What’s Your Biggest Fear?
What’s your biggest fear? The one thing that, if it wasn’t so terrifying, will completely change your life by its absence? How do you overcome that? Want to know how overcoming your biggest fear will completely change your life?
Big fear means a big obstacle.
It’s supposed to be that way.
We humans are each complex and beautiful in our own unique way, but one of the things we all share is a response to stuff that scares us. Whatever the ultimate frightening thing might be for you or me, the fear we feel is that thing we share. Different trigger; same fear.
Fear is supposed to get our attention, to make us want to avoid the threat, to fire up the life-saving fight, flee, or freeze response that’s built into our ancient brain’s survival toolkit.
We don’t even have to think about it and suddenly we’re tensely hyper-vigilantly breathing heavily sweaty skin-crawlingly afraid.
Or, the terror builds up slowly, bit by bit…there’s an attack coming but from where? It’s dark. You have to stoop to keep walking down the blackest, creepiest tunnel you’ve ever been in. Vermin scrabble away, frightened by your footfalls on the slick slime of rotting concrete below your, and the feeble light from your candle is about to flame out….
Or, as you stand in the wings, listening to the crowd filling the auditorium, trying to remember the first line of your speech, a lump starts to form right behind your Adam’s apple, and you cough nervously hoping you won’t lose your voice….
Whatever rings your alarm bells loudest is the thing that needs your attention. That’s your biggest fear. Don’t neglect that. Here’s how.
Be Clear with Fear
When fear is obvious, that’s a timesaver. Clear threat means you can choose a clear response. When the threat is veiled and indirect, though, unless the response we choose gets to the heart of the fear, things will get messy.
If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you can recognize both kinds of fear easily. The obvious kind of fear lives inside any scene where the good guys are fighting for their lives or running away from the bad guys or big monsters. Bad guys and monsters are intimidating, obvious fear triggers.
The not-so-obvious threat is the one that lives inside each of us. Luke Skywalker believed his biggest fear meant that Darth Vader must die. Little does Luke know that when he screams at Vader “I will never join you!” they have always been joined together. When Luke discovers – too late – that Vader was his father, Luke’s emotional threat response transforms. Vader’s presence and the conflict it represents, with all its lost potential, misunderstanding, and fear, are all parts of who Luke is.
What makes Luke or anyone heroic is taking on that biggest fear.
We’re going to do that now.
Take on Your Biggest Fear
Are you clear about your biggest fear? If you’re like me, there’s generally a fear du jour masking my biggest fear: I’m fretting about a presentation I must make which diverts my attention from blowing the whistle on a colleague or supervisor who’s stealing from the company.
Got it? Is it clear?
Now, please, take a few moments to picture your life without that fear. Imagine every detail of how your life would be different without that fear. Would there be new things to do without that fear? Would there be new friends? Would old friends congratulate your progress?
Overcoming a deep-seated fear has results, and some of them can show up in your expression. Humans’ built-in skills read faces loud and clear, and when you’re finished with this particular fear, people will notice that about you. They may not know why, but they will recognize a positive difference about you.
Let all that animate the imaginary world you are building – the one where you’ve overcome your biggest fear.
Now, put that image aside, because it’s time to do the work to make that imaginary place come to life.
But first, I have to be very honest with you. You see, after you overcome your biggest fear, there will be another new biggest fear to overcome. You’re going to learn to be good at this, but it’s going to take a lifetime of practice. Are you down with that?
If you don’t feel ready, that’s understandable. That’s why we practice: to feel more confident than concerned. But this is your biggest fear, I know. So…what’s the worst that could happen? Be honest. Be as imaginative about the worst-case scenario as you were about the best-case one. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Was it bad? Death and dismemberment bad? Or something equally horrifying? Just so we’re clear, do you feel like you’ve got about an equal chance of things going horribly wrong as you do of them going amazingly right? That’s a rhetorical question, but it’s important to ask it of yourself and to answer it honestly.
No one – not Luke Skywalker, not Winston Churchill, not Joan of Arc – no one is ever completely confident or completely ready. The battle to overcome your biggest fear is just the latest in a long sequence of more such battles with bigger and bigger fears, and your challenge now to use everything in your power and practice to overcome the fear right in front of you. Other fears will replace the ones you overcome, but those battles will come another day. Stay present here, now, with the biggest fear you can imagine for yourself. That’s the battle.
