At Halloween, we all do what we can to scare each other senseless with fancy dress parties and trick or treats…. I thought why not examine the ways in which we scare ourselves on a much more regular basis. Fear, in many ways, dominates our society. It protects us and it destroys us.
It protects us because it keeps us safe, often helping us to make better decisions about how to avoid injury or death while navigating the world around us. We know not to walk down a really dark, dodgy alley at night-time. We know not to drive like a complete lunatic (certain countries I have been in notwithstanding!). We know not to take huge risks with our life savings. Despite this fear, of course, sometimes we do make mistakes that can lead to serious injury, poverty or even death.
While fear does its best to save us from such disasters, fear also has a dark side. It traps us, imprisons us and holds us back from doing whatever we can to succeed. We can be fearful of all kinds of things. New phobias everywhere are springing up of all sorts of things from Nephophobia (fear of clouds) to Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliop
Let’s examine the root of most fears. Most fears or phobias involve us having a negative reaction to some stimulus, either real or imagined. So if we encounter a scary dog, we could develop a fear of dogs. Most fears, however, do not occur as a result of the feared object or being as the main culprit. Most fears arise as a result of our own mind and our ability to link a hugely scary feeling to something unconnected or else our ability to imagine a scary scenario where the object or being becomes the culprit.
For example, we have a phobia of flying not because we have crashed before but because we imagine crashing. We have a fear of snakes because we imagine them biting us with poisonous venom. More than likely we have never been bitten by a snake. Like my mentor Richard (Bandler) explains, when Jaws first came out as a movie, the amount of people who had water phobias and shark phobias went through the roof. It was a movie and yet, it resulted in inner movies made in the minds of millions of people that made them (in some cases) stay away from the bathtub.
Even worse than fears of snakes or spiders or sharks are the fears we have of failure and rejection. These fears aim to protect us from the threats to our ego. In doing so, they cause us to hide away from the very actions that could very well lead to our success.
How do we tackle fears and phobias like this? Well, obviously, going to see a highly recommended NLP Master Practitioner or Coach is a good starting point. Even reading a book (Richard Bandler’s book ‘Get the Life you want’ is a good bet for this) can help. I want to give you some basic advice here which might make a difference.
First, understand what fear is trying to do for you. Fear is designed to protect you. Unfortunately, the way it works is not that sophisticated. It creates associations between feelings and experiences much too randomly. When you feel fear for whatever reason, you brain searches helplessly to see what the trigger is and it finds something and creates a link. It is the equivalent of the police force trying to solve a murder and accusing the first person that they see relatively close to the crime scene, even if it is a little old lady. The other thing your brain does is it creates scary scenarios, in the attempt to prepare you for possible danger ahead. Once again, the connections between these ‘inner movies’ and probable future reality is extremely tenuous to say the least.
Once you understand that your brain is trying to do this, the next trick is to play around and scramble the movie in your mind. You can do this by imagining the flight landing at different airports, the snake starting to cry and taking out a bunch of tissues, the shark starting to dance the tango with a ballet dress on, the clouds starting to sing a beatles song ‘Love, love, love’ while forming hearts in the sky, the girl who said no that beats herself up at home for rejecting you knowing that she missed out…. These crazy and wild new versions of what you do in your head start playing around with the usual programmed future fear movie that you might have been used to. Your brain tends to always focus on what is most emotionally compelling. Trying to just imagine things going ‘well’ does not always cut it. When you instead start imagining more ridiculous scenarios, they often are far more vivid and make it more difficult to run the same old scary movie in your head.
Finally, do your best to encounter your fear and change the association to it. When you are in a situation that once was scary, start to pay attention to everything in the environment that you never noticed before. Notice what you see, hear and feel and be really conscious of the subtleties of the world around you. The more you stay out of your head, the more your brain will start linking different experiences to what you are imagining. So when you are waiting for the interview and you heart is pounding, look around at the colour of the wallpaper, listen to the sound of the water cooler and realise that you are alive and everything is going to be okay.
Of course, these are just some handy suggestions to help. There are some wonderful people you can turn to that can help you with a fear or phobia you face in your life. But on the day where the world seems obsessed with getting scared on purpose, this might just be the day for you to get ‘unscared’ on purpose.
I am interested in hearing your views on this – which fears have you overcome or which fears would you most like to?