23 May 2014

Is fear driving your behavior? (and what you can do about it!)

I see more and more people these days--and I count myself among these folks--whose behaviors are being driven from deep-seated, underlying fears.

Here are some of the ways I think fear manifests itself in our behaviors:
  • The "I know I shoulds": Do you ever know what you should or shouldn't do, but you still don't act in accordance with that logical thought? (Some examples: "I know I should exercise because it's good for me", "I know that if I want to eat healthy, I shouldn't eat processed foods.")
  • Overreacting: Do you ever respond emotionally to something, in a somewhat dramatic way, and you can't rationally understand why? (For example, even though I'd done something like this before and was fine, I ended up in tears the other night at "Painting with a Twist" because my painting was terrible. I knew it didn't matter, that the point was to have fun, but I left sobbing anyhow.)
  • Endless procrastinating: Are you unsure of which direction to head in your relationship, your business, or your life? Because you don't know with 100% certainty what the right path is, do you stay stuck where you are? Do you find yourself complaining to friends and family about the same-old-things, while doing nothing or starting things you don't ever finish?
  • Pushing through: Do you keep pushing yourself to work harder, faster, more efficiently at all costs? Do you find your sleep, weight, or overall health suffering, but feel like you just absolutely cannot take time for yourself because everything will fall apart? (Often stated as: "I know I should slow down and take more time for myself." :-) )
  • Refusing to set boundaries: Are you often silent around parents, siblings, children, or bosses, coworkers, friends and significant others when you're feeling resentful (e.g. about obligations), angry, intruded upon, taken advantage of, unappreciated, overworked, or just plain "done" with a relationship? Do you think that standing up for yourself will just create conflict or rock the boat, so you hold your feelings inside?
  • Not taking time to experience pleasure: All work and no play? Not eating that piece of chocolate or having that glass of wine because it will "make me fat and undesirable?" Multi-tasking during your pedicure? (see also Pushing through.)
Recognize yourself or someone you know in any of these? ;-)

OK, so what can we do about it? Here are my ideas:
  • Acknowledge that fear is driving your behavior. You may be inclined to skip this, but as they say, recognizing you have a problem is the first step to moving through it. It can feel vulnerable to admit you are afraid, even to yourself, so it's not always easy! (If you happen to be a man or a professional woman, culture makes it worse, telling you this isn't desirable.)
  • Accept that fear may not be rational. A dear friend and I used to call some reactions / behaviors we'd have "IFs" (for "irrational fears"). You can logically and rationally think through something, but fear isn't likely to respond to those tactics, so accepting that can be freeing. (I can't tell you how many times I listed all the practical reasons why I shouldn't binge, as I was raiding the pantry and downing a box of cookies.)
  • Dive deep into fear. Yeah, I mean it. What are you really afraid of? That you'll end up homeless? Alone? Die? That no one will love you? That you'll lose your mind? That you're unlovable? Defective? That you'll cry forever and ever and never stop? Identify the real fears, and then either:
    • Imagine that your worst fear is really true. Totally counterintuitive, but see if you can FEEL into the fear on an emotional level, rather than trying to push it away with logic (that we know doesn't work). Be scared! Cry. Break a plate somewhere safe. Allow the fears to feel heard, listened to, seen. Breathe, and try your best to relax and surrender into it. Give it your full attention. When you emerge (which you will!) you may find that it's not as scary as all that, realize you'd ultimately be OK even if things went that way, discover that some things are truly beyond your control so you can release them, or that there are other choices you do have. Be open to the possibilities that letting go can show you!
    • Use "the work" to challenge the fear. Ever since I read "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie, I'm loving her four questions: 1) "Is it true? 2) Can you absolutely know that it's true? 3) How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought? 4) Who would you be without the thought?" Katie goes on to show us how to "turn the thought around", so if you're interested, check out her site. I found that when I started doing this with my (vast amount of) automatic negative thoughts (many of which were IFs), I couldn't end up getting past questions 1 or 2 (because the answer is either absolutely, unequivocally "yes" or "no", and it was never realistically 100% "yes".
  • Do it anyway. Do what? Whatever it is you're afraid of. Let yourself cry and throw a tantrum, even if you fear never stopping. Finish that report or presentation, even if it's scary to think you might actually be successful. Slow down and take time for you, even if it means someone else may temporarily get upset with you for being "selfish". Tell your significant other that you need him to step up and help with the housework, or with the kids, even if it means having a discussion. Savor that glass of wine, rolling it around in your mouth as if your job was as a taster or critic. Fake it until you make it. Smile. Live today as if you had no fear.
Other ideas? Please share your comments!

Copyright: zigf / 123RF Stock Photo

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