Fear and how it's Good for You

Deep down I thought I was going to die. And when I tell you why, you are going to think it’s the most ridiculous thought ever. In the fall of 2013 I attended Storyline Conference in Nashville, TN. I had been interested in attending for a while now and a few of my close friends from around the country were attending and sent an invitation that I gladly accepted. The main point of the conference is that if you want to live the kind of life that you dream about, you have to get clarity, focus, and execute a plan. You basically write the kind of life you want and then you go about the business of living that life.

It was a remarkable conference that moved me on several levels. It included a workbook with incredibly helpful exercises in it that I started on before I left the conference. I flew through that puppy… until I got towards the end. One of the themes is that every good story that you read, watch, or hear involves overcoming some sort of conflict. You know, the hero has to slay the dragon, defeat the evil mage, and climb the tower to set himself and/or someone else free. But when I got to the part where I had to begin imagining and pointing out the potential conflict in the kind of story I wanted to live, I stopped. I think at that point I had experienced enough conflict within the last 3 years that I didn’t even want to begin imagining potential future conflicts. I felt like if I continued on I would die. It made no sense to me at the time, but that’s how I felt.

My good friend, known as ‘Science Mike’, explained a basic working knowledge of the brain and I’ve written about it before. The most ancient part of the human brain is the limbic system. Our feelings of fear, anger, and aggression originate there. The limbic system is fast and ruthless and necessary for survival. Thanks to its speed and efficiency, the limbic system can make judgments and decisions much faster than the newer hardware in our heads. Our brains are like a muscle–what we use most gets strongest. Negative, critical, fearful or aggressive thinking tends to strengthen the response of our limbic system in our daily living. It is exactly this part of our brain that our species has used for survival for as long as we’ve been around. Surviving the climate, predators, warring tribes and nations, difficult terrain, and… well you get the point, things that could kill us. A baby will cry as soon as it sense’s that it’s hungry or cold. In their limbic system, they know, that if no one comes to care for them, they will die.

More recent structures in human brains, like the neocortex and the anterior cingulate cortex, are the parts of our brains that produce love, compassion, empathy and our more developed thought processes.  Now, the limbic system is much more primitive and differentiates fear in a more crude manor than the neocortext. It doesn’t always differentiate between fears. Fear is fear is fear. So when your fear of rejection pops up because you’re wondering if he’s interested in you or not, the limbic system may respond to that fear as a life and death situation, causing copious amounts of stress.

5 months passed and the next Storyline conference arrived in San Diego. I love San Diego and have several friends that have lived there for years now. I didn’t go, but I did connect with friends and strangers on twitter who were headed that way. I just wanted to send them words of encouragement and maybe even vicariously experience a piece of that again. After the conference I was invited to a private facebook group to follow up on the progress of working through the materials. I immediately went back to the beginning of the book and enjoyed honing in my story with much more clarity and focus the second time around. Then, I got to the same spot which I encountered my fears and paralysis last time and once more I stopped. There was that feeling that I was going to die… again. I walked away this time with no intention of returning. Until I had a conversation with a new friend who attended the San Diego conference and probed a little when I mentioned it. There were several things that I couldn’t shake from that conversation, and one of them was wondering what it would take for me to move past my fear and further create the story that I wanted to continue to live into.

And then it hit me. I’m still alive. I’ve faced fears similar to this before and I had survived. My fears resulting from merely thinking about conflict could not kill me. I would not die from my thoughts or feelings. So with that small measure of courage, I returned to my work and pressed through. Now I’m able to complete my plan that I’ve already begun living. It is immeasurably freeing to know that I’m not shackled by this particular fear at this particular time.

What thoughts paralyze you? What new changes have you put off planning simply because you were afraid to even think about them? The fear will return. It’s wired into our limbic system. But, I can promise you this, if you move forward in the face of fear, you will not die.

"What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it." - Jiddu Krishnamurti

"You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure about you. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us." - Marianne Williamson

"Fear stifles our thinking and actions. It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence, and the downward spiral begins." - Charles Stanley