It’s been over a year since I picked up Russ Harris’ The Confidence Gap (part 1 is here), that amusing self-help book which flies in the face of platitudes and crap about “positive thinking”. It takes an altogether rational and realistic approach which is why I chose to get it. I haven’t really needed it recently, but decided to pick it up again for curiosity. It’s proven a great companion to the NHS recommended Overcoming Low Self Esteem.
The main messages of the book so far has been:
- Positive thinking doesn’t work – ever.
- Positive thinking is actually dangerous to our collective mental health. It’s also insulting to suggest that all we need in life is to think positively for things to go well
- Fear, paranoia and avoidance tactics are a perfectly normal part of self-preservation as an evolutionary response to threat
- Self-styled confidence gurus and life coaches do nothing positive and end up making people feel worse
- Confidence cannot be imposed or forced
- Embrace your fears – they may one day save your life and can be a great motivator for change if you allow them to be
In the last part, it dealt with our fears – how to handle them and how to work with them instead of using some of the common unhelpful tactics in dealing with them and most importantly, how to “give it space“, acknowledging it. This is a fairly common tactic in deeper mindfulness exercises too, not to try to suppress distractions but to work with them and make them part of your routine.
Now at the end of part 4, he delivers the killer message on dealing with fear and it goes against all received “wisdom” from the ten-a-penny snake oil sales people with their imagined qualifications and unhelpful advice.
“Don’t fight your fear; allow it, befriend it and channel it.”
It’s never going to go away and you can’t suppress it without them eventually coming back with a vengeance. No amount of positive thinking is ever going to help and will lead to further avoidance tactics so all you can do is accept it and work with it. You don’t have to like your fear, but recognise the benefits you get from it, that is, in understanding that it is an anxiety response to a challenge or a threat. You wouldn’t wish to remove fear from your life even if you could.
He finishes by explaining how to channel it and demonstrating how people in prominent positions do it all the time. The adrenaline we feel from fear can be channelled into a positive way – we call it “feeling pumped”, “feeling primed”, “buzzing” and simply “full of juice”. I’m sure we’ve all had moments like that but we don’t recognise it as fear despite that the adrenaline and our anxiety responses are the same. The only difference is how we feel it and what we do with it.
It’s not easy but it can be done and we usually do it involuntarily. Who loves rollercoasters? I know I do and that feeling of fear is like a wave filling the body with energy. It’s addictive and it feels good, but it is still fear and the same fear we feel as when doing something we don’t want to do. We get off on the adrenaline rush, we have the same physical responses during and after and when we disembark the ride we tell ourselves “wow, that was f*cking awesome!” That’s fear harnessed, that’s having a positive relationship with fear, that’s fear Accepted, Befriended and Channelled.
So less Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and more realising that fear can be your friend.