The infinite power of fear

By Matt Perryman

If you were to list out all the things that scare you, you might be surprised at how few of those things are real dangers.

I tried this exercise recently to prove it to myself.

I was shocked to discover that nearly all the things that cause fear in me are products of neurotic over-thinking. It wasn’t cool stuff like Siberian tigers or nuclear hellfire.

According to the evolution people, fear is nature’s way of keeping us away from threats. It’s perfectly reasonable to feel fear in response to a hungry mountain lion stalking you. There’s a clear and immediate danger that demands your attention.

Not so reasonable when the same fear-circuits switch on for our made-up dreamland. More people today live in the manufactured fear of Tick-Tock videos and the 6 o’clock news [sic] than any real danger. Which makes it the supreme irony when there is a real threat and the average urbanite is so inoculated against real danger that they don’t notice.

Why is it that public speaking ranks in the top 3 fears?

We’re such a narcissistic species that we’re afraid of other people paying attention to us. Think about that. How bizarre that is.

Pay attention to this pattern of fear response and you’ll notice it everywhere. Most every messed-up self-destructive behavior you can name has fear behind it somewhere.

I experience this all the time in the part of my life devoted to writing. Getting started feels like pushing a boulder up a steep hill. Once I’m moving, it’s all gravy. That hump keeping me from starting is all fear.

Learning how to handle this is a general skill that you can use in all parts of life. This is one of the (many) benefits of a regular weight-lifting habit. Going head-to-head with a barbell can be as terrifying as an Instagram reel. But you learn that it’s all mental, it’s all fear-response.

The images in your mind, the build-up to it, is worse than the real thing.

Accept it, and move ahead. That’s a skill as sure as playing guitar.

Once you’ve learned to handle that pattern of fear at its rawest and purest, you can use that same mental frame to confront it in other places. There’s no difference between mountain lion fear, jumping into a cold shower, having the hard conversation you’ve been putting off, or writing this damn email.

Matt Perryman

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