Whether we can see it or not, we are all fearful in one way or another. Our fears can take the form of minor worries and anxieties that fill our minds or they can grow into full-blown dread and phobias. Rarely are we ever faced with real danger – a situation that leaves us genuinely in fear for our lives or those of people we care about – which means that no matter the situation or event we are anxious or fearful about, the long and short of it is that we are actually afraid of ourselves. Our fear tends to be about whether we can handle what our thoughts are telling us or not.
The way our minds work is to think that we need to change the world around us – events and situations that we don’t like and believe should be different. Ultimately, this is madness. We don’t have any control over the world at large, we are experiencing only one tiny fraction of it, and how other people behave is none of our business. No really. The world will continue to unfold whether you are in it or not, so wouldn’t it be better instead to marvel that the exact moment you are experiencing took nearly 14 billion years to get here and you get to witness it through your unique perspective. Doesn’t that blow your mind?
As a mindset coach, most of the time I am able to not take my thinking too seriously. When situations trigger me or make me fearful and anxious, I invariably get sucked in but then I usually notice fairly quickly that it’s got pretty uncomfortable inside and I look at what is going on. Sometimes I can see really quickly how I have reacted to my thoughts, but at other times it really does feel like it is the situation that has caused my fear, rather than what I think about it. I’ll show you an example.
Last year my hair started to fall out in handfuls. I would literally wash my hair and pull a whole handful of hair from the plughole. This was in addition to the handfuls that came out every time I ran my fingers through my hair or brushed it. As the weeks went on I got more and more scared because at the rate I was losing it, I would be completely bald within 6 months. I was absolutely terrified of losing my hair completely and I was consumed with anxiety every time I thought about it. I worried about how I would look and what people would think of me. I bought a wig in case it really did all fall out and then worried whether people would know I was wearing a wig. I worried why it was falling out and whether I might have something really wrong with me. I searched relentlessly for answers and cures and to find out how I could make it stop.
After about 2 months of this I literally couldn’t stand it anymore and I realised that I needed to make my peace with the situation and that meant I had to change my thinking. I sat down and thought to myself “I’m trying frantically to change the situation, but actually I can’t stop my hair falling out, so can I be okay with this? Can I be okay with the worst-case scenario?” I decided there and then that I could and immediately started to feel better. My thoughts started to decrease because I wasn’t chasing them anymore and I finally got some space and some peace. The situation hadn’t changed but my thoughts had and with that the fear subsided. I could then see that the real problem was not my hair falling out but what I thought about it. That might sound like two sides of the same coin, but there is a real distinction between the two.
When I first understood this concept, it was a game changer for me. I could see that I was not at the mercy of the world, because my experience of it was an inside out job and that was the only part I had any control over. To truly see that, it was incredibly liberating and life got so much easier with that understanding.
Now, you may be reading this and thinking “Okay I get what you are saying, but …” and then thinking that when it comes to your situation it is definitely the event/other people that are making you feel anxious/fearful/uncomfortable. There is always a ‘but’ from people but this is a principle that applies universally, without exception. This is usually the point at which I get most resistance. Clients or friends might say something like “But a really bad thing happened to me, how can you say it’s not the situation that is making me feel like I do?”
Well, bad things do happen to good people and in the moment we may have to endure real pain and suffering that we may not have any control over, and my heart goes out to anyone who has to go through that. However, what we experience after the event is determined by our thinking and, if want to feel better, we need to notice the thoughts that we have and how they make us feel. Just notice them without following them. If we can do that, they tend to pass and instead of getting sucked in, we are left with a space where fresh new thinking can come in and we have the opportunity for a different experience and new emotions – often ones that serve us better.
Fear is part of the human condition that can keep us feeling small and powerless and it’s really time we ditched it. With insight and understanding, we can let this stuff go and reclaim our power.
P.S. In case you were wondering, my hair stopped falling out after 3 months. I lost about a third of it and it was caused by an autoimmune response to having had the flu really badly a few months earlier. Basically, the body had signalled the hair to stop growing so that it could instead use selenium for the white blood cells to fight the infection with. My innate health and wisdom knew just what to do and for that I’m very grateful.