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What is Fearless Living? (part 2)


What is Fearless Living? Let’s back up and talk about what is fear?

Fear is a part of life, whether we know it or not. We are hard-wired in our brain with fear to keep us safe by being able to respond very quickly to threats. Our instinctive fear responses are Fight, Flight, or Freeze. This may have been helpful in caveman days when we needed to outrun or fend off predators, but today it often keeps us from doing the things we say or think we want to do.

As humans, we have the capacity for choice, however to engage in choice we need to engage the cognitive center of our brain. Fear lives in the amygdala which is part of the instinctive center and we cannot use both at once. In other words, when fear kicks into action, our ability to think rationally is temporarily disengaged. If we want to remain in control of our actions, we must learn to recognize fear when it shows up and re-engage the cognitive portion of our brain.

Here is an example of how fear works in our brains, which I am quoting from fearexhibit.org:

“In 1911, a French doctor named Edouard Claparede published his observations of an amnesiac patient. Despite repeated interactions with the woman, sometimes only minutes apart, Claparede had to reintroduce himself every time he reentered the room; the patient never recognized him as someone she’d met.

During one of their “introductions” he hid a tack in his palm and pricked the patient when they shook hands. The next time they “met”, the patient refused to shake the doctor’s hand though she couldn’t explain why since she did not recall ever having met the doctor.

Today, scientists interpret the patient’s reaction as proof that multiple memory systems are at work within the normal human brain. A subconscious memory system in the woman’s brain had formed an association between shaking Claparede’s hand and a painful experience. Therefore, despite the dysfunctional state of the memory system that would have normally enabled the patient to consciously remember the event, another memory system was still working, trying, to keep her safe from harm.”*

We can remember pain or fear triggering events even without quite knowing what the problem is. We are hard-wired to remember what has hurt us so we can avoid a repeat occurrence.

Fear’s job is to keep us safe so fear is not the enemy. Fear loves us, it is as smart as we are, as spiritual as we are, and learns everything we learn along the way. The challenge is that to fear, safe means familiar. Every time we decide to try something new, or do something a little differently than our usual routine, fear kicks in and tries to talk us out of it. New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside? It’s fear. Your promise to yourself to walk a mile a day 4 times a week end after the 2nd day? It’s fear. If you keep these promises to yourself, your life will change and fear can’t let that happen.

“. . . fears are the reason you give up on yourself and tell yourself you should wait or shouldn’t push too hard.” Rhonda Britten**

It is our human capacity for choice that allows us to learn to identify when and how fear shows up in our lives so we can consciously choose what action to take. The idea, as spelled out in Rhonda Britten’s book, Fearless Living, is not that we can eliminate fear from our lives, it’s that we develop a powerful and masterful relationship with fear.***

How do we know fear is in the driver’s seat again? A few common symptoms of fear include procrastination, confusion, being irritable, and forgetfulness; and we start telling ourselves stories about why this new thing can wait just a little longer – justifying our lack of action to ourselves. As we learn to recognize these as symptoms of fear, we can stop fear-based thinking and choose more freely.

There are several techniques for stopping fear and re-engaging our cognitive self. One of my favorites is to talk to fear as if it is another person right there with me. I say something like, “I see you there, Fear; thank you for loving me and wanting to keep me safe. Let’s do this anyway.” It’s as if the act of identifying the presence of fear keeps it from being able to control me.

Is it possible that fear is controlling you in unseen ways? It’s most likely not controlling every aspect of your life, but if you have an area where you feel stuck, or you keep procrastinating, chances are that fear is running the show in that area. It’s not about never experiencing fear again – fear has a job – to keep us safe. However, we no longer have the same threats to our personal safety that we once had and fear is not a good tool for experiencing and appreciating growth, change, and adventure.

Fearless living is the ability to recognize when fear has shown up and proceed to do whatever it is we want to do anyway. Fearless living is living consciously, by choice – that’s freedom, that’s fearless living.

* http://www.fearexhibit.org/brain/memory/claparedes_pinprick_experiment

** Britten, Rhonda (2001) Fearless Living, New York, NY, Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

***Rhonda Britten, Fearless Living Institute, http://www.fearlessliving.org