FEAR AND SAFETY
How important is it that you feel safe?
Most of us prize safety – which is really our perception of safety – above all else.
And for good reason – we evolved to stay as far away from danger as possible, and we use fear as the barometer for what is and isn’t safe.
Fear can be useful, of course. It can help keep us from physically dangerous situations, like falling off a cliff or approaching a wild animal.
But it’s also a pretty unreliable gauge of whether we actually are in any real danger.
When you really think about it, safety isn’t even an emotion.
It’s just the absence of fear.
We don’t sit around thinking “wow, I feel so safe” most of the time. It only occurs to us that we feel safe when we have recently been feeling fear – and we judge whether we feel safe by the absence of fear.
Some of us live our whole lives trying to “feel safe” as much as possible – which really means just trying everything we can think of to avoid feeling afraid.
But fear, like any other emotion, is created by your thoughts.
When we are preoccupied with feeling safe, we assume that other people or circumstances have the power to make us feel unsafe.
But they don’t. Fear is created by your thoughts.
And most of our fear is about how we imagine we may think or feel in the future.
Even a fear of injury or death is not about the actual event – it’s about how we anticipate we will feel if the event happens (or when it comes to death, it’s fear of not thinking/feeling, or anticipating what other people may think or feel when we are gone).
So when we live our lives trying to avoid having the emotion of fear at all costs, we have to limit and constrain ourselves so drastically. We have to avoid ever trying anything new, we have to avoid interacting with anyone we think might “make” us feel a certain way (in reality of course it’s our own thoughts that create our feelings always).
And the irony is that it doesn’t work. You know what you feel when you try to build your life around avoiding fear?
More and more fear.
The more you try to avoid ever feeling afraid, the more things you become afraid of.
Trying to avoid being afraid is one of the most fear-inducing ways to live your life.
Being preoccupied with “feeling safe” will actually end up leaving you feeling more “unsafe” than ever.
The good news is there’s a way out of this conundrum…
And that is recognizing that your brain is often wrong about whether or not you are safe.
Sometimes your brain sees danger where there is none.
And sometimes it even tells you to be afraid of something that is going to help you in the long run.
I see this happen with my students all the time.
In order to have the lives they want, they have to be willing to take risks.
They have to be willing to be afraid.
The secret to life isn’t being unafraid.
It’s being brave.
You’re only brave if you’re afraid and do something anyway. If you’re not afraid, then it’s not bravery.
I’ve been wrong about so many things my brain thought were dangerous.
Quitting my job running a think tank to be a life coach.
Giving up dieting and learning to love my body instead.
Pushing past physical limitations that my body’s unconscious patterns had created (I go into this example more in-depth in this week’s podcast).
Every time my brain screamed that I was not safe and I was going to die.
And yet they were some of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Think about something that feels unsafe to you.
What if your brain is wrong about that?
What if it’s ok to “feel unsafe” sometimes? All that means is that you feel afraid.
If you’re scared of what other people think of you, you may feel unsafe when you choose to do something big and bold with your life.
Should you listen to your brain when it screams at you to stay small?
Just because our primitive brain values its perception of safety above all else doesn’t mean we should let it set the agenda.
We can use our prefrontal cortex, our rational mind, to discern what truly constitutes danger or safety. We can choose when these fears are illuminating appropriate priorities and when they are not.
You can look at the results you will get from a thought, and choose whether that thought is serving you.
What if “am I safe?” isn’t a helpful question?
What if the question was: “What kind of fear am I willing to experience to create the life I want?”