“The only thing to fear is oneself, and if you can control that, then volition and action may at last coincide.” ~ Robert Rowland Smith
We all want to change things for the better, and yet most of us seek to settle into our comfort zones. But we have enough settled dust in this world.
What we need are more fearless spirits willing to kick up some dust, to shake things up, to not settle on comfort and security.
Fear is the most common obstacle to changing things for the better. Whether it’s the fear of change, the fear of discomfort, the fear of messing up, or the fear of what people might think, fear can be an ugly, crippling thing.
Here are five ways to kick fear square in the nuts, and turn the tables on our all too rampant status anxiety.
1) Recognize fear as comfort zone expansion
“The world was made to be free in: this we know in our bones, and this definitive and fearful knowledge is what both supports us and requires us to turn away from our secure but less-than-joyful lives.” ~ Bill Plotkin
When we can recognize the feeling of fear as comfort zone expansion, carpe diem becomes a battle cry. We are seized by our own freedom. What we do with this freedom is the greatest responsibility of all.
Do we fall in love with the journey, or do we falter in anxiety? Do we push the envelope and self-liberate, or do we get a papercuts from suppressing the inevitability of change? Do we rigidly stagnate or flexibly expand?
Feel the fear. Use it as fuel for the fire. Fear can be an excuse to curl up into a ball at the center of our comfort zone, or it can be an impulse to radically thrust out. A healthy disposition is the thing. A daring temperament coupled with a heightened state of awareness is key.
Stretch the comfort zone until it snaps, then put on the brakes, regroup, and design a more flexible comfort zone so the next time you’re able to stretch even further.
Flatten the box everybody is thinking in, then use it as material to build a bigger box. Then repeat. Eventually, with enough practice, fear will just become a reason to courageously grow.
2) Transform demons into diamonds
“In a world of tension and breakdown, it is necessary for there to be those who seek to integrate their inner lives not by avoiding anguish and running away from problems, but by facing them in their naked reality and in their ordinariness.” ~ Thomas Merton
Facing the shadow of your unconscious can be unpleasant, but confronting your demons is the only way to unravel the knots that have you tied to fear. Don’t worry so much about being uncomfortable with your demons, focus on comforting your demons instead. This way you are truly able to embrace them, and instead of being your enemy they become your ally.
Don’t avoid what you fear at the expense of obtaining what you desire. Then again, don’t cling to what you desire at the expense of your journey.
Transforming demons into diamonds is eliminating the middleman and turning him into a right-hand man who can help you with being more flexible and robust on your journey of self-exploration so that you are more capable of obtaining what you desire.
Sometimes we surrender ourselves to our demons and sometimes our demons surrender to us, but a balance is maintained within such sacred pressure and diamonds are revealed despite the “rough” they’ve been hiding in.
3) Embrace insecurity not security
“Man, the animal who knows he is not safe here, who needs continued affirmation of his powers, is the one animal who is implacably driven to work beyond animal needs precisely because he is not a secure animal.” ~ Ernest Becker
Our hyper-culture creates the seeming need for hyper-security. This has led us into believing that we need more and more security, to a dizzyingly paranoid degree.
But when we’re paranoid, we’re overly obsessive and distrustful, which just leads to more fear.
Break the cycle of fear by using insecure courage as leverage against secure cowardice. It seems counterintuitive because it is counterintuitive. Because otherwise we feel too safe. Otherwise irrational fear keeps us married to rational comfort zones and we never gain the courage to grow.
So seek not security, but absolute insecurity. The kind of insecurity that is so uncertain that it becomes a delight to be in a constant state of perpetual adventure; where we’re able to hope for the best and be prepared for the worst within our own courage instead of leaning on the crutch of security (be it codependent or independent).
So swim against the tide of paranoia. Court the unexpected. Celebrate astonishment. Embrace insecurity. It’s only within the throes of our own insecurity where we’ll be able to discover the magic for resolving our fears.
4) Embrace progress not perfection
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ~ Marie Curie
Fear feeds on the need to be perfect. You’ll never get around to doing anything if you’re always worried about being perfect, or even good. Let the need for perfection go and you free yourself to be courageous, you turn the tables on fear.
Perfection is an illusion. Imperfection is reality slapping us across the face. Being okay with being imperfect is us slapping reality right back. It’s kicking fear in the nuts and declaring to the gods, our own mortality, and the need to be perfect, that, “This imperfect, prone to mistakes, fallible human being is going to embrace progress despite perfection.”
It is understanding –balls-to-bones, ovaries-to-marrow– that the pursuit of flawlessness is flawed. The journey is truly the thing. Progress trumps perfection. Growth trumps flawlessness. Improvement is the path, despite whether or not excellence comes at the end of it.
In the grand scheme of things, there are neither rewards nor punishments only consequences.
5) Embrace adventure not happiness
“Attitude is the difference between ordeal and adventure.” ~ Karl Frei
Better to face unhappiness full-on, grab it by the throat; allow it to fill you with an emptiness that you can then fill with your own meaning.
The meaning gained from living life on-purpose leads to a kind of happiness not dependent upon comfort, feeling good, or contentedness, necessarily, but determined by how far we can push our comfort zones, live flexible but healthy lives, and challenge ourselves to grow.
When we let go of the need to be happy, we free ourselves to be present, in the moment, in the grip of the here-and-now. That’s the adventure. The moment may be sad or happy, but at least we are aware of it. At least we are present.
If happiness should come, so be it. But being present isn’t about being happy, it’s about being real. It’s about living life to the fullest, despite either happiness or unhappiness. As Guruji Sri Vast said, “People have fear about death but at the same time they complain about everything in their life. People do not fear death. They fear dying before they’ve had a chance to live.”
When we’re liberated from the need to be happy, we are no longer afraid of unhappiness, and so we are more likely to discover meaning in the present moment. And it is precisely within self-discovered meaning where true happiness is found.
It’s just a matter of getting out of our own way. If we can embrace adventure first, regardless of happiness, we’re more likely to discover authentic happiness as a rewarding side effect.
But as a side effect only, lest the fear of unhappiness infiltrate the present moment and bring our adventure to an unfortunate halt. Meaning is the cake. Self-discovered meaning is the icing on that cake. Happiness is the sprinkles, but we can do with or without sprinkles when living adventurously is the thing.
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