Part 8: Rethinking Fear as a Lifestyle
Albert Einstein once said that the most important decision we can make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe. I notice this playing out in people's lives on a daily basis in my work in leadership development, and this personal decision not only deeply impacts the individual but those around him or her as well. If you're now pondering what you believe, here is another way to ask yourself the same question: Are you coming from a place of love or a place of fear?
So many of us are caught up in fear as a lifestyle. We're stability-seeking creatures living through scary times. What we thought was stable -- like financial markets, the climate, etc. -- isn't. Living from fear creates an illusion, a false sense of security, that we're in control, so it's easy to default to.
It's not helpful to you to be frightened, though. Fear doesn't give us fulfillment, peace or success -- it contracts us. Don't throw common sense out the window; be thoughtful and cautious when you make decisions, but creating your life from fear is not going to get you where you want to go. If you move beyond fear, you make much better decisions based on real information. Love expands us.
It really comes down to this: Would you rather be evolving or holding on for dear life?
What's great is you get to choose if you want to be afraid or not. It's your choice: Design your life based on worrying about what other people think or design it from what you want. If you're afraid of failing, looking bad or being wrong, remind yourself that it's a trap. I spent many years afraid to look foolish, lose something, risk, love or take a chance. I thought I had to fight and prove myself. My sense of myself was dependent on external factors -- do people think I'm too fat, will people love me enough, will I make enough money? The insight is that there is value and learning in everything. You can come from love because failing or falling on your face isn't the end of the world -- it's in fact part of why we're here. I believe we come into human form to learn and grow. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. We chose this human iteration to have experiences and grow consciousness. Everything that happens is an opportunity to learn and grow or it's a horrible thing that happened and we have to gut it out. Which perspective speaks to you more?
The deaths of my parents are a great example of this. My mom died when I was in my twenties and my dad passed on a few years ago. Were these good events? Of course not. But they had lasting, transformative effects on my family and me that I am grateful for. I'm not afraid of death and I'm much closer to my sisters now. By coming from love and not fear, I was able to experience these events in a way that makes my life more expansive and fulfilling.
In a recent Co-Active Leader Program I was leading for my company, CTI, a woman with some physical challenges joined the group. Though she wasn't disabled, she was afraid her body would fail her during the ropes course. So we created a special activity just for her that would challenge her and keep her connected to her body. At first she was paralyzed with fear. I told her not to deny her fear, but don't let it lead, either. "Just put it under your arm like a football and keep moving forward," I said. Because we had designed the course with enough challenge to push her but plenty of safety, she decided to trust and go for it. She knew it was an opportunity to rebuild her confidence and trust in herself and she seized it. She went further and did more than any of us had imagined. At one point, she asked about the fear tucked under her arm: "Can I put it down now?" We all laughed and celebrated with her. It was a powerful experience for her and for all of us watching to witness the moment someone we cared about moved from believing the universe was hostile to trusting it is friendly.
The next day, she looked different: She was an embodied and wise woman. Before she was caved in on herself; after the ropes course, her shoulders were back, her head was held high and she was ready to take on the world.
It's easy to say 'choose love over fear,' but how do you actually do it? It starts with yourself. Rather than yielding to negative self-talk and beating yourself up, start practicing another kind of self-talk. Start loving yourself. We often collect evidence for our beliefs and assumptions in a bushel basket we carry labeled "Life isn't safe, I can't trust myself to make wise decisions." Change the label on your basket. Then collect evidence about the positive aspects of yourself. I can still scare myself with the fear conversation in my head if I choose to. But I make a conscious decision to look in a different place -- one that is life-affirming and full of gratitude. Look for the value in everything and be in appreciation for the gifts in life and in you.
Choosing love over fear is ultimately about your freedom. I was once leading a workshop in a prison. An inmate told me, "We all have prisons. Some have walls you can't see. I'm lucky I can see my walls. I know I'm free, what's in here (pointing to his heart) no one can take away from me."
Listen to your heart. It's going to be okay. Life is trying to help you grow. Move toward love and not fear.
Karen Kimsey-House, MFA, CPCC, is the Co-founder and CEO of The Coaches Training Institute (CTI), the oldest and largest in-person coach training school in the world, and the co-author of the best-selling Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. Karen was one of four pioneers of the coaching profession, and in honor of its 20th birthday this year, she is sharing her insights about human transformation in a ten-part HuffPost series,"Disrupt Your Life in a Good Way".