Fear has served us humans a big purpose for tens of thousands of years.
During prehistoric times, our hominid ancestors used fear as a way to keep themselves safe. Sensing and running away from predators, storing food in case of famine, and recognizing that big drop off on the side of a cliff is probably not safe to go down are all examples of how fear has led us to the evolved species we currently are.
But there’s a big difference between us and our early ancestors, and it’s our brain function.
Our early ancestors were a little lacking in the mental capacity area, so they didn’t have the ability to overthink or overanalyze situations like we do.
For them, it was a matter of “this situation seems scary, I better get out” or “facing this thing is what I need to do to stay alive”. Plain and simple.
Actual Danger vs. Possibility of Danger
Now I’d like you to think about the last time you felt fear. Did you feel it because you were actually in danger? Or did you feel it because there was a possibility you might be in danger?
Let me give you an example. Six years ago when my boyfriend and I lived in the Yukon, we went for a hike. As much as we love nature and the outdoors, we aren’t very outdoorsy. Give us a compass or ask us to remember the trail we were hiking on and we’re hooped (I fare much better with Siri telling me where to turn).
After a couple of hours of hiking around and around in circles, we realized we were lost. We had no map and no phone. To say I panicked would be an understatement. I cried because all I could think about was being stuck on this mountain all night, missing my shift for work in the morning, no one knowing where we were (even though we told people where we were hiking), and being eaten by hungry bears and cougars overnight.
I was filled with fear. But here’s the thing: at that point, I wasn’t actually in danger. Sure, there was the possibility that I could be. But it was 2pm in a part of the world that doesn’t get dark until 3am. My chances of dying of starvation or becoming an animal’s dinner were pretty slim (Spoiler alert: those things didn’t happen).
Oftentimes we’re not actually afraid of danger. We’re afraid of the possibility of being in danger.
Physical Danger vs Emotional Danger
But what about if you don’t regularly hike on mountains without having a clue where to go? What if you don’t encounter physical danger very often? Does that mean you won’t ever feel fear?
I doubt it.
Even though you aren’t protecting yourself from physical fear, you’re likely protecting yourself from emotional fear.
Fear of speaking up and saying the wrong thing. Fear of trying something new and not succeeding the first time (or dare I say…fail!). Fear of standing up for yourself and having people think poorly of you. Fear of hurting someone’s feelings.
These fears tend to show up far more often in today’s society than fears of being eaten alive by bears. But whereas being eaten by a bear doesn’t really result in a favourable outcome (depending on how you look at it…it might make for a cool news story), the latter fears, like being afraid of failing or fearing what people might think of you, might not have such negative consequences.
Why Fear is a Good Thing
Sure, having someone at the office think you’re a know-it-all because you voiced your concerns might suck for like, a day. Telling all your friends about your goal of riding your bike up a crazy mountain and failing at it might bruise your ego for a few weeks. Having a friend get mad at you because you said no to that social outing you REALLY didn’t want to go to might make things uncomfortable for a little while.
But here’s why fear is a good thing:
What happens to you when you stand up for yourself and what you believe in? What do you tell yourself when you speak up against something you see as wrong?
You tell yourself that your opinion matters.
When you commit to trying something new, you inspire the people around you. You learn new things about what you’re capable of, and even if you don’t succeed the first time, you’ll learn what you could have done differently and you’ll likely be a stronger person because of it.
And when you say no to obligations that don’t serve you, you reinforce the notion that your needs matter too, and you can say buh-bye to feeling resentful towards friends, family members, and co-workers because you’re no longer doing things you don’t want to do!
When an action or an idea about something new you want to try instills a little fear into you, more often than not it means something awesome is about to happen.
It means you’re about to challenge yourself and grow because of it.
How to Face Your Fears
Knowing that good things can come from fear is one thing. Facing those fears and actually doing the things is another.
When the idea of doing something scares you, take some time to write out allllll the reasons why it’s scary. You might come up with things like “I might embarrass myself”, “I might fail”, or “I might piss people off”. Or you might come up with things like “I don’t know how to do this thing” or “there’s a chance I could hurt myself”.
Get all those fears out on paper, and then measure the impact they have on your life. Not your life today. Your big picture life.
Is potentially embarrassing yourself REALLY that big of a deal? Is pissing off a co-worker who you hardly know and will probably not remember when you’re 80 the end of the world?
Analyze your fears of not knowing what to do or hurting yourself. Do you REALLY not know what to do, or are you keeping yourself safe? Do you have resources you can use to learn how to do what you want to do? Are the chances of you hurting yourself big or slim? Is there anything you can do to reduce your chances of getting hurt?
Stop Staying Stuck!
Our early ancestors used fear as a way to stay alive. The vast majority of the time, these days we use fear to keep ourselves stuck, safe within our comfort zones.
But change doesn’t happen within your comfort zone. At the end of the day, your comfort zone is a fine place to be. It is comfortable after all 😉 But by staying there, you’ll never learn how far you can really go. You’ll never learn how good things can really get.
Are you willing to face your fears and find out how strong you can get, how fast you can become, how happy you can be, and how far you can go?
Do you have your own ideas about why fear is a good thing? Have you ever felt fearful of a situation, faced it, and has something totally amazing happen in the process?