304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
I want to start this off with a simple question: what is the most common fear in the world? Rejection? Pain? Failure? Heights? Spiders? Bumblebees? Death? Surprisingly, it is none of the above. The most common fear in the world is public speaking! Say what? People are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death?
Yes. But is public speaking the actual fear? Or is there something else going on underneath the layers?
Let’s take a look at it:
The most common fear in the world is a fear of vulnerability. It is this fear that lays beneath the surface of the others. It is the lowest common denominator.
Fears are built on a foundation of principles. Trying to learn every possible situation and how to act appropriately is ridiculously inefficient. For example: if you master public speaking you will still fear death. If you get over your fear of snakes or sharks, you will still fear public speaking. Instead of trying to conquer every fear that we have instead we need to focus on the underlying principle that governs all fears: vulnerability. But what’s a fear? All of these fears are tied to either a threat to our life or a threat to our self-image – our idea about ourselves. This idea of ourselves is a powerful concept and controls much of what we do even though it isn’t something physical or concrete. It has nothing to do with who we actually are but of some image we have built in our heads.
It is at this point we need to figure out what is actually a threat to our life and what is a threat to our self-image. A threat to our self-image is an irrational fear. A threat to our life is a rational fear. To make matters worse, our understanding of the separation between these two threats idea is incredibly distorted. Right now as a population we are completely out of touch with reality.
If you walk into a cage full of hungry bears, your life is at risk. This is not an idea… this is a serious situation. On the contrary, getting up in front of a bunch of people you know/don’t know and saying something stupid or making a mistake is an irrational fear. How so? Because your life is not at risk. These two examples are black and white, but what about gray areas? An example is something like skydiving. You are much less likely to die going skydiving than getting in your car every day, but yet you experience more anxiety going skydiving than getting into your car. Our ability to differentiate rational and irrational fears isn’t working properly.
Our nervous systems are wired for two responses: “fight or flight” and “rest and digest”. The “fight or flight” response (a.k.a the sympathetic nervous response) would have become activated in the past when our lives were in danger or when we were up against something which challenged our existence (e.g. being chased by a hungry bear). Our heart would start beating fast, we would become hyperaware of what was going on around us, our extremities would get cold, sweaty or both, we lose sight of the options and focus on either fighting or running away… little else matters. Sound familiar? This is the exact process we experience when faced with one of the above fears e.g. public speaking, skydiving (even though it is safer than getting in your car). Even though we consciously recognize we are being overdramatic, bridging the gap between reality and our nervous system still proves to be difficult.
Our nervous systems can become hijacked by irrational fears that have no basis in reality. Our nervous system develops responses to these irrational fears. Sometimes, Advertising will take advantage of this process by installing unconscious images and beliefs we are not aware of to leverage the power of fear and drive us into unconscious behaviors. They can make us want things by attaching it to our nervous system. This doesn’t happen consciously either. Scary stuff.
On the other hand, our bodies are also capable of “resting and digesting” (a.k.a the parasympathetic response), which allows us to stay calm and our bodily processes to sustain our energy and nutrition. We are able to think things through. We are aware. This is where self-awareness can arise and where personal development can be achieved.
Do you think cavemen cared about personal development? Probably not. They were more concerned about whether there was a large ass bird they could kill to feed themselves. They spent more time in fight or flight because their lives were actually dangerous. Our lives are dangerous in a different way. Our lives are dangerous if we don’t understand these processes and how our fears dominate our lives, other people may be living our lives for us without our knowledge or consent. If there’s one thing we should be doing with our lives, it would be living our own life wouldn’t it? Why let someone else live it for us?
Forget everyone else! What does this have to do with anyone else? All of your fears that you experience is perceived fear and hence irrational. If you worry about what you do and stop worrying about what everyone else is thinking and doing, you gain real power because you can only influence your behavior. If you suck at speaking in public, here are some ways you could look at this type of situation:
Confidence is not about not making mistakes. It is about knowing even if you do screw up, you will be able to handle whatever happens. To do this, you need reference experience. To gain reference experience, you must screw up and realize you can get back on your own two feet. The only way you can get back in control of your nervous system and re-hijack your system is through realizing that even though you do these things that make you feel like you want to die, you don’t actually die. I am talking about the irrational fears here. If you spend your whole life avoiding being vulnerable, you are literally robbing yourself of the reference experience you need to succeed. And you are sinking… or treading water… definitely not swimming. When you are swimming and you stop, at least you have some momentum. When you are treading water or sinking… uhh, you probably need a lifeguard.
