Too much fear and worry erodes and degrades our lives and well-being. Without a healthy relationship with fear, when it strikes we shrink into primitive creatures, dodging life itself to survive, but not truly live. This is a method to greet fear when it comes, and help it be more helpful to us.
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- Elizabeth Gilbert points out that if you pass your hand over a fishbowl with a tadpole in it, the tadpole will flinch from your hand's shadow. She adds, "That tadpole cannot write poetry, it cannot sing, "it will never know love or jealousy or triumph, "and it has a brain the size of a punctuation mark. "But it darn sure knows how to be afraid of the unknown." We do too. It's true that fear at the right times and in proportion helped us survive as a species by reducing exposure to danger and harm.
But in modern times, most of us have more fear and worry than serves us well. In this video, when I say fear, I'm focusing on the unhealthy extension of fear into places it doesn't belong, eroding and degrading our lives and well being. Fear is a fishbowl. It's an invisible cage we put around ourselves that severely restricts our options and blocks us from the bigger, fuller world of choice and experience we could have and should have. It's not just that unhealthy fear feels bad, it imprisons us.
As writer Marilyn Ferguson said, "The other side of every fear is freedom." Fear of being embarrassed, rejected, abandoned. Fear of missing out, of failing, of falling short, of doing something dumb, fear of change, of loss, of wasting time, wasting opportunities, wasting our lives, fear of aging, fear of dying. Life is so much better beyond our fishbowls of fear. In a way, we're not living when we're in the fear fishbowl.
We're not living fully in the present. Fear takes us out of the moment into a future that hasn't happened and might not, and might even be better than we think. But instead, we dread. Fear steals the present. Fear steals our lives. If we don't create a healthy relationship with fear, when it strikes, we shrink into primitive creatures, dodging life itself to survive, but not truly live. We become tadpoles in a fishbowl, flinching at shadows our own minds create.
But, if our minds create it, then mindfulness can help. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke offered this thought, "Perhaps everything we fear is in its deepest being "something helpless that wants us to help it." His insight points toward a mindfulness technique to use when fear comes. First, pause and take a breath. Next, notice the fear in detail. What is it trying to get you to think, feel, or do? Then, instead of fighting it or succumbing to it, we're going to welcome it.
We're going to embrace it. We're gonna help it. Fear will keep visiting us throughout our lives anyway, so when it comes, like an acquaintance who drops in from time to time, acknowledge it. Let fear be here. Even better, imagine your fear as a friend or a fearful child who comes to you for help. I have a friend with a four year old son who is afraid of the dark. She goes to him and says, I understand you're afraid and I'm here for you. Whenever you're afraid, I'll always be here to take care of you.
She told me one night her son shouted, mom, come here. He had a nightmare. But in the few moments it took for her to get to him, he already calmed down and just said, I'm so glad you're here for me. At first he was afraid, then he shifted his focus. He thought about how she would take care of him. That's exactly what to do when it's you. Love beats fear. You wouldn't blame a child or a loved one or a dear friend who called out to you and said, I'm afraid, I need your help.
You'd respond with care and compassion. Do the same for yourself. When fear comes, pause, take a breath, notice it, and welcome it with care and compassion. Embrace it like a loved one who needs your help. Say to yourself, I understand and I'm here for you, I'm here. While saying that to yourself, some people also find it helpful to put their hand on their heart or solar plexus. It helps you physically connect to being here for yourself, and it also provides bio-feedback to help you calm your heartbeat or breathing.
I understand, and I'm here for you. Then you can ask what your fear needs from you and what's best to do next, just like you would for a friend having troubles. Let's give this important part of ourselves some understanding and support. Don't greet your fear with more fear. Treat fear like a friend who's afraid, who's glad you're there and just needs a little help. Handle fear with care.
UCLA professor and executive coach John Ullmen, PhD, explains the fundamentals of mindfulness and provides step-by-step methods that anyone can use. Every technique is confirmed by research and validated in practice to give you results for dealing with stress, anxiety, fear, worry, and self-doubt, and for increasing confidence, peak performance, and connection with others.
- The fundamentals of mindfulness and practicing mindful meditation
- Dealing with unwelcome experiences, such as stress, fear, and self-doubt
- Strengthening your connection with others
- Mindfulness for peak performance
- Practicing mindful leadership