A mind that has any form of fear cannot, obviously, have the quality of love, sympathy, tenderness. Fear is the destructive energy in man. – J. Krishnamurti
Fear can be a useful ally. It can focus us, keep us safe — even alive — at times. Fear of illness or injury can motivate us to stop smoking, to exercise, and to eat healthier food. In our communities, it can motivate us to make our air and water cleaner, our bridges and levees stronger, our workplaces safer.
Fear can also be an enormous hindrance. Fear can color our world so that a stick can appear as a dangerous snake or an offer of friendship can be perceived as an imposition or even an attack. We can fear not getting promoted or losing our jobs; fear what people think about us, or fear that people aren’t thinking at all about us. We can fear the loss of a loved one, fear getting older, fear dying.
The list of possible fears is almost endless, so it is not surprising that, sometimes without being aware of it, our actions and decisions can become ruled by fear. Living with fear can become an accepted and habitual way of being, leading to thoughts and actions that create more fear in a difficult-to-stop chain reaction — in ourselves, in relationships, in businesses and organizations, and in the world.
When we are afraid, our first impulse is to tighten our bodies and shut down our minds. We become the opposite of receptive and playful, and this is an enormous hindrance to learning new skills in the workplace, collaborating, and making interpersonal connections. The impulse to tighten can become so deeply ingrained that we may not even be aware of the ways that we keep ourselves back, or of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that we communicate our fears to others.
Buddhism speaks of five primary fears:
- Fear of losing our state of mind
- Fear of public humiliation, or fear of speaking in public
- Fear of losing one’s reputation
- Fear of losing one’s livelihood
- Fear of death
Reducing fear (and its physical manifestation, anxiety) and opening oneself to new possibilities — surprises, even — is the first step, I believe, toward a more lasting sense of accomplishment. Reducing fear can be the first action that frees us to achieve a goal (even when, in losing our fear, our goal becomes something very different than previously imagined).
To reduce fear, however, we must acknowledge and become aware of our fears. This may sound daunting, but I’ve noticed that this process of increasing awareness of fear is strangely freeing. My hope for myself, and my sincere hope for you, is that each day brings experiences in which fears are acknowledged without self-flagellation, so that these fears can be set free. This can allow wholly new approaches or solutions to appear.
(Adapted from LESS: Accomplishing More By Doing Less)
3 Exercises to Reduce Fear and Anxiety