Skills to Overcome Fear
Fortunately, there are so many skills you can use for this battle. The lightsaber is a great metaphor for skills that overcome fear since the skills you will use are both imaginary and amazingly powerful. Truth is one of the best fear-busting tools, and the truth is a weapon that we must use and prove to ourselves, internally, before we are ready to wield it in the wild.
“People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer” is a quote with more than a hundred years of various attributions, including the modern serial Dr Who and the rapper Nas.
Fear melts in the face of understanding. Luke didn’t just kill the scary bad guy, he killed his father.
This is a fight about what’s true. Your biggest fear is there to scare you into the truth. You may have to fight for it, or you might get a miraculous gift of understanding. Most of us have to fight, and usually, it’s an internal battle, rather than an external one, but the result is the same: fear melts in the face of truth.
Since that battle is internal, it can be fought anywhere, any time. You are ready. Get yourself to a safe place, and get ready to face your fear.
Trigger Your Fear
Can you? This is how practice works. You want to overcome your fear, start by practicing the battle in safety. In your safe place, whatever that is for you, trigger your fear. Remember that you’re safe and that you can stop the training any time by hitting your built-in “pause” button. What you want, though, is to get the scariest experience of your biggest fear going a strong as possible in your mind’s theatre. You want to feel the physical sensations, the terror, everything.
Now, it’s time to fight. But not the way you might think. Your fight is to stay conscious of the process until you discover the truth in it. Your task is to stay present, aware, even curious, for as long as it takes to find the truth. “Don’t give up before the miracle!” is one way to say it. You may feel like you can barely hold on. Hold on.
If you feel you need skills, there are plenty of tools online you can master and use. I’m a big fan of EFT (Emotion Freedom Techniques) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), but you can get similar results with a hand drum. Unlike yoga or meditation, these kinds of skills give you a proactive way to meet and defeat fear by defusing the negative emotions in it. Once the unwanted terrifying energy has been dissipated from fear, the only thing left is the truth.
If you are having care from a therapist or trusted practitioner, discuss this with them. Others can assist as coaches or mentors, but only you can do the work – meet the fear head on and reveal its truth.
Practicing the battle with your biggest fear as an imaginary video game in your mind might seem silly, but it is still practice. You can imagine your moves, how the feat would respond, what the outcome might be. In your safe place, you can play out any scenario you choose without lasting damage. If things get ugly, hit the imaginary Reset button and start again.
Think of Neo and Morpheus in the Matrix’ sparring program. It seems very real, but it’s only a software – a kind of physical/virtual reality. It can be used to learn, practice, and deploy fear-busting skills.
I like to practice to music. A song that scares me is a safe way for me to trigger fear, and when I know the music well enough, I also know exactly how long the battle will last: just as long as the music. This helps give me a goal I can live with during my practice: when the music ends, so will the imaginary battle, whatever phase it might be in. To me, that’s a safe way to practice.
I do that over and over, re-fighting the imaginary battle different in ways to see how my skills might work best. When I feel like I’ve had enough practice, I give myself a rest.
“Yeah, Bill, but this is all just pretend,” I hear you saying. “My fears are real!”
Yes, they are. And now, someday soon, out there in the wild, when you meet the trigger for those very real fears of yours, you will be ready to meet them.
Overcome Your Biggest Fear…in the Wild
The trigger for your biggest fear, for real, will find you. When it does, it will probably surprise you. But your practice will serve you well, and the new reflexes you’re learning will protect you. This is why your chance of finding the truth in that fear has improved. When the trigger hits you in the wild, you’ll be ready. Readier than you have ever been.
Remember the practice of imagining your life without your biggest fear? That’s something to keep in mind: how it felt to be free of this fear. It’s a huge motivator. Stay engaged with the part of you that envisions that possibility, and all that goes along with it. And consider this: things could be even better than you imagine since even your imagination was still tainted by the fear. How could that potential improve once the fear has morphed into truth?
Comments? Questions? Need a Coach?
I feel confident to offer this practice to you because 1) it has been successful for me, and 2) it is the subject of so many movies, stories, allegories, and myths. Before science began to give evidence for what we used to accept on faith, the wisdom literature of the World offered us anecdotal evidence for the truth of our beliefs. In addition to movies like Star Wars and The Matrix, you can find this approach to overcoming fear in the Bible, the mythology of Greece and Rome, and many more of the world’s philosophies.
If you would like to work alongside us as you master and overcome your biggest fear, please reach out here. You are not alone.
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How Overcoming Your Biggest Fear Will Completely Change Your Life
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