. Don’t think just act. Remember I am saying illusionary threat, so don’t go playing Russian roulette. Seriously anything you are afraid to do that won’t result in death or injury is usually worth doing. You will become a little less afraid of it the next time around, and a little less again the time after that.
I read Randy Couture’s biography a while back and I really liked his interpretation of the fear response. For those of you who don’t know Randy Couture is one of the most celebrated mixed martial arts fighters ever.
He says when he is afraid his body reacts by raising his heart rate, and causing sweaty palms etc. He says his body behaves exactly the same when he is excited to do something. Before he enters the cage he tells himself he is excited to perform instead of afraid. This is a psychological trick and may help to switch your body from “flight” to “fight”.
As with anything it’s usually best to start small and overcome lots of tiny hurdles instead of one big one. You can gradually start to tackle bigger and bigger fears. It’s a pretty exhilarating feeling. This is how adrenaline junkies are formed 😉
It is important for us to leave the safety of the societal cocoon. The process of Rewilding Your Mind starts with accepting fear is your friend, embracing it, and overcoming the obstacles it puts in front of you. This is true courage and will help you to become a truer version of yourself.
“what would you wish you’d done before you died?”