When you first start taking steps in the direction of improving yourself. Or when trying to make some of your bolder dreams come true, one of the first obstacles you will face are your own fears. Everyone knows that.
Everyone knows that, but is it true?
I used to be convinced it was. It’s not hard to be convinced of that. In fact, why would you question it? Not only does every self-development guru tell you it’s true, you can feel it, don’t you? So why wouldn’t it be there.
A Different Perspective
About a year ago, I had a conversation with a woman for just 1 hour, that would turn out to have a huge impact on my evolution as a person this year without her probably even knowing it.
You could say that working with her was really far outside my comfort zone at that moment. She somehow was able to look into me and know all kinds of stuff about me I would’ve never told her if I had a choice. We were pushing through a lot of personal barriers there and she stopped to ask me how I felt about it.
I told her I felt kinda anxious and scared. What she said next really changed my perspective on those feelings:
Think of a situation that makes you feel really anxious. Maybe something like speaking in front of a large audience about a subject you’d rather not talk about.
Imagine for a moment, what it would be like to be in that situation right now. What the crowd looks like. How they are acting, the sounds they make. The feeling it gives you in your body. Don’t stop until you can feel it as if it’s really there.
Remember which example you picked. We’ll call it “Feeling A”.
Would you describe that feeling as anxiety?
I know I always would’ve. The first time I spoke in front of a big crowd. The first time I played a gig sober. The first time I didn’t hide my sexual feelings for someone.
But – she asked me - What if that feeling you’re feeling right now, is not fear at all?
What if you’re just extremely excited?
Maybe years ago, so long ago that you can barely remember, there was a situation when you were super excited for something. To go on a roller coaster for the first time for example. Or to go to school. You were bursting with energy. Fast shallow breathing, a little jumpy and jittery because you just couldn’t wait to get on there as fast as possible. You had no idea what the experience was going to be like, so you wanted to find out.
Then your parents, or whoever noticed you acting like that, told you something like “Don’t be afraid little kiddo, all will be just fine.” And by doing so, they unknowingly suggested to you that what you were feeling was fear. Not because they had bad intentions. Just because someone else had unknowingly done the same to them when they were little 😉
And because you viewed them as an authority figure when it came to learning about this world, you started to believe that your excitement was actually fear.
The Difference Between Real Fear and Excitement
On some level, her explanation made total sense to me. The physical sensations / arousal symptoms of anxiety and excitement are literally the same. The only difference is that anxiety has more of an inward energy flow and excitement more outwards. Which of course depends on what you believe you’re feeling.
Still it couldn’t be that simple could it? Real fear has to exist, otherwise why would we have a word for it?
Fear is one of our most primal emotions, right? It’s that sudden energy burst that helps you fight against (or flee from) the proverbial sabertooth tiger (or mother in law).
Think of a totally different situation now. A time in your life where you literally feared for your life for a moment. Maybe when you almost got hit by a car, got chased by wasps or were ganged upon by a mob of casual violence aficionados. (All examples from my own life. The second one was surprisingly fun.)
Can you remember what that felt like? We’ll call this “Feeling B”.
Now, did that feeling bear any similarity to speaking in front of a crowd, or whatever you picked as Feeling A?
Not really, right? It was something totally different.
But over the years you got conditioned to believe that this other bodily response was anxiety instead of excitement, so you start to associate all sorts of unpleasant thoughts with that feeling, which turns it into a very negative experience.
This in turn, makes you believe the outcome is something you don’t want, causing you to come with all kinds of reasons to justify that feeling (negative things that could happen, etc.).
Nope... Definitely Excitement
During the summer, me and some friends organized a free event for people who are into improving themselves to get to know each other and help each other.
A lot of people in that reported experiencing something called “Approach Anxiety” when they wanted to talk to strangers.
And when you feel that way -because you are 100% convinced you feel it and that it’s normal- it seems like some kind of big challenge that you need to overcome. I used to feel the same way about my so-called fears. Perhaps you do too. Most people do. But what if you don’t?
What if what all those men felt was just a severe case of approach excitement?
That would actually make a lot of sense, wouldn’t it? Of course you feel excited about meeting a new person. Think of all the potential possible outcomes that could take you on a new roller coaster of emotions.
Yes, there is the possibility that they disapprove of you talking to them for no apparent reason. After which you both go on with your day totally unharmed.
Do you really think that’s something that makes you fear for your life? A person being unfriendly to you?
Or would it be more accurate to say you’re excited as fuck about all the other possibilities? That they could very well become the person you fall in love with, move to Hawaii with and make a huge army of beautiful babies with that you train up as an army to assist you in your quest towards total world domination?
Okay that one was maybe to specific, but you get the gist. What about your new best friend? Or a passionate weekend you’ll never forget?
I sure as hell think the second explanation sounds a lot more logical. The same is true about kissing someone or asking them out.
It also makes a lot of sense in other areas. Of course you are excited about learning a new skill and sucking at it for months, you have no clue what it’s gonna be like at all and can’t wait to find out.
Of course you are excited about make your dreams come true. Everything about your life will change. Who knows what kind of change that will bring?
Reframing Your Fears
So what can you do with the information now that you know this?
One of the first things I started doing was simply reframing the fear into excitement every time it came up. Just reminding myself every time that what I was feeling was excitement, not fear.
After all those years of being convinced your excitement is fear, the cultural programming runs deep though. So what helps is reversing the thought process that goes along with it.
For example, when someone asks me if I can help them with their problems, I always feel “afraid” to start talking about money. When I believe what I am feeling is fear, I come up with all kinds of reasons why I feel that way:
• They will think I only care about money, not about helping them.
• They will react negatively because the subject doesn’t come natural to the usual “friend-ish tone of conversation” I employ with strangers.
• They will decline the offer because they were only in it for a free ride.
However, if I choose to believe I am excited, my thoughts turn more into something like this:
• OMG, I have no clue how to have such a conversation yet. What will happen? Which mistakes will I make?
• Wow, if I really learn to become comfortable about this part of running my business I will maybe one day have all my personal needs covered. And because of that, have much more energy left to help as many people as possible!
• I wonder in what direction this person's future will evolve in after I helped them. It will be so much fun to watch this unfold!
You can apply the same model of reframing to anything you currently believe you are anxious about.
Of course, the effects of feeling “excited” instead of “afraid” are exactly the same thing. You stall your efforts because you don’t know how to do it the right way, you energy level go up, you’re a little less grounded.
But the main difference is that when you’re excited, at least you jump into that pool after the first few times of running and not jumping.
When you believe you’re afraid, you start to believe that you believe that the pool is something bad, and that you first have to change the belief.
While in fact, deep down, the negative belief may simply be a result of the belief that you were afraid in the first place.
So perhaps, instead of focusing on making your fears go away, what you need to do is stop believing they are fears. And then start seeing them for what they really are:
The feelings you get when there’s some serious fun waiting around the corner 😉
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