Fear. Your survival depends on it. But is it reliable?
Fear is a cued response. You have choice.
No disappearing elephants here, but something just as wondrous. The magic of the circus is the illusion of reckless abandonment. "Is that guy choosing to put his head in a lion's mouth?" "He's nuts!" picturing ourselves, pins and needles, legs jittery, after a typical Netflix binge. Is each night a valiant survival of death? Kiss the kids goodbye, savour that last loving embrace of his wife, and maybe toss a Hail Mary to the sky. Cause you never know, right? Being in the presence of a lion is not an everyday occurrence, and thankfully so. Yet, we're still subject to an endless number of fears. The dreaded prick of a needle, a paralyzing presentation, or perhaps your mother-in-law is visiting. Fear is a cued response, a call to action by your brain, followed by an immediate response. Our basic instincts take over - fight or flight. Two relatively shitty options, living in a modern day metropolis. There's a third option - it takes practice, but it pays off, of Goonie legendary.
Today a major underlying factor of fear stems from anxiety. As many as one in four adults will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. That one person will have experienced anxiety, just this year. If any of the following sounds familiar - apprehensive and tense feelings, difficulty managing tasks and/or distress related to these tasks, irrational and excessive fear - you've experienced anxiety in some capacity. We all do. Fear can be crippling, as our reaction is primitive. It's an innate response to stay alive.
You owe your brain an apology.
Meandering the streets of downtown, the thought of running into a pack of wolves sounds like a horrible b-list movie. Yet our brains are hard-wired for action, knowing better than to take the scenic route. Put in the scenario of sipping a $5 Caffè macchiato, and zombie-like consumption of Instagram, a pack of wolves approaching is like a bucket of ice water to the face from a deep slumber. The fancy neural processing that would have made us pause, "Man, this macchiato was five bucks! No way in hell I'm dropping this shit!", engages in survival mode. Neural processing is data crunching, with mere milliseconds to react. Sorry brain, you're using too much blood to find a solution. Picture a nitrous shot to your extremities. Hyper-like focus, surroundings become a blur, tunnel vision to the finish line (safety).
It explains the dream-like haze we experience after a shot of adrenaline. There's a definable difference in waking up with irrational and excessive fear, and of Liam Neeson hunted by a pack of wolves. In defining the essence of fear, it's irrational that a looming interaction with the boss stresses the body to the point of shock - in the same degree as scrambling for refuge from wolves biting at our heels. Instinctively, your brain does not recognize the difference. Unless you condition for this moment. Our brains are unable to grasp the difference between fear and perceived fear. This presents a slew of challenges in modern day life. I'll hazard a guess - you're not confronted by bears or swimming with putterfish on a daily basis. But you do feel tense; you have a presentation on Friday, apprehension of flying with the new job or have experienced fear as a result of a promotion, bringing unfamiliar responsibilities. Changing our DNA (currently) is out of the question. Changing our response to fear is not only achievable, it's life altering.
A couple years ago I completed a Concurrent Disorders certificate program - a jarring look at mental health and drug addiction. It creates a vicious cycle, setting what seem like insurmountable obstacles to overcome. There's no drug stronger than dependency and restraining self-prophecies. While volunteering in a Concurrent Disorders unit, I participated in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy groups. "Dialectical behavior therapy is an approach that emphasizes the psychosocial aspects of treatment. Some individuals tend to experience increased arousal levels far more quickly than the average person. Prone to intense and out of the ordinary manners, in emotional situations. When they experience high levels of emotional stimulation, it results in a significant amount of time to return to baseline arousal levels." One DBT group, in particular, had a resounding impact in my life.
We met in a room just off the nurse station, seating for the lucky, the rest of us perched on whatever surface presented itself. I wake up before sunrise every morning, I love the silence. To have that same hush fall over the room was exciting. This facilitator drew a devoted audience. His resemblance to Santa was uncanny. This was not my first time attending a DBT group. The last meeting's attendance was sparse, taking a few minutes to settle. No hush. She lacked the life experience to make a man hang on for dear life, fearful of letting go, losing himself in a black hole of nothingness. The first few minutes acted as an informal check-in, touching on highs and lows of the week. Without fail, a reminder of how fragile the mind is. Turning his back to the room, he wrote these words on a chalk board:
Fear is the unknown, the unexpected, the anticipated, the impossible to control.
We relinquish our control to fear, ignoring the innate spirit of wonder (e.g., a child taking his first steps.) Fear is a go-to. We put off or give up before we even give many dreams a chance, fear makes us tentative in our pursuits. But we're "safe". Can we say with 100% certainty that we can predict an outcome? No more precisely than Jerry, your friendly meteorologist, who hasn't hit a dead-on forecast in his life. In looking at starting this blog, I did and still do, have fears, the difference being I will have tried. A guaranteed method of avoiding regret.
Just as every morning starts with darkness, transition comes, in the way of life, a glimmering glow that fills the cracks of unanswered questions. These words have merit for living a life of purpose. Do not live as if tomorrow is a place to hold your somedays. Life is finite, every god damn day matters. Be the person you want to be today, instead of the person you want to become someday. Life is a meaningful collection of moments we experience daily, often overlooked, as we're too focused on where we want to be. Approach each situation as a choice, given the opportunity in the present moment to introduce purpose in your future.
You had a 50% chance of finishing this article. You're defying the limiting odds of fear already.