Arrrgghhh!!! I really need to keep on top of this awesome book. A ridiculous amount of time has gone by since I dived into it (nearly 6 months) and the next chapter is very succinct because it deals with what was and is effectively at the core of my (and that of many others) self-esteem issues – FEAR.
It starts by talking about a psychologist who was terrified of approaching women for dates. Most of us are, some more than most. This psychologist set an experiment for himself to talk to any woman in public life that he was attracted to, engage her and ask her out for a date. He claimed to have approached in the region of 200 women but got not one single date. Yet, he was pleased with his “success” which was to cure his phobia of being nervous of the opposite sex. I’m sure there are plenty of men who wish they’d had his courage to do that.
At the core of this chapter is how we deal with fear and the tactics we use in handling it:
- Autopilot (reacting without thought to what goes on around us)
- Distraction – I can’t do this so… video games!
- The opt out – I can’t do it, it’s too hard. I give up!
- Thinking strategies – Blame someone else, denial, positive thinking, self-punishment
- Substance use – Caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, junk food etc
Most of these are not a problem and as a Brit I know that there’s nothing that can’t be solved with a cup of tea! I would say that thinking strategies was my most common avoidance – usually centred on self-punishment and anxiety about failure. Opt out… not so much. If anything, it was the opposite – I pushed myself too much and never asked for help. Substance use? Don’t think so – like anyone else I’d stop for a cup of coffee and junk food when my brain shuts down. I am sometimes guilty of distraction, especially now I have so many around me working for myself, but I find I am distracted in the quiet weeks and have to make myself look for new work.
Anyway, back to fear.
We might think that our fear can be placated by these avoidance issues but they only make us worse in the long run. That work you put off until tomorrow because it looks too difficult is just one step closer to the deadline. That pizza you had because you couldn’t cope, it’s not very healthy and it’s not going to sort the problem. The more we avoid, the bigger our fear grows. It becomes a…
Yes, I spent a lot of my life living in fear: fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, fear of feeling stupid, fear of disappointing people, fear of not living up to others’ expectations, fear of not being good enough, fear of falling for somebody who would laugh at me, fear of repulsing women, fear of being left behind, fear of not making anything of my life, fear of fear…
It was and is exhausting
I think we attempt to tackle fear in the wrong way. We talk of fighting it, struggling against it, trying to suppress it and not let it consume us – we make ourselves “man up”, “grow some balls”, or gender non-specific phrases such as “get back on the horse”. This last one is a more apt explanation for what you try to do. It’s scary being thrown from the saddle and the longer you put off getting back on, the more terrified of doing it you are.
It may work in some situations such as overcoming phobias of dogs, spiders and approaching women, but not in all cases. Sometimes we have to accept our fears, even embrace them, acknowledge them. Harris suggests we “Give it Space”. The reason for this is very simple, it is a huge distraction and an enormous use of energy trying to convince ourselves we are not scared. Using autopilot and avoidance methods above do nothing to solve the problem, it’s still there afterwards. What we need to do then, is acknowledge that they are there, let them wash over us and channel our efforts elsewhere. That is the subject for my next post.