Logan Ninefingers is an unlikely person for a therapist to be quoting, I know. The anti-hero of several excellent books by Joe Abercrombie, Logan stumbles from disaster to disaster, but always sticks with this as his guiding philosophy. I find that admirable, perhaps because I listened to the siren call of inaction over action for a long time, and sometimes hear its echo still.
Isn't it the same for you? Sometimes don't you freeze at the thought of doing something you fear, or distract yourself from a necessary task with an extra bit of nonsense TV? If you think about it, isn't at least some of your life the way it is because of what you're scared to get on with?
Here's the thing. If you act from fear, you end up with what you're trying to avoid. By deciding not to go on that first date in case they reject you, you remain on your own. By not going for that job interview you continue to feel that you're not good enough. By being too scared to leave your partner, you experience true loneliness. You create the future you fear.
We treat fear as fire. We think if we get too close to it we'll burn. We forget that fire also illuminates, because fear - this kind of fear - is a teacher. It's saying 'there's something to learn here'. It's saying, 'your brain has got this wrong, put it right'. And that's not easy, but it is possible.
Because you're ok. As you are. You're not broken, you're just held back by thinking that you're only ok if
...people like you
...you are living choices other people won't judge you for
...you play safe
...you wear the right clothes/own the right car/live in the right house/get your kids in the right school.
We humans have a software fault. Well, I guess it's been the making of us, but it's also the source of our misery. It's to do with the software program called the self. I think it emerged to help our selfish genes survive, and part of how it does so is by measuring. For example, we need the love of our parents to survive, so our self learns to measure what it does that gains their approval, and what it does that loses it. Rejection is death so is to be avoided at any cost, which can include avoiding living the life we want.
The measurements sometimes come out wrong, because childhood often teaches us that we're loved only if we do certain things, act a certain way, conform to expectations. As a consequence, we begin to 'believe' things about our self based on these mistakes: Dad shouting at me when I get something wrong makes me scared of looking stupid, so avoid doing things I might fail at, or I hide my mistakes because I don't feel loved when I'm wrong. It feeling that mum makes her love for me conditional on the things I do for her, so over time I begin to believe that my value is linked to what I do for others. Like a dripping tap, our sense of self becomes filled with doubts and 'ifs' about itself.
As our world expands we come into contact with people - who also have selves. Because of these drips we adapt to conform to what our mates want us to be like, not realising they're doing the same thing, we all respond to society and begin to dress and own things that say something about our self...according to the people who sell them to us. Our okness becomes subject to the whims and wiles of marketers. By seeking to express our individuality through possessions we sacrifice it. Our 'self' becomes an acceptable version whereby we're ok only if the world says we are, and the more conditions it sets, the more money it makes from us, the more trapped we become by a lifestyle made necessary to maintain this twisted sense of worth.
The software fault is that by believing that the self is real, and 'we are who we are', we end up being its slave, trapped in behavior that presents us to the world in a way we feel keeps us safe. And this inauthenticity kills us. Literally through depression and stress, and metaphorically by stifling our dreams and aspirations.
And so you get to now, living a life that you're not sure you chose, surrounded by 'things', most of which you don't need. And you're stuck. Perhaps you feel that out there is a different future, one you ache to explore. And yet...and yet...fear has you. What will people think if you fail? What will people think if you become different to what they expect?
At some point you have to put the fear behind you, or you'll get to the end of your life and look back and realise that everything you feared was bullshit. And 'too late' is a sad eulogy.
Last year I jumped out of a plane. It was my biggest fear, and became my biggest thrill because, sitting three miles up with my feet dangling over the edge, I wasn't scared. At all. Nothing of what I feared about that moment came true. And I realised that it was never a fear of dying that had kept me from jumping, it was a fear of what people would think of me if I chickened out. Fear is a teacher, and in that moment it taught me to find more of it, to seek out what lies beyond my fear. This weekend my wife and I are buying a camper-trailer. What's scary about that? It's the first step toward stepping away, to letting go of what we believed restrains us and seeing what's over the next horizon. We're calling her Wanda, and I'm sure I'll be writing more about our adventures with her.
You can see a Cognitive Hypnotherapist and they'll be able to help you let go of the software mistakes that drive your fear - and obviously I recommend that - but you can begin today yourself. Our self software program believes we are the person it sees acting in a certain way. If it sees you facing your fears and acting anyway, you become more and more the kind of person who does that. You can take control of creating the self you want to be.
Start with a small fear, or choose your 'jump out of a plane' fear, it doesn't matter, taking action does. Just choose to be scared, get close enough to your fear to feel the heat, and then leap through it. Yes you can.
What you'll find on the other side is a you you'll have a lot more fun being.
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