Fear can by crippling. Fear can change our lives. Fear can make us do things that simply do not make sense.
I first came across the F.E.A.R. acronym after witnessing a terrific presentation by artist Erik Wahl at a conference. The acronym of course refers to False Evidence Appearing Real. (You can check out one similar such presentation by Erik on YouTube. I have it linked to the beginning of the F.E.A.R. part.)
To be clear, the evidence is not always false, but frequently is, and based upon limited information we may have at the time combined with our inability to fully perceive the situation.
I have a good example of this from my own life. Last summer, I hiked up Mt. Timpanogos, which is within a short distance of my home. (I wrote about that hike here.) I literally look at the mountain everyday as it looms over my house. I can’t avoid seeing it every time I go out the front door. It towers at 11,700 feet and is one of Utah’s tallest mountains.
It is important to know as this story goes on, that I have a fear of heights.
The ascent to the top is about 7 miles. The hike is stunningly beautiful. I had no problems until I got within hundreds of feet from the top. We are crossing a section of the trail that was a narrow path with a pretty steep drop.
At this time, two years of anticipation and the almost 7 miles of the hike that day had given me ample time and fuel to whip myself into an emotional frenzy. By the time I reached the last few steps of the summit, I was so blinded by my all-consuming fear and anxiety that I could not clear see the REAL situation.
So when I arrived at this short stretch on the ascent (shown in photo), I felt as if I was crossing a 3-inch unstable path, clinging to jagged rocks on one side with an 11,000 foot drop down the cliffs of eternal death and damnation on the other side.
That was clearly FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL.
I was literally crying real tears based upon false evidence.
If you look closely, and I actually performed a rough estimate, the width of the trail was between two and three feet as shown by the red arrow. The drop from the trail was not a sheer drop, and while not clearly shown in the photo, was not very high from the switchback trail below.
While I can analyze this factually now that the hike is over. At the time, my FEAR was creating a dramatic story that including a wealth of false evidence.
This is corroborated by the fact on the way down when we crossed the same spot as shown above, I literally said, “What’s the big deal?”
The fact is that the trail did not change during this time we were at the summit. But something did change – me. My anxiety had let go of its clenching grip on my mind, my fears, my ability to think. I had calmed down and was actually able to see with my eyes rather than with my revved up, falsely led emotions.
The same type of fear can grip is in a myriad of settings. Professionally, one of the ways this happens is when there is “restructuring ” taking place within your organization. All too often when these become known, there is a void of information about details and what it means for the company, your team, and most specifically, your job.
In the absence of information, people will make up their own stories. For some reason, when this happens, the made-up story is typically a worst-case scenario that does not bode well for you and for others about whom you are concerned.
I find this fascinating.
While I have done the exact same thing in similar situations, I have now found a different response.
If you find yourself in that type of void, where things are changing and yet you have little information or control about the change, see if you can find a neutral and patient position that allows you to wait for more helpful and determinative guidance. Another option is to think about potential scenarios where there could be favorable, positive and helpful outcomes.
If you are going to use energy, why not use it to put yourself in a better position as opposed to debilitating yourself with negativity that is made up by you? There is already plenty of negativity in the wrold. There is no need to make up any more!
If we are going to use fear in a positive way, here are some thoughts.
Fear itself is not our real problem.
I invite you to consider the idea that we fear the wrong things. What we should really fear is that we will miss the opportunities that fear offers.
Gavin De Becker, who wrote the book, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us said, “You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.”
Jay Shetty, in his book Think Like A Monk, said this about fear: “Often we notice fear’s warning and ignore its guidance. If we learn how to recognize what fear can teach us about ourselves and what we value, then we can use it as a tool to obtain greater meaning, purpose and fulfillment in our lives. We can use fear to get to the best of us.”
Unlike my experience near the summit of Mt. Timpanogos, when we can have awareness around our fears and its relationship to what it says about ourselves, we can harness its power for our use, instead of allowing it to harness our emotions and control us.
I am looking forward to this summer where I will put that to the test as I make another ascent to the top of Mt. Timpanogos.
Watch this space as I will be sure to update on my progress!