Your Story of Courage and Fear
A few weeks ago, three of my daughters, a few friends, and I took a quick trip to Newport Beach and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Six Flags is a roller coaster theme park known to have some of the best roller coaster rides in the United States.
I don’t know what it is, but I love roller coasters. The bigger, faster, and scarier, the better. As we waited in line, we started a discussion on fear. Was this ride more terrifying than the last? What part of the ride did you feel most fearful about? As the day went on, we discussed more deep-seated fears that held each one of us back. I was amazed at how many fears we had and how they affected each of our lives. We decided to write a fear list and begin working on fears that held us back from who we wanted to be and what we wanted to accomplish.
Fear is an instinct; we have a separate neurocircuit for fear. A large volume of research and experimental work has examined the neurocircuitry associated with fear responses and found that the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the hypothalamus have been identified as critical components in the fear circuitry. This means that several vital parts of the brain play a role in the fear you feel.
Anxiety and fear are very similar. Technically people think of anxiety as a fear of something or someone, like the anxiety of a new job or new experience. However, fear is usually specific, and anxiety is often more general.
When psychologists first started to study fear, they thought about it wrong. Initially, psychologists believed fear was something we learned. The normal state of a human being is calm, and we learn to be afraid. The theory is wrong! You don’t learn to be afraid; you already have that feeling mastered; you have to learn to be calm. Fear is a standard condition of our existence.
So how do we deal with fear? If your ability to prevail in life is dependent on you not being afraid, it will never work. So what is necessary is to become courageous. You don’t deal with fear; you become more courageous. That is the secret.
One of the best tools to fight fear and enlarge courage is to expose yourself to what you are afraid of voluntarily. The critical point being voluntary. You can be more courageous than you think, and if you put yourself in a situation where you confront and face the things you are afraid of, you find out there is way more to you than you thought. What is also mind-blowing is that there doesn’t seem to be an upper limit. There isn’t anything that you can’t face without learning how to face it. Anything!
Another tool is to realize you can’t hide from your fears. It makes you weak, and the fears will only grow. No matter how much you hide, the things you are afraid of will always find you. It only prolongs the inevitable.
One last tool is to become more courageous by exposing yourself to the world and doing hard things that are fearful. The more you face your fears, the more you go out into the big world and bang yourself up against people and situations. You learn a lot! You expose yourself and learn what you need to change.
It is called the hero’s journey!
Be aware that having courage is going to take you to places you don’t expect. Be open to it. If the path opens up, take it, walk through the door. But remember, especially my friends in their twenties and thirties, when you begin, the new road or adventure won’t be something big, grand, or monumental. Why should it? If you don’t know what you are doing, and you are learning; your life is still in a bit of chaos, and you are undisciplined, so why would something magnificent manifest itself for you at the beginning. It will be something small enough so someone like you can work with it and hold it and grow it. Courage takes small things and enlarges them.
This week, write a fear list and start having courage. You learn something by thinking, so think hard this week.
• Ralph Adolphs
• Kay Tye
• J. Peterson
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