It may sound odd to see fear as being good for you.
If we feel afraid, most of us don’t want to linger there, hanging out in its company. We want to get the hell away through any means possible, to stop that disturbing feeling. For in its presence, we feel small, vulnerable and young, which as an adult, is uncomfortable.
When I first found out I had Type 2 diabetes, and that carbohydrates (my former favorite food
OK, so I admit to being a little compulsive about it, but I had no desire to compromise my health any further from that moment going forward. Not eating wasn’t an option, but neither was the alternative, finding myself with the strong feeling of fear arising when it was time to eat. Associating eating not with pleasure but with fear wasn’t encouraging in contemplating the rest of my life!
What to do?
Being mindful, a deeper exploration was called for.
Let’s take a closer look at the experience of fear through the lens of mindfulness, the practice of deep examination of all that occurs internally.
A.A.R.R. stands for;
1. Attend to what you’re feeling
It’s natural to experience fear. We’re biologically programmed to via the universal “flight or fight” adrenaline rush triggered when we’re alerted to potential danger. Without this mechanism, we wouldn’t survive as a species.
Fear is naturally occurring, even helpful. But for some people (perhaps more males than females), fear itself is dreaded, avoided and rarely felt. Instead, this segment of the population may experience anger in lieu of fear. Allowing anger to arise “protects” from the rawness and vulnerability fear brings. It makes us feel bigger, more blustery, self-righteous or invincible. For the fear-averse, they’re generally more agreeable or comfortable emotional experiences.
Sit comfortably in a quiet place, eyes closed. Let your attention gently follow the natural rhythm of your breath. Avoid judging or controlling the situation. After several minutes, recall a circumstance in which you felt afraid. Don’t go for the major ones, just a smaller experience. As the memory fills your mind, simply notice and observe all that you can regarding the fear that arises in response to the remembered thought. Pay attention to all the sensations the presence of fear brings in your mind and body.
If it becomes intolerable, shift your attention to something neutral or pleasant.
2. Accept rather than avoid or deny
Approaching this with the curiosity of mindfulness, by befriending rather than avoiding the fear arising, I practiced redirecting it away from fear of eating towards what would happen to my health if I didn’t change my eating choices.
And what I then saw when I looked steadily at the potential complications of poorly controlled Type 2 was daunting enough that it dwarfed the initial focus of fear, food.
Repeat the exercise above, but this time, consciously alter the circumstance that triggered the fear. Practice exploring the situation in addition to your reaction. Let your curiosity lead you deeper. Hang out there a while till it becomes familiar.
By flipping it around, I harnessed the fear, welcoming its presence by reinforcing this internal reframing (from food to complications), continuously honoring the powerful motivator it had morphed into.
Recall the couple of alternative situations you thought of in the first exercise. Rather than allowing your mind to randomly flip through those or anything else for that matter, put effort into choosing to contemplate first one than the other. This helps you decrease the desire to avoid the fear-inducing thoughts, and offers the opportunity to experience being able to consciously re-direct your attention.
Just as you wouldn’t wave your fork wildly around hoping to spear the piece of broccoli on your plate, but direct your fork towards it, do the same with your thoughts!
I deliberately reinforced “fear as a motivator” by reading all I could about the potential complications I now faced if I didn’t change what I ate, so it became a no-brainer to do all in my power to avoid dying without my feet, blind and on dialysis!
Repeat all the steps above frequently. We learn by repetition, so practice again and again. Every time you practice these exercises, you’re actually forming new neural pathways, good ones that will support a better way to relate to fear.
After all, it’s pretty essential to life!
What motivates you to change? I really want to know… does fear factor in, or is it something else entirely? Leave a comment below to start a discussion on what motivates you…