FEAR FACTOR

RETIREMENT COACHING – DEBBIE DRINKARD GROVUM– Just two days after writing about peacefully co-existing with the Florida critters, I had a close encounter of the scary kind, getting way too close to a four-foot diamondback rattle snake.   Walking toward my golf ball, I saw my partner waving her arms and shrieking, unable to say the dreaded word-snake.  Looking down I saw a slithering snake headed my way, moving faster than I dreamed a snake could.  We didn’t finish that hole; propelled by fear we grabbed the golf balls, ran to our carts and drove away from the snake.

Heart racing and hands shaking in fear, I had a hard time calming down for the next hole.  Fear is a strong emotion that plays an important role in protecting us from danger.  My fear helped me quickly decide to get away from the snake.  But rather than protecting us, fear in non-life-threatening situations can get in the way of living the life we want.  Some of our most common fears, such as flying, public speaking, heights, intimacy and failure aren’t life-threatening, but they can certainly limit possibilities for a full life.

Fears don’t have to be limiting.  In a recent TED talk, fiction writer Karen Thompson Walker offers a new perspective on fear and how it can enrich rather than limit our lives.  Instead of focusing on fear as a weakness to overcome, Walker presents fear as an act of the imagination.  She describes fears as powerful stories we create with characters, plot and imagery.

In these stories we are both author and reader, and how we read our fears affects the role they play in our lives.  We can read our fears artistically, getting caught up in the story, or we can read them scientifically, coolly analyzing implication and meaning.  Some people read their fears more closely than others, studying them and using them to prepare for possible outcomes.  Although most of our fears never happen, as Walker points out in her TED talk, sometimes our worse fears do come true.

Because we can’t know in advance which fears will come true, we benefit from being able to discern which fears to pay attention to and how to use those fears for positive action.  Walker proposes that we view our fears as amazing gifts of the imagination that give us  glimpses into the future while we have time to affect the outcome.  Viewed this way, our fears offer us a bit of wisdom and insight.

USING FEARS FOR POSITIVE ACTION

Although it is easy to get caught up in our most dramatic fears-plane crashes, snake attacks, serious illness, Walker feels it is our subtler fears that provide the most valuable glimpse into the future.  Tuning into our subtler fears and reading them scientifically can open up new possibilities.

Use the process below to get started on using fears for positive action.

  1. Make a list of your fears.
  2. Choose one that prevents you from living the life you want.
  3. Quiet your mind and read your fear story.  Who are the characters? What is the plot?  What are the possible outcomes?
  4. Observe how your body feels.  Notice your breathing.
  5. Read your fear story again as a scientist, using your judgment to identify the most realistic outcome?
  6. Observe how your body feels.  Notice your breathing.
  7. How were the two experiences different?
  8. How can you prepare for dealing with your fear?

What is one step you can take in the next two days to begin your preparation?

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