No. It’s not your mom. It’s not your teacher. It’s not your bad luck. It’s not your debt. It’s not your significant other. It’s not the fact that you have one leg. It is you holding you back.
By addressing your fear of being vulnerable, you can develop the tools to conquer all of your fears by default. It may take some time to deprogram your mind/nervous system, but once you get the hang of it and learn to determine what is really going on you will develop a mindset that can dissolve all of your fears. You will train yourself to ignore irrational fear because you realize how bizarre it is. You can unleash creativity that you never thought you had, break down barriers in your mind, and develop immeasurable strength. You can learn more about who you really are, and express your whole self authentically. Yeah. You are awesome.
When you learn to be more vulnerable, you realize you learn things much more quickly. You become less scared of getting hurt, so you aren’t avoiding danger all the time. It frees up your mental processes. It’s like returning to the state of a baby when you are most vulnerable and safety is implied. You, like babies, become a sponge for knowledge with no limits. I have found through becoming more comfortable with myself by sharing more with others, I am able to see and feel emotions I never thought possible. I see patterns. I pick up on subtleties. I can feel other’s pain. But, because I am okay with my own pain, I am learning to be okay with theirs as well. It is from that frame that I can try to help others if I so wish. Also, for as long as I have been practicing embracing vulnerability, I have found others open up to me with relative ease. People are comfortable around me. When people are willing to open up with you, it allows you to build bonds quickly and they will always remember you with a smile.
I’ll give a personal example to give you guys some insight as to how to do this right. Practice what you preach right? In today’s world, there is a major stigma associated with mental health issues. I suffered my own mental health issues for years. I battled with depression for 3 or 4 years. I told no one except my parents who didn’t understand how to help me. I was embarrassed. Felt alone. I isolated myself and my self-esteem plummeted. I felt numb, lost interest, started abusing substances, and I was tired all the time. I went around pretending everything was ok all the time with my friends just trying to not look out of place. Throughout the time I was depressed, I always knew that “things didn’t need to be that way”. I researched, I meditated, I started to look into the different areas of my life and gain control over my own mind. I dragged my ass out of the dirt with the help of great teachers and some hard work on my part. I knew that the only way I would be able to embrace myself was to come to terms with my past. I needed to somehow learn to be open about what I went through. Sure, it is a new age problem… but it is a very real problem with at least 1 in 5 being affected by depression in their lifetime.
I decided I wanted to be open about my experience and make sure that if I had to go through the depths of depression, other people needed to know there was a light at the end of the tunnel. There was hope after all. In order to open up about my experience, I needed to come to terms with my own ego and start sharing my story. I ended up finding a volunteer organization that was involved in youth mental health and luckily was asked to join the youth support program. The second I was asked if I was comfortable sharing my story by the president of the organization, I quickly emphasized, ”YES!”. If I’m going skydiving… I’m not getting pushed out of the plane – I’m going to jump!
From that moment on something changed. I started sharing my experience with people in the organization. My emotions were acting up the entire time, but I just tried to keep a straight face even though I was churning inside. Thoughts kept flying like, ”uhh dude wtf are you doing?” etc etc. I needed to come to terms with this, and I had a good reason to do it. If others could benefit from my experience and some other kid got hope because he saw I got through it… it was worth it. I wanted to show others they could thrive even though they went through the metaphorical shitter. Opening up and sharing your story can be intimidating, but I have to live vulnerability too.
Do your worrying before you place your bet, NOT after the wheel starts turning.
I love this quote because the principle behind it has improved my life so much. I feel more alive daily and I know exactly who and what I am up against. By sharing your deepest secrets (over time), you paradoxically start to feel more whole. You start to feel like people see a whole picture of you, not just what you let them see. I’m less scared that people will hurt me these days because I’m not fighting it anymore. I know that I will get hurt and I have accepted that long before it happens… but the knowledge I gain about those people from those experiences, the strengthening of my reality and existence, the pain it possibly will save me in the long run from trusting the wrong people as well as the improved learning speed are well worth it.
By airing out your secrets and becoming comfortable with them yourself, you take away the power from anyone who wants to use that kind of information against you. No more panicking about people looking at your phone, no more angst. Besides that great benefit, you develop closer more intimate relationships with your friends and will make new friends.
Lastly: You can’t always know everything that is going to happen. Sometimes, things come out of left field and you have to take those experiences as the cost of being able to learn something new. Every piece of information you learn opens up new doors. Enjoy the process! You are becoming more of yourself, and developing yourself into a more whole individual. Nobody said it would be easy, but everybody said it would be worth it.