Fear makes a terrible compass. Clearly it has good origins – keeping us alive. Being afraid of tigers is good. Being afraid of the dark used to be good (couldn’t see the tigers). But fear is much less useful in today’s world than it used to be.
This made a break up much harder than it should have been for me. I was so incredibly afraid. I try really hard to be a good boyfriend and it’s really important to me to take care of other people’s feelings. But the relationship clearly wasn’t working out, and I was so so so scared of hurting her. So I did the worst thing: nothing. The relationship dragged on so much longer and ironically I created a mountain of pain because I was scared of a boulder of pain. All because of fear.
Fear creates biochemical responses that elevate heart rate, release stress hormones, and trigger fight or flight responses and anxiety. I’m trying to lecture you, I’m just explaining that it pisses me that off my body is getting ready to escape a tiger when someone asks me a question in a meeting and 14 pairs of eyes lock onto me. Fear isn’t serving me well there. We need something better because there’s scary things in life that are really, really important.
Fear is not a valid reason to avoid something you need to do. Bear with me, we’re going to unpack that sentence.
What are the top 3 biggest sources of anxiety in your life? Things that scare you or that you know you need to do but you haven’t been able to pull the trigger?
How much better would your life be if those were suddenly done? It doesn’t matter that you don’t know exactly how to go about them. Just really envision how much better life would be. Would you feel less stressed? Would it be a big weight off your shoulders? How many minutes of each day would you get back that you weren’t dreading or worrying?
It’s easy to think about how scary a big task is. But there are also very real costs to NOT DOING the scary thing. Those are hidden costs but you pay them every day. You pay them in stress, in grey hairs, in distracted performance, in enjoying quality time with loved ones less, in hours of lost sleep, in weight gain from stress eating…the list goes on.
Right now you’re using fear as a compass. I have done it so many times, my friend, and I can promise you it doesn’t work. It’s like humans used fear as a compass to get to the North Pole, and now the needle is just spinning. Now fear is a terrible compass. Now we’ve evolved out of the trees, we don’t need to run from tigers all the time. Now we need GPS.
So let’s put fear aside for a moment. There aren’t any tigers here, it’s okay. I know it’s scary, but you probably know the first right step in the direction you need to go. You probably know what hard conversation you need to have, or the habit you need to quit, or the person you need to cut out of your life. So just for one second, forget the fear of this change and ask yourself: Will this decision take me where I want to go?
You have a new compass now. Fear is not spinning the needle. We’re going to use the GPS of what we want to guide us, instead of blind fear. We’re going to ask what we would do if we weren’t afraid.
It’s okay that this task is scary. You don’t have to feel 100% confident to do the right thing, you just need to do it. For things like this we never really feel ready anyway. There’s always an emotional component. Accept your fear, it’s a part of you and there’s nothing wrong with it. Your body is trying to protect you from a tiger, that’s all. We can soothe ourselves and remember that we won’t be eaten alive if we do the right thing. We’re not going to die. We’re not going to ruin our lives. We might hurt someone’s feelings, and we might shed some tears ourselves.
Here’s the kicker: Sometimes hurting someone’s feelings is what needs to happen for things to get better. We’re bleeding every day by not acting. We’re preventing other people from moving on and healing. And if there’s a harsh truth or a conversation you’re scared to have with someone, every day you don’t come clean is a day of theirs you wasted. If it’s a breakup then you’re wasting time they could be using to find the person who is right for them. Fear is putting duct tape on our wound instead of stitching it. I’m not yelling at you, I just want the best path for you even if it’s not the easy path. Let’s do the right thing and heal, then they can too.
Fear tries to protect us, but the things we’re afraid of are usually what we most need to do. There’s a lot of life behind that door you’re afraid to open.
You know what is causing you pain right now. You know what the first step is, and you can figure out the next steps as you go. It’s okay to not feel ready, because even if you don’t do this perfectly you’ll feel so much better once it is done. So now I ask you, dear friend:
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Further reading: If this post resonated with you then I think you’d really enjoy Eat that frog by Brian Tracy. It’s a very accessible book that systemizes doing the most important things, even if they are scary. Once this becomes a habit you’ll eliminate most of the dread/worry in your life related to tasks you’ve been putting off. It’s incredibly freeing to not have fear hold you back, so many of the things we’re dreading only take 20-30 minutes anyway, let’s rip off the bandaid, it’s time to get more out of life.