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How Fear Restricted Us In 2020, How It Can Propel Us In 2021

adrian fear

As originally seen on Forbes

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” -Frank Herbert, Dune

Did fear control you in 2020? Or have you completely mastered it? In the the documentary Free Solo, Alex Honnold sets a record as the only human to ever climb the 3,000 foot face of El Capitan with no ropes (and no parachute.) Viewers observe what appears to be a mistake of nature. Alex faces this almost impossible and likely deadly task with almost no anxiety over death. I won’t ruin the ending, but I will share that as I watched my hands and feet became noticeably sweaty. It was hard to watch, and I couldn’t quite pinpoint why. Is Alex just wired differently than the rest of us? Turns out, yes. In the movie, while undergoing a brain scan, Alex is shown multiple scary images that normally trigger a fear response in our brains. For some people this “reaction” is more pronounced, for others it is less pronounced. Alex had no fear response. His brain didn’t process fear the same way most people do. For him, this meant he needed to logically prepare and memorize every inch of that climb, and once he could rationally calculate a high chance of successfully completing the climb, he made his attempt. Fear didn’t get in his way. Alex wasn’t held back by a credible fear of death, but most of us have the opposite problem. Most people are held back by fears that present no true bodily danger at all.

Fear is Holding You Back

Fear is holding you back from living a happy life. In the #1 NYT Bestseller The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware shared her experience of spending twelve years as a nurse with people who were literally on their death beds. The #1 regret of the dying was this: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. She explains: When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.” If you are scared of rock climbing or kite surfing because the activities terrify you, don’t do them. But don’t let fear hold you back from achieving what is more important to you in life because of the expectations of others. Some say Alex’s brain doesn’t work right, but I’d say the same of your brain if you pass on dreams because of an irrational fear of what other’s might think.

Here is the full list:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Not surprisingly, three of the five regrets touched on fear/courage. So many people live a life of survival, limiting themselves because of fear. Number five touches on fear in a major way, because people put off dreams that they feel would have made them happy out of fear of breaking out of comfortable habits.

Break the Cycle

So how do we break the cycle? One important mental exercise to put your fear into check is to ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen? Some stay in average relationships due to fear that true honesty would risk losing something mediocre. Some people stay in jobs they hate for fear that doing the job they love wouldn’t provide the lifestyle they think they need. Fear is a powerful motivator if used correctly, but unfortunately for far too many fear of discomfort limits us from achieving our potential. Ask yourself, has anybody ever died of discomfort? No. but sadly, far too many die frustrated at their lack of slaying the proverbial dragons of their big dreams even though they have lived a life of relative ease.

Create A Dream List

One other useful exercise is the creation of a dream list. Create a list of 10-20 dreams you have in life. Be bold, and place no limitations on the scope of these dreams. These dreams should scare you a little. They might make friends and family laugh, so keep them to yourself. Years ago I wrote my first dream list, and I was amazed at how some of the most incredible dreams were the ones that came together first. One dream I had was to live in a foreign country with my family for a month every year, and have someone else pay for it. Within twelve months of writing the goal, I was living in Sydney with my family and had a major legal company sponsoring a conference I was putting on out there. It never would have happened without putting my dreams in writing.

2020 was a gut check for everybody, and fear may have held us back almost as much or more than the very real restrictions placed on us by COVID-19. Lets make 2021 the year we stretch, we leave our comfort zones, and we slay the proverbial dragons. I promise that although they may be terrifying, they don’t actually bite.

As originally seen on Forbes

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