By Christina Blacken. Photography by Eric Michael Ward.
This piece originally appeared on Shine.
How many times have you outrun a cheetah? If you felt the stomach dropping, heart skipping clutch of fear at any point today, I'm guessing it wasn’t because you were zig zagging from a wild beast trying to maul you.
You were experiencing what I've dubbed MPTs or Modern Protection Thoughts (acronyms are fun!) or for lack of better acronyms -- fear.
Fear is traditionally defined as "an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat."
How Fear is Born
There's strong evidence that our earliest experiences as children shape our perspectives of the world for better and for worse. Children that experience abandonment, neglect, or different forms of abuse, are likely to use fear as a coping mechanism for dealing with the uncertainties that come in life. My past experiences with an emotionally abusive father amped my MPTs / fears up like they took two shots of vodka and a Red Bull.
I was constantly on the subconscious hunt for signs and red flags from potential friends, lovers, job opportunities, you name it. I would use those "signs" to predict and project someone's future behavior and outcomes.
The downside of this pattern of thinking was that it wasn't always accurate. I couldn't control future outcomes based on this projection, so all it did was limit my connections with other people and experiences but not necessarily limit any pain.
1. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Brene Brown, a researcher and TED talk master, wrote a book based on her findings of what makes people happy and what role fear plays in our lives. She found that individuals who are able to be comfortable with vulnerability, take more risks in love, life, and career and benefit greatly from this habit of taking a chance on things that may or may not work out.
There will be plenty of times that you just cannot predict what the future will hold, and becoming OK with that fact is half the battle.
Organize your life based off of possibility, instead of limiting fears.
2. Focus on the Facts
Fear is often based on projections of what could happen, and not what actually is occurring in the moment.
Take a beat to step back and look at your current circumstances, and ask yourself the following: are your fears based in an immediate specific situation or are they figments of your imagination? What part of those immediate circumstances are you able to control and change? What parts are you not able to control, and are you able to let go of needing control of them for peace of mind?
There are times when we need to remember fears are a projection of the imagination and only have as much power as the mental energy we put behind them.
3. Remember the Positive
By remembering the positive things, no matter how small, in your life, you will be able to broaden your perspective and build the mental and physical resources to overcome your fears. Research shows that positive memories (also known as the broaden and build theory) boost your ability to have the energy to make changes or take control of unpleasant circumstances. The next time you feel yourself in a panic, stop and remember the things that are currently in your control that you are grateful for.
When you use fear as your main lens of viewing the world, it creates a false sense of comfort and control.
Fear doesn’t guarantee you will avoid pain, and in fact, can cause more pain in the long run by limiting your experiences. Bad things happen to good people, even to people who have contingency plans B,C, D, first aid kits near their bed, and pay premiums for even the most obscure insurance policies.
When you're able to have a loving relationship with vulnerability, fact check the reality of your fears, and have a healthy dose of positivity, it will give you the freedom to be released from paralyzing fears.
You'll speak to that stranger on the bus, or start that company you've been yapping about for the past five years, or drop the word ratchet in a business meeting, because you'll be comfortable with the idea that it's ok to not be protected at all times.
That’s when you’ll begin to really start living.
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