Taming Fear- How to Silence the Fear Monster in your Head
What images or thoughts come to your mind when you first read that word? Fear personalizes itself to you which means your mind will spawn a unique fear monster based on your own individual life experiences. Yep, those pesky fear monsters know exactly what words to whisper in your ear to immobilize and deter you. But, I bring you good news! If your mind can spawn those monsters, it can also tame them.
What if I told you that most of what keeps you from reaching that next level of excellence in your life, your business, or your relationships can be eliminated by simply working through a five step process? Let's learn how to put those monsters to work for you instead of against you.
The mechanics of fear
Now stay with me through the explanation of how fear is created in our mind. I'll admit it isn't nearly as fun or exciting as actually taming your fear monsters but you will need a working knowledge of the mechanics of fear. When you understand how fear monsters spawn you will become the ultimate fear monster tamer. So... let's take a moment to understand how fears come to life in our mind.
Our minds are incredible machines acting like a 360 camera recording every moment of our life. When it records a memory, it registers not just the physical memory but also the people, emotions, smells, and subtle nuances to vividly capture the complexity of each memory. Yep, your mind has made a recording of everything you have seen, heard, and felt! Now before you start trying to figure out how to transfer hush money to your mind - understand your mind is actually mostly on your side and trying to protect you.
So how does your mind try to protect you? Your mind acts as a gatekeeper choosing which information to store in your conscious and which to divert to your subconscious. Your conscious mind is only about 10% of your mind where the subconscious consumes the other 90% of your mind.
So basically, you could say we run on autopilot about 90% of the time. As the mind gatekeeper sorts through our incoming data, it bundles up memories in nice neat packages and stamps an image on top of it. The image typically stays in our conscious mind while the contents of the packages move below to our subconscious mind.
As your mind packages what is deemed a negative life experience, it embeds an alarm system into the image on top of the package. The alarm system is designed to activate when triggered by visual, emotional, or other environmental cues. In short, some of the images we store in our mind act as "wanted posters" to easily and quickly identify unwanted experiences that may be potentially dangerous.
Your mind is programmed to protect you from threats. Your mind sifts through the incoming data and identifies deviations from your normal patterns and flags them for further inspection. Our mind can get very creative when it is trying to protect us. How creative does it get? Well, our minds will spawn a fear monster with very compelling tactics to move us away from that specific danger.
A fear monster's sole responsibility is to protect you from danger. The fear monster is the brawn that shows up when the alarm is sounded.
For example: Let's say at 6 years old you touched a hot stove and burned your hand. This memory gets packaged up by the mind. Since it was deemed a negative life experience a "wanted poster" is generated. The image of a stove is anchored to an alarm system in your conscious and the memory package is lowered to your subconscious. A fear monster is spawned to protect you when this alarm is sounded.
When you see a stove, you feel anxious and you avoid touching it. If you don't respond to the subtle warnings your subconscious sends you, the fear monster will up ante to get your attention. Your fear monster might get your attention by pulling up the painful feelings from the subconscious, it might start pushing alarm bells to magnify the danger of the situation, it will try anything to get you to avoid the danger.
As time passes, you really don't think about avoiding touching stoves - you just instinctively become conditioned to avoid them. Let's say you are now seven and you are helping grandma bake cookies. She notices you hesitate around the stove. You tell her you don't want to get burned. She explains you only get burned if it is hot and you touch it in certain areas. You don't believe her. She gently guides your hand to a spot that isn't hot. You think, "Wow, I didn't get burned."
Your mind now re-evaluates the prior stove experience and updates the stove image and the contents of the alarm package with the new information. The additional data allows for a more specific alarm system to be attached to the stove image.
You no longer have to avoid all stoves. Now your alarm will only alert you if the stove is on and it will caution you where you will be able to touch it. Your fear monster will only show up when the alarm sounds and he only acts if you try to circumvent the warning.
Can our alarm system need adjusting?
Some of our negative life experiences will always have negative outcomes if we don't respond to our internal alarm system. Think of seeing a big brown bear while not at the zoo. Ten out of ten times avoiding this bear is the best strategy. The image of the bear will trigger an internal alarm.
If you don't respond, your fear monster will show up to convince you of the danger. It will flash every bear attack story in your mind. It will convince you danger is at hand. When danger is averted and the alarm is turned off, the fear monster leaves. The job is done. It has scared you into the right choice. Thank you, fear monster. You saved my life.
Alarm systems are incredibly important. We want our alarm systems to alert us to true danger but what happens when a memory gets assigned an inaccurate or unneeded "wanted poster?" We must discern which fears signal a true danger for us and which fears are mere imposters limiting our growth.
Some initial negative life experiences don't always have negative future outcomes. We understand this on some level because we can identify some of our fear as irrational. We can have a negative experience because of other factors besides danger.
We can develop a fear of public speaking because we once froze but we don't have to forever be controlled by this fear. These are the imposter fears that keep us from moving forward to accomplish our goals. Our mind and body respond to imposter fears as if they are a real danger. When we try to push beyond these fears, our fear monsters push back in intense and dramatic ways to get our attention and alert us to the danger.
The only way imposter fears get exposed is to introduce new experiences so the mind is continually challenged to re-evaluate our "wanted posters" for accuracy. We want our mind to keep the alarms systems we need to be safe, fine tune the ones that need updating, and purge the obsolete outdated ones.
Seems simple, right? All we have to do is continually introduce new experiences to keep our alarm systems current. Well, it isn't that simple. When our mind creates a "wanted poster" for an event, it isn't so easy to sneak in a new experience. We must tame the fear monster in order to slip passed it.
Your fear monster will not quit until you present it with new information. The goal is not to silence it but to muster enough courage to boldly persevere as it attempts to stop you from creating a new experience.
By Angie Lynch
With over 20 years experience in counseling, ministry, and business, Angie Lynch brings realistic approaches to help others overcome life's challenges. She established Truth Driven Ministries, a non-profit ministry dedicated to educating, equipping, and empowering people to live their God given purpose both personally and professionally. They offer counseling, coaching, and consulting services for individuals and leaders.